Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

October 22, 2012

3 Min Read
Ubuntu Founder Takes Aim at Red Hat

Canonical has suffered more than a little flack over the years for what some critics call a lack of openness in Ubuntu development. But if one agrees with Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth, the truly closed platforms are Ubuntu’s competitors, especially Red Hat. At least, that’s what Shuttleworth had to say recently on his blog. Here’s the full story.

Criticism of Canonical’s standards has often centered around issues such as the proprietary licenses that govern some of its software, such as the server side code for the Ubuntu One file syncing service. The company has also irked users for introducing major changes to Ubuntu, like the Unity interface, without soliciting much community feedback first.

Who’s More Open?

But those are not the issues Shuttleworth spoke out about recently. Instead, his argument that Ubuntu development is more open than that of many competing open source projects centered around Canonical’s willingness to let any qualified community members contribute to Ubuntu, regardless of whether they have a formal relationship with the company. As he wrote on his blog:

“Ubuntu set the standard for transparency as a company producing a distribution a long time ago, when we invited anybody who showed a passion and competence to have commit and upload rights.”

Shuttleworth was less than subtle about pointing fingers at the Canonical competitor which he deems particularly adverse to openness: Red Hat. He complained that contributions to Fedora, the Linux distribution Red Hat sponsors, used to be restricted to Red Hat employees. And he added that “there are any number of changes thrust upon Gnome by Red Hat.”

Shuttleworth’s comments on what he perceives as a strong commitment to openness by Canonical and Ubuntu came a day after an earlier blog post in which he invited community members to contribute to the Ubuntu 13.04 release, which will debut in April 2013 as the successor to Ubuntu 12.04, unveiled last Thursday:

“We thought we would extend the invitation to people who trust us and in whom we have reason to trust, to work together on some sexy 13.04 surprises. The projects range from webby (javascript, css, html5) to artistic (do you obsess about kerning and banding) to scientific (are you a framerate addict) to glitzy (pixel shader sherpas wanted) to privacy-enhancing (how is your crypto?) to analytical (big daddy, big brother, pick your pejorative). But they all make the Ubuntu experience better for millions of users, they are all groundbreaking in free software, they will all result in code under the GPL (or an existing upstream license if they are extensions to existing projects).”

Shuttleworth was apparently worried that his initial comments had been misinterpreted as an attempt by Canonical to impose greater control over third-party developers working on software that might be included in Ubuntu. In fact, he said, the real goal was “to invite members of the community in to the things we are working on as personal projects, before we are ready to share them. This would mean that there was even less of Ubuntu that was NOT shaped and polished by folk other than Canonical.”

Potential misreadings of Shuttleworth’s words notwithstanding, his comments on Ubuntu’s openness, and the lack of transparency among competing open source projects, introduce an interesting new point of discussion to the ongoing debate over Canonical’s role in the Linux and open source channels. We’ll stay tuned as this discourse evolves.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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