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Stepping Down As Ubuntu Maryland Leader

On March 4, 2007 I started the Ubuntu Maryland Local Community Team. Now on March 4, 2011 I’m announcing to the community at large that I’m stepping down as leader of the group I founded.

This is a decision that has been coming for a while. Part of it is just the amount of time I’ve had with the role of leader. I believe I’ve taken the group as far as I can. I don’t feel that I’ve blocked any thoughts or ideas in my time, but I want to make the change as visible as possible and allow the group to take things in a different direction with new blood at the helm.

The other, larger part of the decision is that I don’t believe that I’m the right person to lead the Ubuntu Maryland team in the change (from my perception at any rate) of Ubuntu as a Canonical driven and managed  project rather than a community managed project with guidance from Canonical.

When I began this group I believed in the Ubuntu project was a community driven distribution that was supported by Canonical and guided in some ways to their commercial needs. After all, they were a company that were going to specialize in support for the Free Linux distribution. They were going to develop software and services around the distribution, some closed and some open source. In order for them to do so they needed some say in the technical direction of the software that was being included and some configuration nudges here and there. For the money they are putting up to support it its a fair and easy trade off for the project.

I was happy with Canonical’s position and guidance until the announcement of UbuntuOne. Here was software in two pieces, one open source and one closed source. The client on the desktop is open and free for anyone to use, modify, etc. However the piece that makes it all useful, the server, is closed. When I read articles and heard podcasts on the matter I kept hearing ‘the client is open source’ and when challenged about the server being closed ‘well that’s Canonical’s right to do’ which I agree with. The fact that it is closed was disappointing but my bigger gripe was the use of the Ubuntu name in the product. The Ubuntu brand, to me, meant that the software was as open as possible. Here our guiding hand took the name the community had built around openness and applied it to a closed product. The claim (true enough) was they were doing what they are allowed to legally with the trademark. But what about the ethical aspect of the decision in this situation?

Then we have some design changes made in the last LTS release, including the controversial ‘buttongate’. In the Ubuntu LTS release we wind up with a desktop whose design looks and feels much like a MacOS desktop down to the buttons being moved to the left rather than the right. This desktop was a design change made, from my understanding, inside of Canonical and thrust upon the Ubuntu community. A standout disturbing memory of this time period was the interview with the Canonical Design Team Lead Ivanka Majic on the Ubuntu-UK March 17 podcast. At least one of her staff used Photoshop for their work rather than push for retraining. A little odd but okay, that’s what he’s comfortable with using. The big bombshell was that, when asked, she didn’t think the interface was very Mac like, “I don’t…I really don’t” [the part in question is from 58:05 to 1:01:16] (she admitted to owning a Mac and Windows machine, so she’s used it before). After being pressed by Popey she said there was some back peddling, I think, and she ultimately admitted to ‘I’m happy to be compared to Mac. They do design well’.

Another issue, around the same time, was an announced switch from Google to Yahoo as the default search provider. Okay, by going with Yahoo the search referral fees would be better for Canonical. Not a problem, except that even for those upgrading their default search provider would be changed. Really? Changing a preference like that due to referral fees? That’s making changes to a decision that users have made for their workflow. There may be some that don’t care, but at least ask first before making a key change to a users experience. Its two clicks to get back but a rude invasion.

Next up, assigning of copyright to Canonical is a bad idea. Why not just GPL the code contributions? What this means, from my seat, is that a project like Unity can at any time become a closed product from Canonical. As Unity is the default desktop going forward, contributions and work will be focused on this desktop. A year from now(for example) Canonical can close source Unity, offer an API for developers and effectively prevent others from using Ubuntu as a base for other distributions. What of the work the volunteers have done for the desktop experience? Should it be closed, Canonical can prevent a fork by claiming copyright to their significant portions of the code.

Now we’re at the Banshee amazonmp3 plugin issue, my tipping point. Canonical has done what they are legally allowed to do which is modify a plugin that is under an open license. However the modification affects the donations that the Banshee project makes to GNOME. The Banshee project decided to create this plugin to purchase MP3s from Amazon and use a referral link that would send 100% of affiliate fees to GNOME. They ship what would be their donations directly to where they want the funds to go to. Canonical made a ‘poorly worded’ offer to the Banshee group saying we will ship the plugin and take a 75% cut of the proceeds and 25% goes where you want it or we don’t ship the plugin. Banshee responded that they would choose not to ship the plugin. Canonical responds ‘We’re doing it anyway but for the PR spin we’ll also contribute 25% of UbuntuOne music sales via Banshee to GNOME’. The community was never told of this decision to modify the plugin until it was announced.

