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Ubuntu One Thoughts

I waited and debated on what, if anything, to post on this topic. I didn’t want to chime in and just be another voice but every voice should be heard if it wants to speak. I was hoping that after Mark Shuttleworth spoke his thoughts on the matter of the naming of the Ubuntu One project that something would clear up in my head on this and keep this post from being needed in my mind. Unfortunately Mark’s response was as I thought it might be, as I read it, that the Ubuntu trademark belongs to him via Canonical and they’ll do as they see fit with the name. That is a fair response as it reflects the rights of the trademark owner.

My issue with the project is not, as others have expressed, that the back end of Ubuntu One is closed source. Canonical as a company has a track record of closed source web services. These are reflected in the Launchpad product and the Landscape service. The community was told early on that Launchpad would eventually be open sourced after it aged and components stabilized and matured. This promise from Canonical is about to be realized at least in part with the majority of Launchpad opening up on July 21st.

The Ubuntu One project is carrying no such promises of opening it up or hints of it to come. It is at this point simply a closed source ‘cloud’ product with an open source client. I’m sure that already there are some open source groups looking at the client to see how it integrates into the back end and how the server might be cloned via reverse engineering. After all the FLOSS world has some very smart people among us. I think that the iFolder people are looking at this with some interest to see how others are implementing the same ideas they have going in their existing project. This is another reason that I’m surprised Canonical labeled this as ‘Ubuntu’ when there is obviously more people and groups that would like to take advantage of the product without being limited to the Ubuntu desktop in reality or perception.

This Ubuntu One product I think creates a break of trust between Canonical and the Ubuntu community at large when it comes to how the Ubuntu name is used. Up until now I have felt and explained that the Ubuntu brand and name stands for software freedom. The distribution is as free as you can get and adds the closed options to play with the vendors who do not understand what is gained by opening their drivers and software. The Ubuntu logo is a way to show that you believe that Free software is the right way to do things. Yes, I explain Canonical provides closed commercial web services and projects but they do so under their name and express their Free software stance by supporting the Ubuntu project. Yes Mark, when it comes to this project you are the daddy. You’ve raised this kids to believe in free software, standing up for what we believe in and we’re letting you know we learned the lesson. This means even family can be called out when they do the wrong thing in spirit if not in law.

Now as an advocate and member of the Ubuntu project I have to go an extra step when explaining Ubuntu. That it is Free on the desktop but when you reach the clouds you may lose sight of that freedom when you see the Ubuntu name, at least to some extent.

I hope the skies clear up and we see a nice patch of blue but I’m packing a small umbrella because there looks to be a touch of grey to the clouds…


  1. mark wrote:


    Thanks for writing this post. I agree completely. I hope at UDS there will be the right discussion.

    Monday, May 18, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  2. Alex Launi wrote:

    No reverse engineering is needed, the protocol is completely open, the protocol branch was up before the client branch was published; someone just needs to stop blogging and do the work.

    Monday, May 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  3. f.p. wrote:

    “The Ubuntu One project is carrying no such promises of opening it up or hints of it to come.”

    Mark says, “There are lots of moving parts. Some of those are already open, some
    will end up open, others may not.” (

    Certainly that’s not a promise, but it could fit some people’s definitions of a hint. Sounds to me like “we’re not set against opening the whole thing, but we’re still figuring out the business model before we decide.” From a business perspective, I can understand reluctance to opensource the “cloud” side, and I think the open client as well as Mark’s comments show goodwill and desire for compromise.

    I have more problem with the “One” in the name than the “Ubuntu”. It’s a product designed specifically for Ubuntu, made by the company that guides and sponsors Ubuntu. All of the code that would reside on my computer is open and free. I don’t care about the code Canonical keeps for their own private use on their side. Even Richard Stallman won’t begrudge someone to use code privately and not distribute it, if they’re not spreading binary versions. To me that doesn’t break the Ubuntu philosophy any more than the default Rhythmbox configuration that ships with it (since it integrates tightly with

    So that’s what it has to do with Ubuntu, but what the heck does “One” have to do with file syncing and storage? I want to see more focus on that. 🙂

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 2:40 am | Permalink
  4. Josh wrote:

    Chuck, I disagree. It’s pretty clear to industry analysts that Canonical created Ubuntu One as a value added service to help push Ubuntu into the cloud. It’s a practical concern, not an ideological one.

    I personally don’t care if it’s closed source. And I don’t care if Launchpad is closed source. I don’t see how this affects my work in any way. All it does is create another argument for those in the community who would rather talk politics than technology.

    Being pro-open source doesn’t mean that we have to become mindless purists in pursuit of some naive ideal. Canonical and Shuttleworth have dumped an enormous amount of time, energy, and funds into the Ubuntu project and into the Linux community. Is the creation of value added products and services around the Ubuntu brand really a cause for concern? I don’t think so.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  5. oliver wrote:

    Josh: for me, the open-source-ness of Ubuntu One does matter as soon as I wish to use my own server as cloud. Installing a closed-source Ubuntu One server part then comes with all the usual problems (can’t debug it; can’t extend it; is it actually portable to Debian, RedHat, Solaris?).

