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One of the big problems that any company faces when it decides to get into the GNU/Linux business is how to deal with users, a group who have an extraordinary sense of entitlement.

 


Mark Shuttleworth, the owner of Canonical, which develops and distributes the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution, would know what I am talking about. Over the seven years of Ubuntu's life, Shuttleworth has had to put up with an enormous amount of flak from users who think they have a right to make policy decisions for his company.

The typical user demands to know why a certain decision - say, to change the default mail program in Ubuntu - has been taken. And if Shuttleworth is anything other than willing to go back on his decision, the user in question has one response: "Okay, I'm switching to openSUSE/Fedora/Debian/Mint (take your pick)."

The sense of entitlement that users of this kind feel is fed by the army of groupies who write about GNU/Linux. Many of them claim to be journalists but it is obvious that they have no idea what this profession is about.

I found a typical example of this feeding of the trolls in the Linux Magazine recently. The author, Bruce Byfield, writes about the posting of a bug in order to create a conversation about the way decisions are taken by Canonical. (The one decision taken by Canonical that has caused much adverse comment recently is the switch from GNOME to the Unity desktop interface.)

After detailing to some extent the messages posted by the man who opened the bug, and Shuttleworth's replies, there is this curious, illogical statement by Byfield: "To what extent this discussion voices the opinions of Ubuntu members or Canonical employees is uncertain. However, the discussion reinforces my long-held inference..."

When long, rambling anti-Shuttleworth pieces are based on this kind of logic, there is really no way that Shuttleworth can win.

What people tend to forget is that Shuttleworth is running a company. Apart from providing a GNU/Linux distribution that works as well as other operating systems, he has also got to look after the bottomline. There has to be a middle line between idealism and pragmatism. And that's where the problem starts.

People talk about transparency with regard to Canonical. What do they want - details of intra-company discussions as to why the desktop interface was changed?

It doesn't matter if the people who are calling for transparency have voluntarily got involved with Ubuntu - they forget that they have no rights in this situation. Whatever they do have is privileges.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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