So I went to the IRC Community Council meeting on 3/1. If you search the logs starting at 21:19 you’ll see the topic change to the Banshee plugin discussion. I’ll leave it to you to read through it and think about what quotes are important in context and which are not. My take away from that meeting was that Canonical is of the opinion that any app that uses affiliate fees to generate donations is a fair target for them to intercept. From all the comments made from the Canonical side of the table (official statements from Mark, Canonical employees and unofficial statements made by Canonical employees) it would seem that the upcoming donation framework in the Software Center will be subject to percentages taken by Canonical, which I see as a fair thing to do overall. Where my mind goes is will the percentages between Canonical and Banshee set the precedent for the divisions of donations made via the Software Center?

Another puzzlement I have after that meeting is wondering if I’m part of the peanut gallery or not as I am not sure who in the Ubuntu world exactly falls into that category.

There was one other item that happened and I attempted to get it resolved privately in email. I am not going into the details here as it was never a public issue. There were some email communications between myself, Community Council members and Canonical employees and the situation was never resolved to my satisfaction. Between the action that led to the initial email to the final email which promised more communication that never happened I was a bit upset.

With all that to take into consideration, I am stepping down as the leader of the Ubuntu Maryland team. My last official day as leader and contact will be April 30th unless we transition things before then. Our group is an informal one and as such we don’t have a chain of command. I’m currently leader by right of no one else claiming the title. Now we need someone to step up and claim it. As I mentioned in my email to the team earlier this week the fairest way I can come up with is to ask for volunteers who wish to take over leadership of the team to drop me an email. I’m setting a March 31st deadline for those who wish to step up to let me know of your desire. On that day I’ll take the list of volunteers and we’ll get together in person, on IRC or some other manner and hash things out from there.

I’m not planning to disappear or go away. I still see myself using Kubuntu (my preference for some time) going forward. I’ll still recommend Ubuntu or Kubuntu as preferred distributions for new users. My involvement in other groups such as the Columbia Area Linux Users Group and OpenSource Maryland will go on unchanged.

(As normal, the above is my opinion and thoughts and not that of any group I am a member of)

15 Comments

  1. Jef Spaleta wrote:

    Chuck,

    Don’t read too much into the “peanut gallery” comment about how the person(s) who used the term feel about the community in general. It was probably used in the conversation to refer to me, and others like me, who firmly sit outside the Ubuntu community and comment on Canonical’s interactions with the Ubuntu community and the wider ecosystem.

    I’ve no evidence that such a statement was about me specifically, but please give the Canonical employee(s) who used the phrase the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume that the disparaging remark was aimed at anyone who regards themselves as part of the Ubuntu community. That would be an over-sensitive response to a very mild display at frustration.

    I’ll be the first one to admit, what I say, and my persistence at saying it can be frustrating to those who really don’t want to hear it. If the “peanut gallery” remark is the worst display of such unwelcome friction, I say they’ve handled it quite well.

    Everyone in the meeting was a living breathing human being, as far as I know. And as such they are allowed to have emotional responses (both positive and negative emotions). The key to any discussion is to acknowledge the fact that emotional responses are going to happen and to go out of your way to avoid taking offence. Never look for offence.

    This goes doubly so for text based communication where vocal cues or body language cues aren’t there to mitigate emotional tone or to give the person speaking instant feedback as to how their comment was received so they can reorient on the fly. As readers, our brains tend to fill in the gaps left by a lack of those subtle cues and our imagination takes over. It’s actually our nature. It’s the same basic process we do when we read a book we enjoy to imagine a character and bring them to life. As a reader we imbue how we read these irclogs and mailinglists with emotional traits that aren’t necessarily there. If the people writing those irc messages or the mailinglists were accomplished literature writers, they could more effective lead the readership along a specific emotional path. But they aren’t and as a result its very easy to read the wrong thing into what is being said or why it was said or who it was aimed at.

    Food for thought.

    -jef

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  2. David (FSF Supporter wrote:

    Firstly a thank you for the work you’ve put into free software.

    Would you consider migrating to a more community led distribution…I have no particular one in mind nor any axe to grind? I’m merely left with the feeling that you have much to offer and that it is likely to be underutilised.

