Debian init decision further isolates Ubuntu

Going forward, systemd will be Debian's default init system for Linux distributions, an init system soon to be used by every other major Linux distribution other than Ubuntu.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Debian's technical committee has thrown its lot in with systemd, after chairman Bdale Garbee gave the casting vote that decided the fractured and heated debate over which init system Debian would use in future releases.

As expected, the final vote came down to a 4:4 tie between systemd and upstart, with Garbee needed to break the deadlock.

A highly charged debate that took over three months to complete, and contained two stalled votes and one failed coup, finally appears settled, barring a general resolution in Debian's developer base that could overturn the decision.

With Garbee's casting vote giving systemd the win, Canonical and its Ubuntu Linux distribution continue on a path of isolation and increasing distance from the other large Linux vendors.

Upon the next release of Debian and Red Hat Linux, in which both are expected to ship systemd, the only red lines in this table of systemd adoption will be Ubuntu, which uses its own upstart system, and Gentoo, which defaults to using OpenRC but has systemd as its only other supported init system.

A bigger look at the foundation that Canonical has given Ubuntu shows that in the next year, Ubuntu will be bedding down its upstart init system, Mir display server, and Unity desktop environment, while the remainder of distributions will be focusing on systemd, moving to the Wayland display server and pushing on with GNOME or KDE as desktops.

Throw into the mix the fact that Ubuntu is not only looking at desktop distributions, but also Ubuntu Phone, and it's an awful lot of key operating system underpinning for one distribution on its own to build and support.

The omens for such a strategy are not kind, given that Mir has already been held back on the desktop once already.

Against the collective workload of the rest of the Linux community, and the need to maintain compatibility, it's hard to see how Ubuntu can maintain any level of progress in its own endeavours without being sidetracked by the need to bolt on quick compatibility patches to ensure applications can still work, or deciding that it is going to truly break free of the Linux community and go its own way entirely.

It's a decision that leaves Ubuntu in the tricky situation of being damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't.

As the Canonical-backed distribution turns more and more of its attention to its mobile offering, if Ubuntu Phone is successful, it would be fair to assume that economics would become a major factor and demand that the company focus even more of its time towards it. Should that happen, the Ubuntu desktop that users have come to know and love, and sometimes loathe in its Unity guise, may become a sideshow and feature lagger, rather than the innovator and breath of fresh air that it seemed to be when it first arrived on the scene.

Supporting such a large stack of software on its own could be manageable for Ubuntu with the revenues from mobile handsets, but on the desktop, doing everything on its own when the other Linux players are all moving in opposite directions looks more and more like madness.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth must be certain that Ubuntu Phone is about to take off, otherwise he has guided his company into a position that is going to take some time to recover from.

Editorial standards