Thursday, 11 March 2010 11:15

Canonical speaks to the 'commercial' debate


As the time draws near for the release of Ubuntu 10.04, the release known as Lucid Lynx, there has been a marked increase in the number of people pointing fingers at Canonical, the company behind the distribution, and screaming "commercial, commercial."

The analogy that comes to mind is a Biblical one, where people have been described as pointing to lepers and shouting "unclean, unclean."

Some of these cries come from those who are clearly unhinged, who make claims and then deny them vehemently by using "clarifications" once they see the firestorm their comments have provoked. And they have their acolytes who try their damnedest to justify such unhinged reactions.

Other accusations in the same vein come from more mature people. But the line of thought is still the same: free is good, commercial is bad. Such individuals are clearly unaware of the fact that free software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation, can be sold for monetary gain.

But then this is the Linux community. One has to be ready for poorly thought-out (corrected), illogical assertions aplenty. The problem is that such uneducated, shrill voices are often taken as the majority - in the same way that a mob follows the voice of him/her who shouts loudest - and does a lot of damage to a company which is trying to provide things free and also keep the red ink out of its books.

I asked Canonical to address some of the issues that have been raised. Gerry Carr, the head of platform marketing, responded and I have given his response in full.


Carr says: "The decision to remove GIMP from the default installation is a technical decision to free up more room on the CD and provide a default set of applications that are most useful to the majority of users. GIMP is still a part of Ubuntu and it is a one- or two-click install away and I believe it will be a prominent option. It really isn't relevant to the commercial debate.

"As to whether it is too much too soon, well, I don't think Ubuntu has ever been the natural home of the complete purist. From the outset proprietary drivers were included to support a broad set of hardware. These new services might prove too much for some users, and we would be very sorry to lose anyone over what we feel are very reasonable revenue-generating changes.

"But we have to act, with the support of the community, to underwrite the development costs of the operating system by bringing what we believe are either valid default options or valuable additional services.

"We've created the music store as a plugin in two layers. The core music store is a widget than can then be wrapped by plugins from different media players. The initial integration is being done with a Rhythmbox plugin, but people are already stepping up and creating  plugins for Banshee as well. Other music players may follow on shortly.

"It doesn't make any sense to aggressively "push" changes upstream that are specific to a single distro rather than being appealing to all the users, but we certainly make all our changes available if anyone wants them. The Rhythmbox plugin is free software, published under LGPLv3 here and it's available for anyone to pick up and use if they want to.

"Our work has simply been about enabling our users to buy major label music, and doing it in the most friendly way we could. There are already two other music store plugins: Magnatune and Jamendo, and we believe Ubuntu users will appreciate having even more choice when it comes to purchasing music.

Carr continued: "We are not setting out to specifically counter negative coverage. We intend to continue being open and honest in explaining what we are doing and why and allowing people to make their own minds up.

"Let's not confuse all users with the active contributors to blogs etc. We have gone through extensive user testing on the new identity and new desktop etc and it is revealing that for many many users, these debates are not relevant. They simply don't care, or to the extent that they do, they are reassured to see things that might explain how it is that an operating system is provided for free. So for many there is no persuasion effort required.

"For readers of iTWire, many in the blogosphere, and for many members of the Ubuntu community this is an active debate and a hot topic. But again, I think most people are of the position that introducing well-selected, well-integrated, additive optional services or defaults and charging for them or generating revenue from them, is a reasonable thing to do. In fact, a good thing to do in order to continue investing in the provision of an outstanding free OS.

"So there is likely (to be) a small group who think there is no justification for any money-making services/defaults/whatever on a Linux platform - and I don't think people of that opinion can be persuaded (to change their minds). I think the larger group are more concerned about how it is done - which is completely fair.

"We think very carefully about, and discuss as openly as possible, the services we add, the defaults we choose, what is reasonable and additive, and what is likely to meet with approval. We need these things to be popular as much as anything else.

"So, I would say stick with us, see if you like the services, don't use them if you don't and if it really is too much then perhaps Ubuntu is the wrong distro - the beauty of open source is that there are many choices."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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