Founder: Ubuntu's contribution goes beyond the code tree

Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth shot back against detractors today, pointing out that his project has made Linux more marketable and successful on the desktop.

Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth shot back against detractors today, pointing out that his project has made Linux more marketable and successful on the desktop.

His comments were posted in response to a recently published survey revealing that Canonical -- the commercial arm of Ubuntu -- has contributed only about one percent of the code to the GNOME desktop for Linux. while Red Hat accounts for 17 percent of the code and Novell developers are responsible for about 11 percent.

"In recent weeks it’s been suggested that Canonical’s efforts are self-directed and not of benefit to the broader open source community. That’s a stinging criticism because most of us feel completely the opposite," Shuttleworth wrote in his blog today.

Canonical's contribution to Linux -- making Ubuntu a viable competitor to Windows and Macintosh on the desktop -- should not be overlooked, he added.

"When Ubuntu was conceived, the Linux ecosystem was in a sense fully formed. We had a kernel. We had GNOME and KDE. We had X and libc and GCC and all the other familiar tools. Sure they had bugs and they had shortcomings and they had roadmaps to address them. But there was something missing: sometimes it got articulated as marketing sometimes as end-user focus. I remember thinking that’s what I could bring. So Ubuntu, and Canonical, have quite explicitly NOT put effort into things which are obviously working quite well, instead, we’ve tried to focus on new ideas and new tools and new components. I see that as an invigorating contribution to the broader open source ecosystem, and I hear from many people that they perceive it the same way."

Shuttleworth said Canonical's major contribution has been to popularize Linux on the desktop -- and grow the end user base. And that's what's needed most, he claims.

Those who say 'but Canonical doesn’t do X' may be right, but that misses all the things we do, which weren’t on the map beforehand. Of course, there’s little that we do exclusively, and little that we do that others couldn’t if they made that their mission, but I think the passion of the Ubuntu community, and the enthusiasm of its users, reflects the fact that there is something definitively new and distinctive about the project," Shuttleworth wrote. "That’s something to celebrate, something to be proud of, and something to motivate us to continue."

"Free software is bigger than any one project," he noted. "It’s bigger than the Linux kernel, it’s bigger than GNU, it’s bigger than GNOME and KDE, it’s bigger than Ubuntu and Fedora and Debian. Each of those projects plays a role, but it is the whole which is really changing the world."

Shuttleworth admonished those who threw darts at Canonical.

"When we start to argue with one another from the perspective of any one slice of free software, we run the risk of missing the bigger picture. That’s a bit like an auto-immune disease, where the body starts to attack itself," he said. "By definition, someone else who is working hard all day long to bring free software to a wider audience is on the same side as me, compared to 99% of the rest of the world, if I want to think in terms of sides. I admire and respect everyone who puts energy into advancing the cause of free software, even if occasionally I might differ on the detail of how it can be done."

He's got a point. I remember the excitement generated a few years back when Michael Dell publicly applauded the Ubuntu desktop and Dell's decision to preload Ubuntu on select PCs. Now that deal per se was not a big success, but it shifted perception about the potential of Linux on the desktop in a far more signifiant way than Red Hat or Novell ever did.

Both Canonical's Ubuntu and Google's Android are open source Linux projects that have advanced the cause of Linux, even if the implementations have stirred controversy within the open source community.  That has to be good for open source.


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