Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

Summary: Like Ben & Jerry's which started out with a pair of obscure, idealistic Hippies, Canonical is coming to the realization that it needs to compromise some of its core values in order to make its Ubuntu Linux desktop successful.

TOPICS: Open Source

Like Ben & Jerry's which started out with a pair of obscure, idealistic Hippies, Canonical is coming to the realization that it needs to compromise some of its core values in order to make its Ubuntu Linux desktop successful.

Cherry Garcia. Chunky Monkey. Chubby Hubby. Peace, love, and Ice Cream.

Funky flavors made by a company with a Hippie image. One which has been largely retained even to this day, 32 years after its founding and humble roots as a locally sourced, small-batch ice cream store in a quaint lakeside town in Northern Vermont.

Like Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's is now synonymous with superpremium ice cream in North America, with over 200 franchised stores and over $230M in annual revenue. But they didn't always used to be that way.

Ben & Jerry's started out in 1978 with two Jewish boys from Long Island, who took a course on Ice Cream production at Penn State. With a meager initial investment of $12,000 they opened up a store in Burlington and began to produce small batch ice cream using only locally sourced, all-natural ingredients.

They fought and successfully litigated the Pillsbury company, owner of the Haagen-Dazs brand, which tried to prevent them from expanding into local markets during the 1980s. In 1985 the company set up a charity, the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, which set aside 7.5% of the annual pre-tax profits towards community projects. The company also set a policy that no employee's salary would exceed seven times that of the most entry-level employee.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan awarded Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield Small Business Persons of the Year.

All of this was great for the company's idealistic, Hippie image. But it couldn't stay this way indefinitely.

Seven years later after receiving their award from President Reagan, in 1995, Ben Cohen resigned as CEO and immediately after the company abolished its salary cap policy in order to retain a new CEO. Five years after that, in 2000, Ben & Jerry's was acquired by the Dutch multinational UNILEVER, and Ben Cohen ceased working for the company entirely, with the exception of a minor advisory role.

With the UNILEVER acquisition of Ben & Jerry's, many things changed. The Ben & Jerry's Foundation which originally was set up to give away 7.5 percent of the company's pre-tax revenue was adjusted by the parent company to donate at more realistic levels as to not significantly affect profitability. Today, the Foundation only funds about $1.8M in grants total, which is closer to 1% of revenue AFTER taxes, if that.

The locally sourced and All-Natural ingredients? Well, that was also unrealistic to maintain indefinitely. The company had to abandon the "All Natural" moniker in 2010 after it was discovered that High-Fructose Corn Syrup and other artificial ingredients were used in their products.

Page 2: [The sweet taste of Ubuntu success]  »

Ben & Jerry's grew up and is without a doubt an American success story. But it came at a significant cost and compromise to the founders' core principles. The world of big business, however, is not a Hippie commune. Unfortunately.

As I watch Canonical and observe the evolution of its Ubuntu Linux distribution, as well as its philosophy of "Linux for Human Beings" and subtext of "Humanity towards others" I can't help think of what happened to Ben & Jerry's.

Like the ice cream company that is now part of a giant conglomerate, Ubuntu is undergoing a gradual shift away from Community and Free Software/Open Source ideals to one of balanced pragmatism.

Unlike the Debian project on which it is based on, that tries to closely follow Free Software ideals and govern design and changes by committee, which has always made that distribution lag behind its more progressive rivals such as Fedora or openSUSE, Ubuntu tries to accelerate the process with biannual releases and a more effective and agile management/governance team.

Ubuntu has also taken a more pragmatic approach by allowing non-Free software into its stack, as well as technologies such as Mono which are considered controversial or even toxic by the Free Software purists.

This week, Canonical's CEO, Mark Shuttleworth, announced that GNOME, which has been lagging behind in development of its next version, 3.0, for several years, would no longer be the default User Interface for the OS as of the next version, 11.04. Instead, the company's own Open Source Unity interface, which it developed originally for netbooks, would succeed it.

Is this the end of Canonical and Ubuntu's Free Software ideals? Hardly. But the company has come to the realization that in order for Linux to have a chance on the desktop, it has to make some hard choices and compromise. It can't sit and wait for the GNOME Foundation to twiddle its thumbs and lag behind in desktop innovation from Windows, Mac OS, or even KDE.

Ubuntu needs to innovate and provide a compelling alternative environment that users would want to switch to, otherwise the dream for a mainstream Linux desktop is hopeless. And at the same time, it has to provide the same technologies, such such as multitouch, that next-generation OSes such as Mac OS X Lion and Windows 8 will also provide. If Debian, GNOME and other projects cannot provide this, Canonical and Ubuntu has to do it on its own.

