Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Canonical takes much more than it gives

Canonical takes much more than it gives

Ask anyone which GNU/Linux distribution one should recommend to would-be users and the answer is generally always one word: Ubuntu.


Since it was launched in 2004, Ubuntu has gradually grown to be the most used distribution; the fact that it is produced by a big company like Canonical and has been aimed at the desktop are two factors that contribute to its success.

But, in real terms, what does Canonical contribute to the FOSS world? Where does it stand in terms of its contributions to other FOSS projects, from which it takes software to create Ubuntu?

Dave Neary of the GNOME Desktop Project has released figures from a census, the results of which he presented at the GNOME Users' and Developers' European Conference which has been underway in The Hague, Netherlands, and ends today.

By those figures, Canonical's contributions to the GNOME project and its core dependencies are a miserable 1.03 percent of the total. And this is a company which has linked its release cycle to that of GNOME; if GNOME does not release every six months, Ubuntu would not be able to do so either.

Red Hat tops the list of companies that contribute to GNOME with 16.3 percent and Novell is close behind with 10.44. Neary notes that 11 of the top 20 GNOME contributors of all time are either present or past Red Hat employees.

Neary's census shows that though more than 70 percent of the GNOME developers identify themselves as volunteers, more than 70 percent of the commits to GNOME releases are made by paid contributors. The statistics come frome examining the modules present in the GNOME 2.30 release made in March.

This is not the first time that Canonical has been found wanting when it comes to contributions to big FOSS projects.

In a report released by the Linux Foundation in August last year, listing the major conributors to the Linux kernel, Canonical did not figure in the top 30. Indeed there was no mention of the company anywhere in the list.

While the biggest percentage (18.2) came from individuals who had no corporate affiliation, Red Hat again stood out next with a contribution of 12.3 percent.

And in a keynote to the first Linux Plumbers Conference in Portland, Oregon, in 2008, kernel hacker Greg Kroah-Hartman cited statistics that showed Canonical's contribution from the 2.6.15 kernel to 2.6.27-rc6, was 100 patches.

This was against a total of 99.324 patches; Canonical's share was 0.1 percent. Red Hat was the top contributor from among distributions, with 11,846 patches. Novell had 7222 patches.

Debian and Gentoo, both non-profits, contributed 288 and 241 patches respectively. Canonical, owned by a multi-millionaire, contributed 100 patches.

Canonical derives the base for Ubuntu from the Debian project. It takes liberally from many free and open source software projects to produce a distribution.

While this distribution is available for free download, Canonical is also basing a business on it, and developing ways and means of making money off Ubuntu.

Nothing wrong with that. But it is reasonable to ask - how about giving back a little more?



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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.