Saturday, 11 February 2012 12:52

Kubuntu funding cut just one step in Canonical's grand plan


Canonical's withdrawal of funding to the Kubuntu project apparently is not very important to the company's owner, Mark Shuttleworth.

That's one possibility. The other is that Shuttleworth knows that if he tries to explain, the process will follow the familiar routine that has been gone through whenever he has tried to explain things to the FOSS community.

It goes like this: Shuttleworth writes long, verbose piece explaining X or Y; people post comments, lots of them very snarky; Shuttleworth initially stays cool whil responding; after a while Shuttleworth loses it a bit and says "that's the way it's going to be"; people dump on him more and more and finally comments are closed.

That may be why the company's only official act, after the fund withdrawal was made public by Canonical employee Jonathan Riddell, was to send out its chief spinmeister Jono Bacon to throw a little water on any flames.

It is worth noting here that Shuttleworth has posted on his blog as recently as Friday (February 10) but made no mention of the Kubuntu funding cut.

Bacon turned up on the Linux Weekly News website, and posted a few comments, trying to create his own version of reality. For the most part, he was given a polite reception.

But there are others who have a harsher view of the events that have led up to the Kubuntu fund withdrawal. A SUSE Linux developer, whose views are probably influenced by the fact that he works for a competitor, sees it as one more step in a grand conspiracy by Shuttleworth.

According to this theory, Shuttleworth created the Kubuntu project to cheaply tie up competitors' resources. He had a five-stage plan that would "establish the Ubuntu brand amongst early adopters; expand it to the wider Linux user base; make Ubuntu the default Linux for non-technical users; tie up a paying market and profit".

Make of this theory what you will.

I prefer to think that this is part of the natural evolution of a project like Ubuntu which is backed by a company that has to, in the final analysis, think of the bottomline. People in the FOSS community are quite naive when it comes to evaluating exactly why companies set up community projects and in the case of Caonical the motives have been no less mercenary than those of Red Hat or Novell.

Both Red Hat's Fedora and Novell's openSUSE projects have provided good GNU/Linux distributions for free use; at the same time, the companies would not be spending money on running them unless it was getting more than it was giving. The only community GNU/Linux project with no strings attached is Debian.

Creating a community ties people in, makes them invest emotionally and otherwise, and makes it very difficult for them to quit. When a company makes changes in a community project, it does so much in the same way that one gradually increases the temperature of the water in a glass in which a frog sits. The frog stays there and gradually gets scalded to death.

It may sound cynical but that's the way the world functions. And if a businessman is doing at least an iota of good while making these little changes, he can always salve his conscience by thinking of that little smidgeon of positivity.

I don't think Shuttleworth ever seriously thought that he could bend either Debian or GNOME to his way of thinking. It is also unlikely that he ever thought that his idea of copyright assignment would wash with the more senior people in the community. But he had to make a visible effort so that, if asked later, he could point to his efforts and say, "see, I tried."

Ubuntu is a means to an end. Canonical intends to be around for the foreseeable future selling products based on GNU/Linux. It will go into the mobile and tablet markets as well; after all if a lone KDE developer like Aaron Seigo can bring a tablet to market with a few others, then Canonical can do it as well.

For those who moan that Apple has captured the tablet market, let's remember that there are now seven billion people on this planet. What has been captured is a very small fragment of the market in so-called developed countries. There is ample scope for those who are willing to depend on volume sales to succeed.

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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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