How I’ve learnt Canonical isn’t the wrong :)

An open letter to Mark Shuttleworth.

Hi Mark!
This is the very first time I’m writing to you, and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about Ubuntu and Canonical’s future.

As spokeswoman of Italian LoCo team Community Council, I had interesting experiences about Ubuntu and Ubuntu users, and I suppose that Ubuntu and Canonical have many challenges to face, in the next months, inside and outside our community.

Ubuntu is growing and Ubuntu-related world is growing faster and faster: needs, dialogues, ideas that was very easy to exchange and to spread when we all were a few hundred of people, seem today find obstacles to free running.

I know that Canonical has always point as an honour the openness to dialogue, the sense of participation that has built in years, but now I feel there is the need of something more.

As Ubuntu member, sometimes I found very difficult to explain what is happening and where Canonical is leading.

Of course I’m not judging Canonical plans, but only the way Canonical explains its choices, both to Community and people.

Let me tell you, for example, what has been my very own experience.

I was disappointed by Unity shipped with 11.04, so I tried GNOME Shell, checking if it would be better for my personal habits.  I spent the past months very close to GNOME Community, giving my little help testing GNOME Shell and providing feedback.

Meanwhile I was wondering why Canonical hadn’t dedicated some more resources directly in GNOME 3 development, instead of forking in Unity. But reading discussions on desktop-devel mailing list and staying in touch  on IRC with some people from GNOME upstream, I realized it’s not so  simple for Canonical or any other individuals to be helpful to upstream  and in mean time try to follow a personal path or point of view. There  are strong ideas, other leading companies and, sometimes, a lack of collaboration wish.

Now I agree with political, marketing and technological reasons that lie under the choice of Unity, it’s a legitimate and appropriate change offered by Canonical (and Ubuntu), but it was an hard job 🙂
Maybe these choices has been discussed at UDS, maybe there are some wiki pages or some blueprints, but even an Ubuntu member like me has to have a direct experience before comprehend.

I’m not suggesting Canonical reveal its strategies, technical or political, but only giving a correct and complete information about its roadmap, to preserve the imagine Canonical would like to offer about itself avoiding misunderstanding.

During last months I have often heard Canonical be addressed as the worst company whithin opensource ecosystem, while everyone else is the good, and the motivations were very odd, something like “Canonical is not-ethical, ’cause Ubuntu is a mix and match of our product (i.e. GNOME) and their ugly patches”. I’m sure we can try to disprove this habit, expecially considering the “mix and match” is GPL approved, and there isn’t any ethical or not-ethical purposes  in patches. I believe it could be done with a better communication marketing.

Canonical has brought a deep renovation in the very idea of open source, a revolution built upon rocks and breaks, upon dreams and concrete. But now I believe we all need a bit more. Reading the rants and the questions across the web, I strictly believe Ubuntu users want to exercise their critical judgement, and sometimes new for the new’s sake isn’t enough.

It seems to me we are in the dawn of a  new course of Ubuntu. I realize there isn’t still a mascot nor a name for -P cycle and I’m quite sure that is a symptom of some deep changing, landing with LTS. (Maybe a rolling distro? I don’t know…) I feel there is the need to build a new trust between Canonical and Ubuntu community.

And what will happen in case of decision as dual licensing that deeply touch the sense of the Ubuntu promises…?

I believe it’s time for Canonical to define some issues about what she wants to appear to the rest of the world, elaborate a strong communication strategy: Ubuntu is the third OS in the world. Isn’t it?

Here the second issue. Ubuntu communities aren’t fan-boys communities. I’ve always intended my role as a bridge, especially when I’ve talked about Ubuntu in tech-fairs or in Universities. I strictly believe we do need a line, a channel between Canonical and LoCos. We are in the same part of the barricade, and I deeply believe community needs to get more trust in Canonical: I believe every member of Ubuntu Community, as well as anyone in Canonical, has to feel that she/he is working for Ubuntu, and not to feel that our community is working for Canonical through Ubuntu, even if nobody can or wants deny the work that Canonical daily makes for Ubuntu.

I’d have many other things to say, to tell, and I’d have like very much talking face by face, but I’m very glad to have wrote you and to have exchanged some of my thoughts with you.



10 thoughts on “How I’ve learnt Canonical isn’t the wrong :)

  1. I think you summed things up pretty well … I’ve started to feel like anything I do for Ubuntu is working for Canonical through Ubuntu.

    I don’t have anything against Canonical making money, even through a proprietary web service, a proprietary music store, and a proprietary app store selling proprietary apps. I’m just starting to feel like all of the open-source goodness is only there to get volunteers like us to help them make money.

    • GPL *is* to make money;
      otherwise they should directly forbidden sell anything, i can do a 2 lines hello world and sell it on 20$ and its FOSS

      • I agree; WordPress has a thriving ecosystem of first-party services and third-party add-ons, most of it GPL-licensed. (In fact, to get themes and plugins featured on they have to be GPL-licensed.) And I’ve personally made money from writing about Ubuntu.

        I’m not against making money in general, and I’m not against making money from open-source. I just feel kind of exploited, like the work that I’ve done to help promote free and open-source Ubuntu just helped promote Canonical’s proprietary services. Somewhere along the line, the goal’s changed from “humanity to others” to “sustainable business model,” but they haven’t stopped asking for volunteers. At what point does it become simply unpaid labor for a for-profit business?

    • Canonical is a for-profit entity. Ubuntu is a trademark owned by Canonical.
      Canonical owns Ubuntu.
      Canonical has tied _all_ of its revenue generating streams to the Ubuntu brand and to the perceived networking effect of Ubuntu having a large (unsubstantiated) userbase.

      When you help Ubuntu you are most definitely helping Canonical _try_ to make money. In fact that is the entire point. If you are just not starting to feel this way, then you’ve misunderstood the structuring of the relationship between the for-profit entity and the un-incorporated Ubuntu project as it stands.

      But instead I ask you to imagine an alternative reality. One where Ubuntu as a project were structured like Mozilla. There would be an incorporated Ubuntu non-profit foundation to run the project with a for-profit subsidiary to run the business activites that reported to the foundation. THAT would have been the corporate structuring that would have better matched the ethos of Ubuntu project and would have constrained the business interest inside the public good and transparency mandate of the non-profit foundation. In that sort of structure Ubuntu would effectively _own_ Canonical and Canonical would be working for the Ubuntu project instead of the other way around.

      The Canonical for-profit structuring was a deliberate choice made by Shuttleworth. He’s never explained why he didn’t choose the Mozilla-like structuring for Ubuntu.


  2. Hi to all,

    I wish only everyone consider that the issue of this post concerns and wonders about the Ubuntu/Canonical communication startegy and miscommunication effects, not about Canonical a for-profit business, that I believe is totaly legitimate 🙂

  3. Canonical is a private organization built using private money to make money. There is nothing wrong in that. They are supporting UBUNTU project to generate money. It is their business model. It is like a non-zero sum game of game theory. Both Canonical and the community will get benefit out of UBUNTU’s success. UBUNTU community will be pleased to see more and more number of users using UBUNTU operating system for free. Canonical will be pleased by selling their proprietor product based on UBUNTU. Canonical is not forcing the users purchase their proprietory product. It is up to the user to decide, but, Canonical is using its marketing muscle to market UBUNTU. It can not be done without corporate backup. It is good for the Open source, in general, to have different ideas. Only the strongest idea will survive.

  4. the computer world has changed , in few time , so deeply and of course even the OS must change.

    Canonical is a company that must make money. So it has to change.

    basically the OS world is now :

    smartTV, game console.

    The OS companies must create something that can be shared in every level : computer, tablet because less programming means less bugs and waste of time.

    open-source Interfaces :


    1 lxde, xfce too much obsolete and no-completed interfaces.

    2 Gnome2 good ideas but no touchscreen friendly. and basically dead because it’s not developed anymore. but it has a good layout panels etc : it’s not so hard to change , for a new user from windows mac to gnome2. I would say gnome2 is simpler than windows.

    3 Gnome3 it’s not complete. it’s not so easy as gnome2 and it’s a complete mess if you are came from windows. You must understand before how it works.
    it has not a layout for touchscreen or a phone.

    4 Unity it’s not complete, it’s not so configurable , it different from windows so new user is too much scared much more than windows-gnome2 transition. it’s touchscreen friendly for 1/2 , most of applications can’t be classified like touch-screen app. it’s not stable… and it need of 3D. The 2D interfaces is made with another tool… qt… this is a division and a division = make more work to get the same stuff you could get with 1 base system shared.

    5 kde : kde it’s not so stable like gnome2 , but it has :

    an interface for notebook
    an inteface for desktop
    an interface for phone
    applications can run with a touchscreen UI (plasma active)
    it can run the same interface with 3D and 2D (not like unity)

    basically kde has a great structure but it lacks of attentions

    qt applications can runs everywhere (webos windows chromes mac and many others..)

    i would suggest to switch to kde and develop better the interface for phone and tablet.
    i guess kde is the best interface and community for a company.

  5. Nicely written. In my opinion Canonical is not sufficiently “open” about Ubuntu’s overall strategy. This is not a matter of profit vs non-profit, it’s a matter of transparency and trust.
    I am using Ubuntu and I like the work being done on Unity, For me Ubuntu is still an open source reference project however Canonical is no longer an open source reference company.

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