Tuesday, 09 November 2010 11:53

Shuttleworth: critics would do well to get a clue


Few people in the free and open source software these days have to put up with as much criticism of their motives and moves as the owner of Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth.

The latest round of barbs have been thrown at him because he decided to change the user interface of the next release of Ubuntu to Unity, abandoning the old GNOME UI.

A few days later, he announced that Ubuntu would be gradually transitioning to the Wayland server, leaving the old X behind.

To the logical mind, it is quite clear why Shuttleworth has taken these steps. He has tried, for some time, unsuccessfully, to get upstream projects to follow his vision for what GNU/Linux on devices - the desktop, the notebook, the netbook, the plethora of mobiles - should look and feel like.

Having failed to convince anyone, he has now decided that if Ubuntu is to continue to make headway, it has to distinguish itself from the rest. His model is Apple, which, despite having a much smaller share of the market than Microsoft, is still a major force with which to reckon in the tech space.

Shuttleworth isn't in a great hurry; he appears to be fully aware of the magnitude of the changes he is undertaking, with statements like this about the switch to Wayland: "Timeframes are difficult. I'm sure we could deliver *something* in six months, but I think a year is more realistic for the first images that will be widely useful in our community. I'd love to be proven conservative on that :-) but I suspect it's more likely to err the other way. It might take four or more years to really move the ecosystem."

For years and years, we've heard a lot of swill about Linux on the desktop; it's now come to the stage where the desktop is slowly becoming less and less the default for users and still Linux has barely managed to penetrate the market.

Yet when someone wants to do things differently, everyone comes down on her/him like a ton of bricks. You would think that the FOSS community, which is rumoured to be progressive, would give the man his head and allow him to run with his vision. Such, sadly, is not the case.

There are those who speculate that these changes mean that Shuttleworth is looking to make money out of the cloud. Given that the X server is network transparent, one would think that it would encourage use of the cloud rather than Wayland, which is designed to operate on a local network.

But then the critics who seem to spring out of the woodwork every day appear to be driven by anything but logic. Shuttleworth is an outsider and the old US-Europe enmity seems to be showing.

Statements like "Few kid themselves that Shuttleworth cares. He's an entrepreneur who wants a return on his investment" only underline the level of ignorance which some critics bring to their arguments. Nobody would have started a GNU/Linux distribution if they really wanted to make money - Shuttleworth had a cool billion-plus to invest after he sold his digital signature company Thawte.

You have to be a real hardheaded businessman to make that kind of money and I doubt very much if some of these critics know how many zeroes come after the 1 to make a billion.

If just making more money was his objective, one seriously doubts that Shuttleworth would have invested in a GNU/Linux company. That would be the hallmark of a fool.

But he does want to make the GNU/Linux investment pay for itself. And he has to create his own business model because nobody has gone that route and succeeded - yet.

I'm pretty sure that Shuttleworth has his money invested in other places too, places that net him pretty profits. Critics should realise that anyone who takes up residence on the Isle of Man, a well-known tax haven, is not doing it for the climate alone.

The FOSS community is its own worst enemy; there are hordes of people out there who are trying to wheel their own barrows and fight for marketshare. In the process, they will end up like Samson - pulling the whole house down along with them. But egos appear to be far more important than the greater good of the community.


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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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