He who writes the code gets to make the decisions -- not the Community. And that's the inconvenient truth when it comes to software development. I suspect that like Ben & Jerry's, Canonical will continue to make the same difficult choices in order to adapt and become even more successful.

Lucid Lynx. Maverick Meerkat. Natty Narwhal. Linux for Human Beings and Humanity Towards Others. Funky names for an operating system from an obscure company in England with a community-oriented, Free Software image. One which I hope it will be able to retain, many years from now.

Will Canonical and Ubuntu go the route of Ben & Jerry's? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topic: Open Source


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

    Why do some people consider Mono to be toxic? Is Java also toxic?
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      @nightbirdsf: I'm not interested in debating yea or nay, but some people consider Mono toxic because it's built on original research by a corporation that has made patent litigation threats against free software. Java was originally non-free (google "The Java Trap"), and is now controlled by a corporation that has acted in ways that may be considered hostile to free software. So yes, *some* people would also call Java toxic - or at least potentially quite unhealthy.
      • Re: "toxic" Mono

        @nightbirdsf @ricegf

        I would put it this way.

        Those in favor, describe incorporating Mono into the default software stack as "pragmatic", and try to dismiss opponents concerns as unreasonable.

        Most significant among these concerns are patent issues, and whether the (limited and non-binding) assurances given by Microsoft in this regard can be depended on. There are technical issues as well.

        Those against incorporating Mono into the default software stack argue that incorporating Mono this way is not "pragmatic" but merely "expedient" and fraught with various problems, that are best avoided, because incorporating any significant reliance on Mono is to make yourself vulnerable to an acknowledged and proven-untrustworthy enemy who has motive to do you harm.

        I myself think that in the short run it might (or might not) be, in some ways, a little harder -- or just more inconvenient -- to keep Mono (think Silverlight/Moonlight and DRM) out of the default stack, but it's a bad bet to do otherwise, and the "expedient" path in this case only presents potentially significant benefits (if any) from a short-term, corporate-politics point-of-view.

        I'll go further: Linux has only gotten as far as it has because its development model and licensing has been based on the long-term <i> pragmatic </i> principles underlying Free/Open-Source Software, which are precisely why Microsoft hasn't been able to kill it off the way it did Netscape or the BeOS operating system. Linux is growing and improving steadily, while Microsoft is struggling to maintain its dominant, monopoly position. To adopt Mono as an "expedient" choice not only <i> not </i> pragmatic, it needlessly offers hostages to an untrustworthy opponent.

        PS: As for Java, there are in fact fully open-source, fully functional implementations, and thus Java is not "toxic".
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      @nightbirdsf People are worried that if you ship Mono packages, then Microsoft will sue you for patent infringement. That are some flaws with this logic. Microsoft works hand-in-hand with the Mono project and has blessed their work. They'd have a hard time selling people on the idea that they supported Mono for all these years, and then turn around and act like the victim.

      Secondly, the EU gave them the mandate of more interoperability or they'd continue to receive massive fines in addition to blocking all sales of Microsoft products in the EU.

      Combine that with a lot of the newer Microsoft leadership is actually embracing interoperability. I can't forsee Microsoft trying to sue the pants off of everyone over Mono. If they were going to do so, they would have done so by now.
      • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?


        Well, to me, it's not about what the Company will do now: It is about what it might choose to do in the future. Just look at Sun Microsystems. They didn't like what some people (Google) were doing with Java, but Google knew they would never sue about it. They got bought by Oracle and now oracle is suing the pants off Google. Who knows, next Oracle might start suing all kinds of people because of Java. That's the problem, the uncertainty.

        With mono, Microsoft is not very likely to do anything right now. However, their market share is declining and they are starting to become even more defensive (seen the openoffice video released by them?). What if they decide they just don't want people to be able to easily port/write .net on other platforms? Doesn't seem too unlikely to me, considering they want people to keep using Windows. They may/may not sue, but they can shut down Mono whenever they want.

        Also, while unlikely right now, if someone ends up buying Microsoft in the future then the new owners may decide they don't like mono or want to sue about it. Once again, there is uncertainty.