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  3. If you’re not going to like Ubuntu contributors who also own a Windows and/or a Mac machine, then I have some bad news for you, *many* do! Myself included. Sure, I don’t use them for day to day work, but it’s no crime even if I did. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the Canonical design team, but in this case I think you’re being a bit unfair towards Ivanka there.

    About the Google -> Yahoo change, that never actually happened in a release, it was just for a short time during a pre-release that that was applied for.

    About copyright assignment, it doesn’t allow Canonical to prevent forks. Once code is released under a GPL license it can’t be revoked, and a community could maintain the free fork.

    Otherwise, I understand how you feel, I’ll be making a blog post too on the subject shortly.

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Mackenzie wrote:

    I’m part of the peanut gallery that thinks 75/25 is an unfair split.

    I can try to coordinate stuff in Ubuntu MD. I’ll have a car by April so won’t just be restricted to the red line anymore.

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  5. After reading your post, I feel so idetified but I am not encouraged to take it to a level where I quit. Probaly because I a not a tema leader anymore. I am an Ubuntu Member snce 2008, and the project has changed a lot. Much so that I ended up using Kubuntu for their respect for upstream and feel enamoured by the innovation on that side.

    I will share my thoughts when I piece them together. this is just so confusing / upsetting

    Thanks for sharing

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  6. Jono Bacon wrote:

    Hi Chuck,

    Sorry to hear you are stepping down from the community. I just wanted to share a few thoughts, and happy to open up a dialog and talk more.

    Firstly, I made the comment about the “peanut gallery”, and I just want to be clear in what I meant.

    Ubuntu is a popular distribution, and a distribution that is focusing on the end user demographic. With such a focus and such popularity comes a lot of opinion. Not a day goes by when I don’t see articles both raving and lambasting Ubuntu, Canonical and the decisions made within. A good example are the comments on LWN, OMGUbuntu, Slashdot or elsewhere – these comments are mostly made by folks who are not actively involved in the creation of Ubuntu, and often have an incomplete or partial view of a given story. These are folks I refer to as the “peanut gallery”. The point I made was not that we should ignore the peanut gallery – they are, after all, many of our users and advocates – but instead that their perspective and viewpoints alone should not be a reason to change a plan or feature.

    Ubuntu is a meritocracy, and as such we have a really simple method of distinguishing between the peanut gallery and the folks who I believe we should listen to more and seek advice and guidance from – those who actively contribute to Ubuntu. As we move forward and need to make different decisions, some that are complex, we need to solicit the insight and guidance of those with the experience to make informed decisions that meet our goals well. I can’t think of a better demographic than those active contributors who are already in the Ubuntu family.

    Being blunt, I consider the opinion of an active community contributor to be far more interesting, informed, and relevant than a member of the peanut gallery – and you fall into this active contributor role. You have performed some stunning work in your role, and I would argue that this is part of the reason why Mark Shuttleworth engaged in such a reasonably in-depth discussion about the topic at midnight his time and in the middle of a busy week over in Cape Town. 🙂

    As such, I believe that it is important that we learn what our users need, and we seek to deliver those needs, but when we are facing these tough decisions, we look to our active contributors for guidance and counsel. Are we doing this as effectively as we could? No, I don’t think we are. We are certainly always liaising with our active community, and many of these discussions and conversations are either not seen or are buried in IRC channels and mailing lists, but I do believe we can do a better job of this in the future. I hope we seek your constructive guidance on the best way to do this.

    In this blog entry you listed a lot of reasons why you feel you need to step away, and I don’t blame you being frustrated about some of these things. I do believe the role of Canonical in our community has changed, and the focus of our efforts has changed too – when we started Ubuntu we broadly targeted Linux enthusiasts. We wanted to be the best choice for those who were passionate about Linux and Free Software. That focus has not changed, but we have widened it – taking Free Software to the masses does not just stop at people like you and I, it encompasses anyone who wants to use a computer, and I believe we have a huge opportunity to break down the digital divide with Ubuntu.

    There will never be a case where every decision made by a community, vendor, or product will make everyone happy. There are decisions we as a community and we in Canonical have made, that I personally would have preferred to go in a different direction. There are outcomes that have happened, that I wish could have been handled better, but what keeps me warm in my motivation for Ubuntu is that these small details will be outshone by the satisfaction of millions of users enjoying Free Software for the first time, because Ubuntu and our community has crafted the Free Software experience into one that is more approachable and accessible than before.

