Tuesday, 23 March 2010 12:22

Ubuntu users, Shuttleworth doesn't owe you anything


The ongoing debate over the change in the position of the window buttons in the upcoming Ubuntu release, Lucid Lynx, reminds one that Linux users possess one awful characteristic in spades - a sense of entitlement.

Nothing else can account for the way in which a number of users have tried to force their will on the Ubuntu chief, Mark Shuttleworth, and get him to reverse the decision.

To me it sounds very much like the threat which one was used to hearing in the Middle East some years ago: if you don't do what I ask, I'll come around and kill myself on your doorstep and you'll have an awful mess to clean up after that.

For those who need background, the story is here. The window buttons have been moved to the left top and the order, from the outer, is maximise, minimise and close. For comparison, Windows has them on the top right hand corner and the order (from the outer) is close, maximise and minimise. Mac OSX has them on the top left-hand corner and the order from the outer is close, minimise, maximise.

To some extent, the degree of anger felt among users is due to the way that Ubuntu has been promoted, with a great deal of emphasis on the community. In reality, though one can download the distribution without paying, it is created and maintained by a commercial company which has to turn a profit if it wants to keep doing this into the future.

It's difficult to understand why GNU/Linux users have this sense of entitlement and often make meaningless threats to try and get their preferences implemented. The software is free, one benefits by using it (else I doubt anyone would be doing so) and it comes out with clockwork-like regularity. There really is not much scope for complaint.

Add to this the fact that users were told how to switch back to the old layout if they so wished and that one user even provided a fix in his personal package archive, making it easier for the less experienced users to change to a layout of their liking and one would even be more puzzled over this spat.

But that has not pleased the detractors. No, they feel entitled to demand a change and they also feel that their demand should be met.

As to design decisions, Shuttleworth, who has designated himself as Canonical's self-appointed benevolent dictator for life - as well he might since it is all his own money which is being used - takes them, presumably in consultation with people who have some degree of expertise in this field.

Two users have already outlined in detail why they would be moving away from Ubuntu. Both have done so because of the way Shuttleworth responded to some of the emails from users which were posted after the change in the window buttons was reported as a bug.

Reading Shuttleworth's posts, one gets an insight into why he decided to step down from the position of chief executive; he is not the most diplomatic of people. One must remember that he is a developer first and foremost and people who indulge in that line of work are often very direct in their approach.

But then every free software or open source software project has a benevolent dictator in charge. Linus Torvalds runs the Linux kernel development group with an iron fist - he makes his own decisions, many of which are informed by his own trusted lieutenants. The same goes for every other project.

In a community project like Debian, things are debated endlessly but in the end the heads of various sections (security, packaging etc) take their own decisions. There is no consensus, nor is one sought. If anything, the discussion only informs the final decision.

In many cases, decisions are made and the discussion takes place later. In some cases, the developers can force the reversal of a decision but the users have no say.

There is always a way out for those who dissent - take the source and ask someone to make changes that satisfy you. Else, do it yourself.

I have some advice for Ubuntu users: start acting like adults and get rid of this sense of entitlement. You are not doing Shuttleworth any favours by using Ubuntu and he does not owe you a thing - the sooner you realise that, the better. You are being provided with good software and you don't have to pay a damn cent.

Shuttleworth has to make Canonical and Ubuntu profitable - else he will have to pull up stumps at some time in the future. Your input (bug reports, opinions, other help) aids the movement in this direction - and in return you get a nice distribution which you can use freely.

If you don't like this kind of arrangement, move on and start using some other distribution. But stop throwing hissy fits. Remember, FOSS is all about choice.


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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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