        Long story short: Java and Mono aren't really "poisonous", but no one is sure whether or not they are safe. I would prefer to use something safe whenever possible. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to currently be a safe framework, and I like Android too much to get completely away from Java.
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      yes, but for different reasons :)
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      @nightbirdsf Vanilla is without exception the most popular flavour for Ice Cream in North America. The dairy industry uses half of the total imported vanilla to North America. It is a very important ice cream ingredient, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/">brand generic drug list</a>, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/blog/muscle-relaxers.html">muscle relaxers list</a>, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/blog/pain-drugs.html">pain medications list</a>, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/blog/erectile-dysfunction-drugs.html">medication erectile dysfunction</a>, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/blog/antidepressants.html">antidepressant drugs</a>, <a href="http://www.genericdruglist.net/blog/hair-loss-treatment.html">treatment for hair loss in men</a> not only in vanilla ice cream, but in many other flavours where it is used as a flavour enhancer, e.g. chocolate much improved by presence of vanilla.
  • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

    First, you should proof-read your articles.

    Second, the community *is* writing the code, and while that may not mean that they'll make the decision, they can easily fork the project and keep the GNOME interface.

    Third, I find it hard to believe that a Linux distro could or would sell out to a corporation. Canonical is a company, sure, but their purpose is to fund Ubuntu and provide support for it. The very nature of Linux makes it almost impossible to allow a corporation to make decisions--as we saw in the split from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice. The community will very simply split off and do whatever it wants.
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      I love the way people make it sound like forking a project is so easy. What you're potentially losing is the talent behind the project. If the developers don't fork too, you might as well not bother.
      Real World
    • What about RedHat?

      @MarkTraceur ... You don't thing that RedHat makes decisions in its own corporate best interests?

      Canonical cannot fund Ubuntu and support it if they have no control over ther code they are expected to support. If decisions made at GNOME do not serve Canonical's best interests, Canonical will make their own decisions - including writing thier own code instaed of forking someone else's code.
      M Wagner
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?


      [i] "First, you should proof-read your articles."[/i]

      Why should I do that when I can crowdsource my copy editing? COMMUNITY, right?
      • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

        @jperlow - LOL very good.
      • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?


        A pretty weak response. It might be nice if you at least spell checked it. "effictive "? Sound Australian.
  • Um...no

    Your comparison to Ben and Jerry's doesn't make sense. Are you saying that Unity is like using manufactured crap instead of wholesome ingredients? And you seem to approve of compromising core values, which is a really weird thing to approve of. Whatever your point was here, you didn't make it.
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      @stebidri Yeah, I was thinking the same thing... Unity's free software isn't it?
  • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

    Lazy analogy. Ubuntu is not abandoning GNOME, simply choosing to develop an in-house alternative to gnome shell, which incidentally is open source. This particular move is not abandoning any particular ideals; the only valid criticism is that it further fragments development.

    If you wanted a working analogy, you'd discuss how the % profit from mangatune sales goes to Ubuntu rather than the application dev team, or how Ubuntu seems to be leaning towards open core. Even then you'd have a hard time - Canonical has been a profit seeking venture from the start (it has no hippy principles to betray), its motivation to work with the community and provide a good distro have always been, at bedrock, profit.
  • If GNOME will accomodate...

    the request for merging global-menu, then maybe Canonical will reconsider.

    I believe that was the fly in the ointment.
    Still, moving to a relative newcomer ui that requires hardening (might take as much as 2 years like KDE 4), is risky.

    But one wonders if Mark Shuttleworth is sly like a Fox and knows that Netbooks armed with Ubuntu marketed by the OEMs targeted by MS for 'royalties', is a way around the punitive levy since there is no Android involvement in such case.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate
      My netbook came with Ubuntu on it. I blew it away and loaded Win 7 and have never looked back. Sorry Atari.
  • RE: Has Ubuntu exceeded the Ben & Jerry's hippie threshold?

    Great write up on the history of Ben & Jerrys. Chunky Monkey is still the best flavor they come up with, and chocolate chip cookie dough being a very close second.

    If your asking if ubuntu has sold out, the answer is yes. Too bad it didn't get them anywhere. That is the problem for ubuntu and linux in general, always copying others, chasing them from far behind. Dropping gnome for unity isn't going to change that. Its like putting lipstick on a pig. Using a new interface isn't going to change anything, you still have linux underneath.
    Loverock Davidson
    • No one believes you

      @Loverock Davidson
      What exactly is copied?
      What your Linux OS did not follow the rules theory. What rules?
      Nothing you have ever written has been backed up, Zero.
      Always some excuse when asked.

      No one believes you. Sure you will get the piggy backer crew following along for the ride.