Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Shuttleworth comes down on the 'Open Source Tea Party'

Shuttleworth comes down on the 'Open Source Tea Party'

Like many other prominent people in the free and open source software communities, Mark Shuttleworth, the man behind Canonical and Ubuntu/GNU Linux, has more than his fair share of detractors. But it's not often that he he hits out at them, unless it is in replies to posts on websites here and there.

But there is an exception to every rule. Shuttleworth normally writes an entry in his personal blog at the time of every Ubuntu release, mentioning some features of the release and announcing the name of the next version. And with the recent release of version 13.10 he has said his piece again - and referred to those who have criticised his decision to develop his own display server as the Open Source Tea Party.

It's a phrase that has currency at the moment; fringe members of the US Republican Party have been in the news over that country's government shutdown until recently when a deal was struck to overcome the problem.

The people Shuttleworth is referring to are those who have been critical, and quite bitterly so, of the project known as Mir. It is a display server that Canonical decided to develop for use in Ubuntu, rather than use Wayland, a project that is bidding to serve as a replacement for the old X.org display server which many people agree has had its day and outlived its usefulness.

The critics come with their own baggage. While many fail to see that Canonical, as a company desperately looking for ways to become profitable, will move in any direction that it believes will help realise this goal, these same individuals have no issue with other commercial Linux companies undertaking similar projects. Shuttleworth makes mention of this, citing one, the development of systemd by Red Hat.

Perhaps Shuttleworth should shoulder some of the blame for the army that he has mobilised against himself: had he, from the time Ubuntu was released way back in October 2004, taken the trouble to mention, occasionally, that it would have to make ends meet and balance its own books, then all the talk from him and other Ubuntu people about community and freedom would have been seen in perspective. Unfortunately, he did not follow this path.

And, for a while, he did give people the impression that Ubuntu would use Wayland. The reason he decided to roll his own server is simple: it gives him control over the development, unlike Wayland where he will have to butt his head against mule-headed folk like Daniel Stone, one of those developers who believes that he, and only he, knows what's right when it comes to a display server. Stone, by the way, was a member of the original Ubuntu team. He has gained a reputation for arrogance stemming from his being initially turned down by the Debian project when he applied to become a developer; his rudeness to senior developers like Herbert Xu and Branden Robinson went against him. Wichert Akkerman, (corrected) a senior developer, took it upon himself to deflate Stone's ego, by pointing out that while Stone was styling himself in his signature as a Linux kernel developer, there were only a few lines of code, for a sound driver, that had been authored by Stone that were present in the kernel.

Shuttleworth's use of the phrase Open Source Tea Party is meant to paint people like Stone as unreasonable, jihadist types, those who will not budge from an extreme position, and think only their way is the right way. But given the amount of criticism that Shuttleworth has attracted over the last nine years of Ubuntu releases, one is inclined to give him some latitude.

Another Shuttleworth critic, Matthew Garrett, who wrote a long gloating piece about why Mir would not be part of the 13.10 release, has also supped at Shuttleworth's table. There is more than just a touch of the double-standard in Garrett's criticism, considering that he has not backed away from pushing the needs of a company he worked for, even if it meant following the dictates of Microsoft, but feels free now to come down on someone who is doing exactly the same thing. As a wise old man who has been around FOSS for ages once told me, if you want to see hypocrisy in glorious technicolour, just get acquainted with the so-called FOSS community.

Jonathan Corbet, the editor of Linux Weekly News, is another Shuttleworth detractor. Corbet's criticisms have mostly focused on Canonical's copyright assignment policy (which assigns distribution rights for code contributions to the company) and relative lack of contribution to bigger FOSS projects, when contrasted with entities like Red Hat. The irony here is that while Shuttleworth freely gives away all the Ubuntu code, Corbet is careful to hide a sizeable portion of his website's content behind a paywall. Nothing wrong with this, but then one should be careful about throwing stones at others when living in a glass house.

I could go on... but then you, gentle reader, would have got the point by now. All these open source people have made contributions, many of which also serve their personal ends, and that's the way it should be. Nobody can live on love and fresh air. The argument bandied around when someone appears to duplicate work is that FOSS developers are so few and far between that duplicating things is a waste of effort. But that happens all the time and it's not going to stop anytime soon. People are forever reinventing the wheel.


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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.