How much sharing is too much when it comes to Linux and open source? Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, is trying to answer that question by asserting more control over the use of its trademark. But the Ubuntu community isn't necessarily taking it well, as an ongoing debate over the site fixubuntu.com shows.
The controversy stems from a request by Canonical to the maintainers of the website fixubuntu.com to cease using the Ubuntu logo, make it clearer that the site has no official affiliation with Canonical and Ubuntu and—this is the real kicker—remove "ubuntu" from the site's domain name. Steve George, vice president of Communications and Products at Canonical, gave his take on the situation in a recent blog post.
The community response has not been very warm toward Canonical, however. At least some Ubuntu users clearly view the Ubuntu brand as something that, to quote one of the comments on George's post, is "made by community, and should be owned by community!" They are not comfortable with Canonical deciding when and how third parties may deploy the Ubuntu trademark.
Canonical, of course, has every legal right to make that decision. There's no criticizing its censure of fixubuntu.com on those grounds. But in the open source world, what is legal may not always be what is smartest.
Feeding User Revolt
The trademark itself is not the whole story. What's really at stake here is Canonical's decision to integrate commercial search features into Ubuntu, including software that collects data on users. Ubuntu users can turn off this software easily enough, but some have deemed it "spyware" nonetheless.
The chief mission of fixubuntu.com was to help users disable the search features that have raised privacy concerns by running a single command in the terminal. Canonical provides its own way of disabling the search, but the fixubuntu.com approach seems to reflect a concern that the Canonical method is either too complicated (which is hard to argue, actually) or is not fully trustworthy.
Because Canonical has apparently targeted fixubuntu.com alone for alleged trademark infringement, the company runs the risk of appearing to crack down on community members who don't like its search software. There are plenty of other sites out there using Ubuntu branding—and the word "ubuntu" in their domain names—but Canonical has exhibited little worry over them.
For Canonical, there may not be a good way out here. It has given Ubuntu users who are still upset about the commercial search features—which were introduced more than a year ago—to renew the debate. Disassociating itself more explicitly from fixubuntu.com does not seem worth that risk. But it's too late to change.