    The other point is that while you might only see the practical concern, others like me might see this a bit more emotional: I’d like to trust Canonical that their goals are similar to mine (creating free software for everybody); and I contribute to Ubuntu because I trust that they will share and distribute those contributions well. The Ubuntu One licensing decision simply puts some cracks in that trust.
    Maybe it _is_ naive to trust Canonical to be benevolent; in that case, ok, better to bite the bullet, wake up now and reevaluate how to spend spare time. But it’s not what I’d really want.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  6. Flimm wrote:

    “Is the creation of value added products and services around the Ubuntu brand really a cause for concern? I don’t think so.”
    No, but the creation of closed source products which ignore the community and violate the spirit behind Ubuntu and the reason why many people volunteer is a cause for concern.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  7. Unamed wrote:


    Why use open source software?

    Because it’s open source?
    Then, why create close source products?

    Because open source software is better?
    Then, why create close source software when you know that it’ll create worse products?

    Because it’s free (zero cost, gratis)?
    Then I see your point.

    “industry analyst” and “value added” are meaningless expressions that people that can’t think for themselves use.

    Calling your critics and detractors “purists” with the intention to offend is the most overused word between those, may I say, low integrity individuals that have attached themselves to open source because it’s “zero cost”. The ultimate “free lunch”!

    You cannot dismiss them so easily because unlike yourself they have integrity.

    If you cared to read the philosophy behind both “Free Software” and “Open Source” you would see that their foundations are indeed practical. It was not a “pie in sky dream”. So much so that the creation, development, usage and investment in open source has increased steadily in last 10 years.

    And yes, Mark Shuttleworth, has indeed wasted millions of his money to feed his ego. No business plan whatsoever, no understanding of what is need to create an open source business, that is why he needs to create close source products. Great differentiator. Great “valued added”.

    What’s so different between this “Ubuntu One” from Canonical product and “Live Mesh” from Microsoft. Lets see:

    Ubuntu One
    Locked in Ubuntu
    Closed Source
    2GB free/10 GB for $10 (It isn’t even competitive with Dropbox)

    Live Mesh
    Locked in Windows
    Closed Source
    5GB free (for synchronization)
    25GB free (for storage)

    Valued added!!?? What a joke!

    Again Mr. Shuttleworth and you “Josh” don’t understand business or community or value or end users.

    In principles (don’t betray them)
    In Trust (don’t break it)
    In Quality (the best differentiator)

    The “Ubuntu Generation” has a great prophet, they deserve each other…

    Writing this from a Windows computer so your “purist” is wasted. I just can’t stand hypocrites!

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  8. neo wrote:

    It is useful to compare and contrast what Canonical is doing to what Red Hat is doing considering that Canonical explicitly started out to be a “better Fedora than Fedora”

    Red Hat is a completely Free software company deeply involved in many core upstream projects and the largest contributor to Linux kernel and many many desktop components. The only piece that was proprietary was open sourced a while back

    Spacewalk has nothing really comparable in the free software world yet Red Hat was committed enough to free it. Meanwhile Canonical refused to fully open source Launchpad and is busy launching more proprietary services like landscape and ubuntuone.

    UbuntuOne also is riding on the popularity of Ubuntu and is going back on the Canonical promise to keep Ubuntu as a separate free software only brand.

    Fedora has grown nicely as a community oriented distribution and Red Hat remains profitable and growing every year. Meanwhile Canonical has yet to make a profit or even meet even. What does that tell you about which strategy to adopt?

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Josh wrote:

    I just don’t see how Ubuntu One violates the spirit of the community-company bond. Ubuntu One is not an integral OS component. If you don’t want to use it, don’t.

    @”Unamed”: I use open source software when it works and I don’t use it when it doesn’t. I don’t care much about price (provided that it’s reasonable), nor do I care about being able to debug proprietary code (that would be a waste of my time). I just don’t care. I want to write documents, edit spreadsheets, browse the web, listen to music, watch movies, download porn, play games, etc., etc.

    You think I’m out for a “free lunch?” Geez. I can have Linux for free and I don’t want it, nor do I use it anymore because it just doesn’t do what I need it to. I own two Macs (hows that for pricey?) and a desktop gaming PC that dual-boots Ubuntu. I don’t care about price. I’d pay for Linux if it were worth anything to me. I only follow Linux and Ubuntu because of its promise… a promise that I THOUGHT Canonical would be able to bankroll (such as finally fixing X’s sore points, the mess that is the Linux audio stack, and creating partnerships with third-party vendors like HP and Logitech for better support for peripherals).

    And, yes, “industry analysts” is a real term for us grown ups who read about technology every day. Google for the VAR Guy, Redmonk, Technologizer, and the Register. That’s a decent start.

    And, while you’re at it, check Wikipedia for “Value added.”

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink
  10. Josh wrote:

    @neo: I don’t think you can compare UbuntuOne with Landscape. The two are different beasts, whereas the former is more of a software service than a software product. Yet, even so, Ubuntu itself remains open source. So I don’t really see the problem with Landscape being closed source. From my perspective, Ubuntu is still the same system with the same license. How does adding a service or extending its functionality compromise that license?

    If your primary motivation is in pushing open source licensing, then of course you’d be upset. ANY non-GPL license would likely be upsetting to you. But my priority isn’t open source licensing, it’s a reliable, stable system at a lower TCO than Windows.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  11. Scott wrote:

    I’m just a user, not a programmer, so maybe I don’t understand.

    However, the “client” piece of software for Ubuntu One is open source, meaning anyone can code a client for any platform to mimmick the functionality of the UO client.

    THe “closed source” piece is the server-side software that Canonical uses to provide and run their cloud based services. It is not designed to be duplicated and installed places (unlike end user software) and is entirely designed to allow Canonical to do their private jobs.

    Canonical has decided (foolishly, apparently in the eyes of some people) to produce only a client for Ubuntu and also to not bother releasing their private code which isn’t for public use anyways. Should Canonical begin producing packages for SUSE, Windows and Fedora in an attempt to diversify? I think that is the responsibility of the users/maintainers of those respective platforms. The client is open, so can be studied, adapted and duplicated.

    I don’t see what the problem is. I guess I see open source software as a generous gift rather than a right. I appreciate it, but I use “closed source” and “protected IPs” throughout the software world every time I play video games, listen to music etc etc. Provided those things do not become cumbersome or designed to extract ever increasing amounts of money from me after roping me into a product (as they have, for example, with music & video DRM) I think it is something that is up to the discretion of the provider.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  12. neo wrote:


    Canonical is not involved much in Xorg or PulseAudio or anything much in way of upstream projects. How the heck are going to fix any of the issues? They mostly engage themselves in packaging code written by other communities. I must say, your expectations don’t match the community you are involved with.

    Landscape can very well be compared to Ubuntu One. Both have open source clients tied to proprietary services.

    The talk of “TCO” reminds me of Microsoft “get the facts” campaign. If you care only about what is cheap vs what is sustainable in the longer run, I suppose we do defer in our ideas.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  13. Josh wrote:

    @neo: Yes, you’re right. Canonical isn’t involved much with upstream projects and that’s why I no longer actively support, nor use, Ubuntu. I support Linux in spirit. I want it to succeed.

    Canonical had the opportunity to fund development on the worst problems facing the Linux desktop. Instead, they built a community on the PROMISE of a usable Linux desktop. Then, when they realized they couldn’t make any money that way, they turned their focus to servers and the enterprise: the one place where Linux was always a competitor. So, as far as I’m concerned, Canonical is just another Red Hat, and Ubuntu is just another Fedora.

    We have yet to see a serious attempt at a Linux desktop that involves something more than just window-dressing on the same old stale open source projects.

    You may not like talking about TCO, but it’s an important consideration for those of us in the business of making decisions about which technologies to adopt and which to avoid.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  14. neo wrote:

    “So, as far as I’m concerned, Canonical is just another Red Hat, and Ubuntu is just another Fedora. ”

    I don’t see that. Red Hat unlike Canonical is running a growing profitable business and pools in a lot of money on funding Free software projects. Red Hat doesn’t have a single proprietary product at all.

    Fedora unlike Ubuntu is completely Free software and doesn’t get tied to proprietary software.

    “We have yet to see a serious attempt at a Linux desktop that involves something more than just window-dressing on the same old stale open source projects.”

    You are right that nobody has figured out a successful business model around consumer desktops around linux but I wouldn’t bet on Canonical to deliver anything here. It is much more likely Red Hat will, considering their solid investments including on the desktop level.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  15. Nate wrote:

    I think the issue Chuck has pointed out, is that Canonical, the caretakers of the Ubuntu brand is calling this closed source Canonical product “Ubuntu”, when it really isn’t Ubuntu, at least not by the old definition. It’s the naming that is important.

    Because the Ubuntu OS is free software (see, now I can’t just call “Ubuntu” free software), I own it. Ubuntu is mine. I can take it, and the code, and do whatever I want with it. And when I contribute to the project, I am Ubuntu.

    The only exception to my complete ownership, is in the copyrighted images and names in the software, such as the Firefox logo, and the Ubuntu logo, and the ownership of those trademarks. Now, I honestly have no problem with Mozilla and Canonical being custodians of those copyrighted images, as I understand the importance of branding, and in protecting a brand, and I trust the legal custodians to uphold the meaning of the brand.

    The problem is that Canonical is now producing a product which I do not and can not own, and still calling it the same thing. This undermines the meaning and value of the name “Ubuntu”, and changes what it means to be part of the “Ubuntu” project, as I can no longer call Ubuntu, in it’s entirety, my own.

    The issue isn’t whether or not you care if I own Ubuntu or not – the issue is that the naming of this Canonical product has changed the definition of Ubuntu.

    I’m personally not up in arms about this. While I do care a lot about the Ubuntu operating system and the Ubuntu project, I trust that those in power will work this out. They’ve done a great job so far. Thanks!

    Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  16. Ram wrote:

    I hate to see them using the name ubuntu. Other than that, I do not see an issue.

    Friday, November 6, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink