Open Ballot: is Canonical good for free software?


Love them or hate them, the folks behind Ubuntu have changed the Linux landscape. Many users have discovered Linux thanks to Canonical's marketing efforts and free CD programmes, but recently we've see a lot of controversy such as the Banshee affair and spat with the Gnome team.

On the other hand, Canonical would argue that it's trying hard to give back to the community, for instance with the new DEX project. We want your opinions for our upcoming podcast: do you think, on the whole, that Canonical is a good or bad force for free software and Linux?

Let us know in the comments, and give yourself a proper name too. There's no fun in a flamewar if everyone is just Anonymous Penguin.

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Your comments

For free software firefox is

For free software firefox is best lead (libre office we will see)
For alternate, open os, ubuntu is the best. It is a very miixed open bag, stuffed with closed formats as it is. But that open weakness is it's main strength in userbility
If i buy into open fully, i can change. If i want secure, fast, and controllable, i'll stick with ubuntu


For several years I played around with Linux and read Linux Format, but when Ubuntu 10.04 came out I was finally convinced to ditch Windows and go full time (I also subscribed to LFX!), as the distro gave me confidence that everything including hardware was going to work well and also that there was a great community that seemed eager to help.

I believe in FOSS completely now, and I am even moving away from a Microsoft .Net development career that I put 10 years of work into, and am getting involved with more FOSS friendly technologies and Linux specifically.

So from my point of view, despite not being perfect, Canonical is a great thing for FOSS. Several people in my office have expressed an interest in it and myself and a friend (who also just made the jump to Ubuntu full time) are helping those people to get started.

How can any of that be a bad thing?

make money

I just think that people who say that canonical is bad because their trying to make a buck out of linux are being unfair. Ok, maybe their not doing the best job at it, but I hope they succeed, because then more people will see linux for it's potential monetization and hopefully do a better job. I believe the basis of linux future is free open sourced drivers directly from hardware vendors and that's only possible if companies with a good market share pressure hardware vendors.

Of course!

I wouldn't even be using Linux or know anything about it if Ubuntu didn't exist and that its the same for many users.

Ubuntu lowers the barrier to Linux and allows more normal PC users to enjoy Linux. I can't see anything wrong with that!

As for the issues about money, Canonical like any other company needs money to survive! Mark Shuttleworth is hardly gonna keep spending his hard earned money on Ubuntu/Canonical, knowing he will need to shut the whole thing down in the future.

The last time I checked... copy of Ubuntu, which works better than any other distro out there, was free.

So, emphatically, yes.


Like many others have noted they made it more accessible, via promotion and brand.

Just a quick nice job to you guys though, it was Linux Format that got me into Linux, I had enough of a passing interest to read a copy of the magazine, I can't recall the article, but the one I wanted to follow was based on Ubuntu, I'd heard of Ubuntu, so I loaded it up on a free PC I had and two years later, still using Ubuntu...

Anyone who has a voice for something good is good for its longevity.

I'll tell you what is NOT

I'll tell you what is NOT good for free software. Zealous ideologues dictating the rules for everyone.

Why does Unity exist? Yes, I

Why does Unity exist? Yes, I think they are bad, or at least incompetent.

Another Yes and No

Alright, to start with i'd like to reply to BobTheLinuxHacker.

The reason why many people (me included) think that Redhat is -less- evil than Ubuntu is because they actually seem to contribute more to the FOSS community as a whole. The reason why Ubuntu is seen as evil has nothing to do with them making money, it has to do with them not giving back to the community as much as we would like them to(even so, I don't think anyone actually thinks they are evil, just not as good as they could be). Even Richard Stallman (Arguably the most extreme supporter of Free Software) sold tapes of his Emacs programs to various organizations, for around $200 a piece if I remember correctly. In RMS's words, Free Software means free as in free speech, not as in free beer.

In my opinion, the question of whether Ubuntu is good for the Free Software ecosystem is both a yes and no. As other's have said, they do a lot of good in the marketing department, but they could be doing a lot better. As grdryn said, they don't even have the words "Free Software", "GNU", or even "Linux" on their website. IMHO they should give credit where credit is due, namely to the community that will eventually make them profitable(they aren't yet, last time I heard). They should also contribute more to Upstream IMO, when the upstream projects will accept their ideas. (And work harder at getting their ideas to an acceptable state, before just giving up)

In any case, I usually recommend Ubuntu for new users, but I make sure those users know that they are using Linux and that there are many other version available. I personally use Debian for everything I need.

Three cheers for Ubuntu making Linux more usable and in the public eye, but three boos for Ubuntu not giving proper credit and not contributing enough to upstream.

sort of, but not totally ...

Even with your podcast, it sounds like ?Buntu IS Linux! Don't forget to focus on other distros in as much detail as you do Shuttleworth and Co. Example: Sabayon Linux is awesome as well as ?Buntu!

well, one more general comment

I've been developing software for 40+ years and I find it almost "funny" that you guys expect organized software development for free! The reason why Apple et al have such organized interfaces etc. (as opposed to the likes of GNome/KDE etc.) is that SOMEONE IS PAYING DEVELOPERS TO DO IT! How can you possibly expect organization from a disparate, often egomaniacle, development process; hasn't worked in properietary software in my experience and won't work in FOSS either.
Just my $A.02

Beer versus Freedom...


@ Marty in OZ - 40+ years of experience in proprietary development does not make you an expert on Free / open source development models. The fact is, GNU/Linux et al works because of the methodology which has built the software in their stacks. Many open source innovative developments have found their way in some form into proprietary software. And many proprietary software has inspired free and open source software that is even better. I would think, as a developer, you would know better than to render a development methodology defunct because of a personal opinion and without considering the successes.

About Canonical -

I have been using Linux for more than 12 years, first as a curiosity and then since 9 years ago as my permanent primary desktop OS. I use OpenSuSe exclusively as my desktop and server OS, I have used Red Hat (was my first introduction to Linux, Gnome 0.x desktop). I always recommend OpenSuSe because of its long track record of a polished product and a variety of features that make it easy to manage for new users, as well as KDE because its the best interface IMHO for new users.

I have personally never used or recommended Ubuntu to anyone, that is a personal preference (I occasionally evaluate it though). Though I believed they had great incentive to promote Linux with the objective of making profit, I disagreed from get go with their ethos and attitude toward Linux and FOSS in general, and secondly out of personal knowledge about how other established and good Linux projects were abandoned to create Ubuntu.

Has Canonical been good for FOSS, YES, with a clause that they have not done so actively. They have promoted themselves through Ubuntu, rather than the greater FOSS landscape. I am not a FOSS zealot, I make my money through both open and closed source software. However, I do not believe that not revealing the truth about how a product is produced is acceptable, particularly in a FOSS world.

That said, Canonical have become truth spinners, playing on words to deflect an evident lack of community contribution. However, it is their right to use, modify and distribute FOSS software (as per the licenses). Does it make it right - NO. Can we honestly condemn them for it - NO.

What I think most people have lost sight of in these discussions, is that THIS whole debacle is part of the FOSS process. When proprietary development experiences these types of issues, we dont hear about it or even see how the situation is remedied; instead, developers do their jobs despite their concerns and build software which could have been better if they could openly discuss issues. These discussions are good for FOSS, bad for publicity. If you dont understand the true meaning of transparency, then you will mistake these debates for "The end of Linux"; when in fact they are a natural part of the process.

My fear in all this is, Canonical through their actions and opinions have created a perfect subject to cast more FUD at FOSS, because lets face it... users will choose the software that allows them to do what they want and need to, and not care where or how the software originated. And in that lies the weakest point for FOSS in this debate, a lack of understanding of how FOSS is made and brought to a user.

Ubuntu in Nigeria

The first Linux distro ( before I even knew what a distro was) was Ubuntu Dapper 6, obtained by Ubuntu Shippit in my university in Nigeria. I remember watching Mandela speak in one of the sample videos. So how can anyone say Ubuntu is not good for free software.
Seems to me geeks have this fear when a company start being software.

You don't get that popular by doing nothing.

most definitely

canonical/ubuntu/derivatives have done so much to turn a great number of users onto gnu/linux and free software. their contributions have helped create a large community base, and are moving gnu/linux in new directions. my first exposure to actually having a linux i could use, was ubuntu netbook remix 9.04. since tinkering with it a little bit back in those days and being quite impressed, i became obsessed with gnu/linux and the ideology and philosophym which are consistent with my own beliefs. i have now jumped ship from mac os, and am learning python, and hope to someday be an important contributor in the world of FOSS thanks to the efforts by canonical.

Yes, It is.

It can't hurt it. First time you can install it on a non-*nix users pc and they're able to run it themselves without assistance from me. It saves me a lot of work. Excellent distro.

Canonical No!

Canonical/Ubuntu have destroyed the basic GNU/Linux framework, particularly with user permissions. I speak only of their desktop. It is now simply Windows/Ubuntu with the Windows variety UAC controls. They have folk using it, but Ubuntu is atypical Linux and not healthy for Linux generally. The permissions lunacy has also captured other distros. Obviously, they lead the charge to "the cloud" for the herd who use their offerings. Software "store" is a perfect example of what is to come. Downloading software there is a blind leading the blind action, with zero data transmitted to the user. A perfect "Windows" operation. If that is "good" for GNU/Linux, then what's wrong with Windows? Synaptic is to disappear, which should cause consternation, but there is nothing but blind acceptance.

Pandering to the ignorant is not progress, but deprecation, a favorite Ubuntu dev practice as in - "deprecated" - a frequent action with them.

The Canonical influence on Debian will prove deleterious to Debian, longrun.

Everything Canonical leads to the IPO. Then,the selloff and off to Mars perhaps, eh?

The beauty of GNU/Linux is that one need not use Ubuntu or even a spin. There is always Fedora/Redhat (and Berry with its delightful artwork) and Slack and its spins. And, Debian 6.1, which is good in Gnome and brutally deficient in KDE.

Many American brands of beer are "popular" but that is hardly a recommend as to quality. Likewise, GNU/Linux comes in different brands, and popularity does not serve also as an indicator of quality. The Windows/Linux crowd prefers shaky windows and "colours" and mindless ease of use. Consequently, the increasingly number of such folk do not make GNU/Linux the better for it any more than the millons of Windows users have improved Windows.

Ubuntu is adequate for what it does on the desktop - but that was not the question.

I have a Kubuntu 10.10 up and running and it is surprisingly stable. However, I know that the "headquarters" will hear about that and send an update that will fracture the thing.However, I cannot imagine any enterprise choosing Canonical over Redhat - even at greatly discounted rates.


we need some finance to improve software and run such a large business.

At least ALL of the profit received will be contributing to Ubuntu, improving the quality of Linux and FOSS projects. Cos ubuntu is probably the most friendly linux distro there is.


at least the "most compatible" for drivers, softwares, etc.

Thank you for the good writeup.

I confirm. And I have faced it. We can communicate on this theme. Here or in PM.

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