Dev Watch

Blog archive

Upheaval Hits Ubuntu

One thing about the open source movement in general -- and Linux specifically: Watching the software development process can certainly be more interesting than staid, proprietary corporate coding.

I guess it all started with ol' Linus himself, prone to biting, profane criticisms of fellow volunteer developers (see "Top [Expletive] Linus Torvalds Rants").

Whatever the reason, Linux development often exposes its dirty laundry (see "What's Wrong at Debian?"), with disputes sometimes going public (see "Linux Rift over Systemd Widens with Threat of Debian Fork").

It's like the open source/Linux space serves as the anti-Facebook, providing peeks into what's really going on instead of peppy posts about idyllic lives penned by people who then come home from work tired, pop a beer, kick the dog and plop down on the couch to watch "Dancing with the Stars" on TV. (Not me! No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)

Linus Torvalds
Did It All Start with Linus?
(source: YouTube screenshot)

Anyway, the latest upheaval is happening with Ubuntu, the popular distro championed by Canonical Ltd.

Whatever's going on over there caused Canonical/Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth to lose his cool and channel his inner Linus in a bombastic post in which he remarkably used two of the "seven dirty words you can't say on TV" in one three-word sentence: "[Expletive] that [Expletive]."

Along the way, he derided the "hate-fest" surrounding an Ubuntu component, called the haters "muppets" and characterized many open sourcers as "just deeply anti-social types who love to hate on whatever is mainstream."

What's more, the Canonical CEO just quit, other staffers are reportedly exiting in droves, the distro made a controversial move to a different desktop and -- oh, by the way -- the new Ubuntu 17.04 just launched today.

Whew! It's hard keeping track of this stuff, but it all seems related.

First off, Shuttleworth unleashed his Linus-like litany of angst in a Google+ post last week, in which he innocuously started out with the benign: "I would like to thank all of you for your spirit and intellect and energy in the Unity8 adventure." He was referring to the recent decision voiced by Shuttleworth to "end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell. We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS."

Somewhere in the thread of comments, someone pleaded with Shuttleworth to "Please, don't let Mir die."

The Mir to which he referred is described as: "a next generation display server targeted as a replacement for the X window server system to unlock next-generation user experiences for devices ranging from Linux desktop to mobile devices powered by Ubuntu. The primary purpose of Mir is to enable the development of the next generation Unity." As such, the commentator was apparently afraid Mir would be thrown out in the switch from the Unity desktop to GNOME.

His plea provoked the following response from Shuttleworth:

We have lots of IoT projects using Mir as a compositor so that code continues to receive investment. I agree, it's a very fast, clean and powerful graphics composition engine, and smart people love it for that. The whole Mir hate-fest boggled my mind -- it's free software that does something invisible really well. It became a political topic as irrational as climate change or gun control, where being on one side or the other was a sign of tribal allegiance. We have a problem in the community when people choose to hate free software instead of loving that someone cares enough to take their life's work and make it freely available.

I came to be disgusted with the hate on Mir. Really, it changed my opinion of the free software community.

I used to think that it was a privilege to serve people who also loved the idea of service, but now I think many members of the free software community are just deeply anti-social types who love to hate on whatever is mainstream. When Windows was mainstream they hated on it. Rationally, Windows does many things well and deserves respect for those. And when Canonical went mainstream, it became the focus of irrational hatred too. The very same muppets would write about how terrible it was that IOS/Android had no competition and then how terrible it was that Canonical was investing in (free software!) compositing and convergence. F___ that s___.

By the way, Shuttleworth is reassuming the position of CEO after the departure of Jane Silber, announced yesterday.

Meanwhile, The Register yesterday published an article titled "Canonical sharpens post-Unity axe for 80-plus Ubuntu spinners."

The article states: "The Reg has learned 31 or more staffers have already left the Linux distro biz ahead of Shuttleworth's rise, with at least 26 others now on formal notice and uncertainty surrounding the remainder. One individual has resigned while others, particularly in parts of the world with more stringent labor laws, such as the UK, are being left in the dark."

Stay tuned for more installments of the daily drama.

Anyway, did I mention the new Ubuntu is out? It features support for Kubernetes, Docker, LXD and Snaps ... aw, who cares about that stuff?

What do you care about? Drop me a line.

Posted by David Ramel on April 13, 2017