    In a nutshell, what I am saying is, while preparing your list of reasons to be frustrated, also think about the reasons to be proud too – we have made so much progress over the years in bringing Free Software to people, and sure, there have been some bumps on the road, but I hope it doesn’t take our eyes away from the prize of reducing the digital divide and having everyone enjoy the freedoms that our software brings.

    Take care, Chuck, and I hope to see you soon.

    Jono

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Marc wrote:

    Thanks for speaking up Chuck, it’s time more people did. I agree with everything you’ve said.

    @Jonathan Carter:
    “About copyright assignment, it doesn’t allow Canonical to prevent forks.”
    That probably wasn’t the point.

    @Jono:
    From what I’ve witnessed, Ubuntu’s so called meritocracy has very little to do with actual merit and reminds me of “North-Korean” meritocracy where the “best” people lead. It’s a Muppet show.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink
  8. jargon wrote:

    @jonobacon As usual, you pretend you didn’t say what you did say. No where in the IRC logs is there any mention of OMGUbuntu, LWN etc. Here’s what was *really* said

    jono vuntz, but this isnt really anything to do with the GNOME Community – it is an arrangement between Canonical and Banshee surely? 22:49

    vuntz jono: that’s negating the fact that banshee people are close to gnome people and vice-versa 22:50

    chuckf From where I sit, as a member of the community, I see this as yet another ‘Community, we have the right to do this leagally so we’re doing it’ decision from Canonical 22:50

    jono vuntz, agreed, but the Ubuntu community is close to the GNOME community 22:50

    vuntz jono: not as close as the banshee one 22:50

    jono vuntz, my only point is that the views of the peanut gallery is not necessarily a reason to change things

    You’re referring to the banshee community as the peanut gallery, adding insult to injury after coming in mafia-style and taking away their money like some obtuse school yard bully. Par for course, when it comes to Canonical, though.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 4:32 am | Permalink
  9. Charlie Fullerton wrote:

    As a true member of the “peanut gallery” I’d like to respond. In reading Chuck’s post above, I don’t believe the the comment made by Jono was a major part of Chuck’s reasoning, but a part nonetheless. I am truly a part of the so called “Peanut Gallery”. I’ve been using Ubuntu for years. I’ve tried to become more active but my schedule limits me.

    Jono and all the people at Ubuntu’s inner circle need to remember that it’s the peanut gallery that will be doing the bulk of the donating. These people are active with their donations because they can’t be more active with their programming or other ways. Does this make them any less important to the Ubuntu Project? IMHO the “Peanut Gallery” comment tells us how Jono really feels about the end user of Ubuntu. It was arrogant and inappropriate. I’m actually angered more now that I’ve read his explanation that when I first heard about it because now I see it for what it really is.

    What is the Peanut Gallery really?

    1. Its people who actively use Ubuntu.
    2. Its people of that group who make donations to keep Ubuntu and other projects within Ubuntu Going.
    3. It’s people who tell others to try Ubuntu to widen it’s user base and in turn get more donations.
    4. Its also the people who love free stuff and never contribute in any way shape or form.

    Is it really fair to label that entire group as #4??

    Here is what I as a member of the Peanut Gallery would like to see.

    1. A note from Jono realising that we are more than #4’s..
    2. The Ubuntu inner circle to announce that it will take no more than 50% of any donations given through software included through Ubuntu.
    3. If Ubuntu One is closed source (in any part of it) it should NOT use the name of Ubuntu. Call it something else. To use the name of Ubuntu is misleading at least.
    4. A way for the Peanut Gallery to get more active, either through donations, or spreading the word about Ubuntu. (How about an Ubuntu Party Pack for sale that includes Ubuntu stickers and CD’s and T-shirts?)

    I still support Ubuntu but I think that some of the decisions made have been misguided. Don’t give up on the core principles that made Ubuntu what it is today!

    Charlie.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  10. David (FSF Supporter wrote:

    @ Jono

    My very best advice to you would be to refrain entirely from tagging individuals or groups of people with silly name calling. At best it is a low form of argument and it is highly likely to be viewed as gratuitously insulting…note Jeff’s reaction to it above. Jeff states that he saw it as a disparaging remark.

    I would have expected better of you and wonder if you read the site about respect I seem to remember some Canonical employee having set up.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  11. Stuart Hirsch wrote:

    Chuck,
    Thank you for your support and leadership.
    Stuart

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  12. Chuck wrote:

    Thanks to all who have responded. I’m going to reply to a few people here and those should cover all the comments that have been made that I feel needs one.

    @Jef
    I guess my concern about the ‘peanut gallery’ reference is that all input should be considered important. As I’m not a part of Canonical or Banshee I was unaware of who would fall into that category per Jono’s remark, off the cuff or not.

    @David
    I am not going to stop contributing to FOSS software. For now I’ll be keeping my Kubuntu boxes. I may work more with that group and/or swim upstream a bit.

    @Jonathan
    My concern is not that someone owns a Windows (I do) or Mac machine. What left me wondering about the Photoshop thing was more that it was a lack of pushing for retraining on FOSS software to do the job. If she said that his job couldn’t be done with FOSS that’s a different arguement. It was simply a lack of willingness for retraining. As for the rest of the comments involving Ivanka I found it hard to belive that the the design lead on the project could not see the similarities between what was being released and MacOS. I had non-tech friends and family see that desktop and ask me when I moved to a Mac.

    For the Google/Yahoo thing I realize it was never released. It was the willingness of Canonical to make the change that concerned me.

    As for the copyright, you may be correct. If so, I have yet to grasp why Canonical feels the need to own the copyright. Maybe my worry is unfounded and I hope it is, but for now I will maintain the discomfort.

    @Mackenzie
    I’ll put you on the list. Just remember that when you get the car, pay cash as payments make it drive slower:)

    @Jono
    I intend to stay a part of the community, just moving to a different participation level. I just cannot lead a piece of the community with the reservations that I have at the moment.

    As for the peanut gallery comment, what I find difficult to take is that even here you describe it as those who are informed of changes and those who are not. Part of my issue is that things are moving to where it is Canonical making the decision in house then telling the community ‘this is what we will do’. No one in the community is being informed of the changes Canoncial is implementing until it is implemented as a done deal. In that light, even the most active community member (that is not a Canonical employee) is nothing more than a member of the peanut gallery given this explanation of your comment. So even if a person is outside of the community it does not mean that they cannot see a flaw in the plans.

    I’m not saying that I have to agree with every decision made within the project, but when I see a systematic process that is leading in a direction that removes control from the community it grew from it is disturbing.

    Another concern I have, since you brought it up, is the constant line from Canonical ‘I wish things could have been handled better’. That mantra is getting a bit tired.

    It is because I am proud of where this came from that my concern for where it is going is so great.

    @Stuart
    You’re quite welcome. I’ll hopefully see you at the next OpenSource Maryland meeting.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  13. Captain Tux wrote:

    Chuck –

    Thanks for your work and leadership… best of luck going forward!

    Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  14. Jono Bacon wrote:

    I just want to re-iterate a few points, as it seems there is some confusion of my perspective:

    * We do value the input of users in our community. We have facilities such as brainstorm.ubuntu.com, we run surveys, do user testing and more. We strive to collect this input in a structured manner so we can help interface it to improvements via our development process.

    * I am not saying I don’t care about feedback and opinion on blogs and in comments – I spend much of my life reading such feedback and striving to respond and provide input and response where I can. I also value feedback in my weekly video Q+A sessions: I don’t want to give anyone the impression I don’t care about users – as I said in my response, the whole point of Ubuntu in my mind is delivering an awesome Free Software experience for users.

    * My point on the “peanut gallery” is merely that I consider the input of active contributors as typically more informed and valuable than random comments on blog entries, and as such I feel our decision-making should be driven by such contributors. I think this is an factor in meritocracy: the feedback of an active, regular contributor who has made significant and sustained contributions carries more weight in my mind than a random commentator on a blog entry.

    Thanks.

    Jono

    Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  15. Jef Spaleta wrote:

    Jono,
    So with all that in mind. Who so far who has commented do you consider to be active enough of a contributor to have their opinion hold weight in the meritocracy? Is Chuck one of those people? Is Mackenzie one of those people? When they tell you they disagree with the Canonical decision-making of late, how do you speak to them without making it sound like you’ve lumped them into the peanut gallery with me?

    You tend to use a very broad brush when commenting on dissent. And with that very broad brush, you have yet to paint a more subtle picture illustrating how you,as community manager, help Canonical digest dissent from those around you who are not so easily brush aside as…nuts.

    -Jef”My friends call me a goober..not a peanut”Spaleta

    Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink