Ubuntu was never a community Linux distribution. From it’s inception, it’s been a commercial distro with some degree of community involvement. Mr. Shuttleworth’s promises that it would be a community driven project were just that–promises. I thought that fact was obvious from the beginning. Evidently, I was wrong.
If you’ve been reading a site I’ll call The Linux Avocado, you know that blogger-in-training and would be journalist Marlene Guacamole (again, my name for her) thought she’d had a major epiphany when she realized Ubuntu to be yet another commercial distro. Good for her. I’m glad she could finally see the obvious.
Except she didn’t see the obvious; she got it wrong. According to her reasoning, Ubuntu ceased being a community distro with the creation of Skunk Works, Canonical’s latest community involvement scheme announced December 7.
I had to laugh at the notion that a Linux distribution operated by a multi-national for-profit company that’s pretty much wholly owned by a charismatic billionaire could ever be considered, by any stretch of the imagination, a community thing.
Why would anyone entertain such a thought? Because they host community forums and sometimes listen to their user base? By that reasoning Windows is a community operating system as well.
I had a bigger laugh when Ms Guacamole proved she still hadn’t quite mastered the journalism game, that she was still a little green if you will, by proclaiming Fedora to be “a completely open community distribution.”
I think Red Hat might even argue with her a little on that. Fedora is Red Hat’s testing grounds. It’s where they throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks and what breaks. It’s a distro that some of us are afraid to try because we can’t afford to be bleeding edge. We have work to do and don’t have time to recover from being Red Hat’s guinea pigs.
Here’s what Techmint’s Avishek Kumar wrote in an article posted just last Friday:
“Actually Fedora is a testing platform of Red Hat and a product is developed and tested here before entering the Enterprise distro.”
Thank you, Mr. Kumar. I’m glad you wrote that. Ms Guacamole had me thinking I was going daft for a second there.
So what’s wrong with being a commercial Linux distro? Not very much, as far as I can tell, as long as you don’t expect it to act like a community distro where the user is considered to be holistically part of the process. To a commercial distro, the user community merely represents the installed base or money in the bank. That’s the eventual plan anyway.
The ease of use designed into Ubuntu has brought probably tens of millions of users into the Linux camp who otherwise might have stayed in the proprietary world. Also, because of the GPL, many innovations brought into Ubuntu are freely available to be incorporated into community distributions–or even other commercial distros.
For example, I use Bodhi Linux as my distro of choice, which is a community distribution built atop a base that’s essentially Ubuntu. The same is true of Linux Mint, arguably the most popular Linux distribution at present, which also uses Ubuntu as its base.
The money put into developing any commercial distro ends up benefiting the entire Linux community. Indeed, my first distro, Mandrake, started life as a fork of Red Hat and benefited from the work Red Had had already done. Likewise, PCLinuxOS began as a fork of Mandrake and benefited to the improvements MandrakeSoft had made to GNU/Linux.
In other words, commercial distributions like Red Hat, Ubuntu and SUSE bring much to the Linux table, even if they’re not quite our ideal. The necessity of keeping the bills paid means that the developers of these distros can’t be slack (excuse the pun) in their approach. Red Hat and SUSE have to be rock solid stable, with open source stacks competitive with what the big proprietary players offer. Ubuntu must be dependable, easy to configure and at least as easy to use as the offerings from Redmond or Cupertino.
Again, because of the GPL, we all benefit from the improvements made by the commercial distros. I certainly benefit using Bodhi; Debian users benefit because many Ubuntu changes are later incorporated upstream. Even Ms Guacamole benefits when she helps Red Hat audition new ideas in her beloved Fedora.