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Since When Was Ubuntu A Community Distro?

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.”

Hmmm…

Ubuntu logoI 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.

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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.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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54 comments to Since When Was Ubuntu A Community Distro?

  • Seeing as how the first distro I really switched away from Windows to was Xandros, Ubuntu really did seem more like a community distro.

  • I really, really wish that tech writers would quit spewing the old, tired line about Fedora being nothing more than a testing ground for Red Hat. It’s simply not true.

    Please go read http://fedoraproject.org/en/about-fedora. Absolutely *nowhere* does it say “this is a beta for Red Hat Enterprise Linux,” because that is absolutely not the case.

    Yes, Red Hat does its development work in Fedora-land, but theose engineers along with the Fedora Project folks work their butts off to put out a solid community distro, and they largely succeed. Yes, it moves very fast, so yes, there are some rough edges, but Fedora is *not* just a beta for Red Hat.

    Tech writers spewing that incorrect information scares folks away, which is really, really unfortunate. There are many tens of millions of Fedora users. Last time I checked, http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Statistics showed over 46 MILLION unique IP addresses had gotten updates. It’s a very solid distro. It’s where a lot of innovation that benefits upstream projects occurs. It’s one of the purist Open Source distros out there. It’s a *phenomenal* place for Linux newbies to come and join the community.

    Please, please quit propogating that myth. It’s simply not true. Fedora is a fantastic, full-featured, very stable distro with amazing capabilities.

    Thanks
    Thomas Cameron

  • W. Anderson

    It is and has been obvious for those with many years of “real world” experiences of GNU/Linux, in both commercial environment and community involvement that there are only three ‘main’ prominent distributions that are community based, meaning not ultimately controlled by a corporation – Debian, Gentoo and Slackware. A few other more obscure distributions have same community base.

    The *BSD UNIX-likes – FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and DragonflyBSD would also come under that categorization.

    Unfortunately a significant proportion of ‘new’ technology media article writers have little knowledge or strong understanding of the factual history and development of these operating systems (OS), and consistently make false statements, not maliciously, but from ignorance, which can be more damning than the planned and relentless attacks against GNU/Linux and *BSD by the draconian behemoths and their minions that constantly seek to destroy Free/Open Source Software OS and applications as a whole.

  • W. Anderson

    I had not read comment by Thomas Cameron before posting above, but felt some clarification was needed between the article thrust and his feelings about Fedora.

    There is certainly no doubt that many tens of millions of Fedora users are thrilled with the performance and features of this great distro. However, Mr. Cameron must know that Fedora is 100% ‘controlled’ by RedHat,and if for example RedHat decides tomorrow to limit or restrict code contributions for any outside inidivduals, they can and would do so in a heart beat. While the Fedora community can ‘fork’ the code into another distribution, which is their right, they cannot direct what RedHat puts forth in the distro or what code goes upstream.

    How much wide speard use a distro has, or how good it is has no relationship what-so-ever with whether a commercial corporation, in this case RedHat, “ultimately” has full control over that distro. Sentiment has no part in that fact.

  • Finally, someone that gets it!. While Ubuntu is trying to make money, people just don’t understand that Ubuntu has brought Linux to the mainstream and all that money that Mark spends, actually benefits the Community.

    I don’t want to step on anybody’s shoes, but they praise Linux Mint as the be-all-end-all and better-than Ubuntu, Distro. Clearly missing the whole point that Mint IS Ubuntu at it’s Core, and without Ubuntu; there simply is no Mint.

    What makes me sick to my stomach is all the Mud slinging the Linux Community does to each other, no wonder we are so disorganized. We need to pull together or face a future of loneliness.

    Forks tick me off to an extent also. Let’s say some Dev gets upset at Xubuntu (my distro) and decides to fork it. Now I ask ya, why oh why didn’t he just go help out the XFCE team where his help would have been better directed. Those sorts of things make me pull my hair out; if I had any that is.

  • I’d have to agree with much of what W. Anderson had to say in reply to Thomas Cameron’s concerns about the treatment Fedora received in this article.

    It wasn’t my intent to be disparaging of Fedora. However, Fedora doesn’t qualify as a community distro. A community distro, in my opinion, is one that’s owned and developed by it’s user base. While Red Hat has done a commendable job of building a community around Fedora, at the same time nurturing community involvement, it’s not a community distro is the pure since of the word. It’s wholly owned by Red Hat, who ultimately has the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on any decisions involving the distro.

    That being said, there is not a better FOSS player in the commercial world than Red Hat. The company has demonstrated time and time again that they fully understand the concept of free software, have defended our rights, and have returned much more to the FOSS community than they’ve taken.

    I have nothing but good thoughts and feelings about Fedora as a distro, and firmly support the way Red Hat has guided its development. The only reservations I have about Fedora are the same reservations I have about any GNU/Linux distribution, i.e. is it the right distro for the job. If you’re looking for a good cutting-edge distro, Fedora might be right for you.

  • Connie New

    If the definition that a community distro is one “driven by a democratic involvement of the community of users”, then there is no such thing. Driven by a developer community perhaps, but even there somewhere there is a person that says yeah or nay. Linux Advocado as a site that promotes Linux has lost its way, and the majority of its recent articles appear to be focused on bashing Ubuntu.

  • Andrew

    @Connie New – Sure there is, Google Debian.

  • Mike Frett:

    “Forks tick me off to an extent also. Let’s say some Dev gets upset at Xubuntu (my distro) and decides to fork it. Now I ask ya, why oh why didn’t he just go help out the XFCE team where his help would have been better directed. Those sorts of things make me pull my hair out; if I had any that is.”

    Mainly, because often times, the upstream project has no interest in what a developer is offering. It’s not true of *all* FOSS projects, but it happens more than one would like to believe. Some projects are great at considering and incorporating downstream patches, fixes, and features, others aren’t. When you’ve got the upstream being recalcitrant about accepting code/suggestions/feature requests from downstream sources, you end up with forks.

  • Connie New: “Linux Advocado as a site that promotes Linux has lost its way, and the majority of its recent articles appear to be focused on bashing Ubuntu.”

    That’s why I used the name Linux Avocado in the article. The site has turned into a joke and I didn’t want to encourage their main blowhard by sending any traffic to their site. That’s too bad. The site showed promise until Guacamole’s ego got so filled with hot air.

    BTW, although there will be a head honcho at any community distro–it’s necessary, projects run by consensus rarely get anything done–in a true community distro decisions made by the “ruling class” can be overridden by a vote of the community. I’m reasonably sure this is codified in Debian. I’m not sure it’s written anywhere in Bodhi, my distro of choice, but I know that Jeff Hoogland and his developers listen to users and are guided by us users.

  • Andrew

    @Christine Hall – Don’t worry, Ms Guacamole will probably shut down soon as she won’t be able to afford her free site / hosting since she hasn’t reached her goal of $10K. It’s very likely that she will be found in the future standing in line at the welfare office or holding a will attack Canonical for dollars sign down on the street corner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try to reach a goal by process of alienation.

  • Folks… In case it wasn’t clear from my home page, I work for Red Hat. I am also a contributor to the Fedora Project.

    While Red Hat sponsors Fedora, to claim it is not a community distribution is at best misinformed, at worst disingenuous. It smacks of distro-bashing, and you should be above that.

    The board of directors is mostly non-Red Hat folks (http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Board#Members). The priorities of the Fedora project are not necessarily the same as those of Red Hat e.g. Red Hat Enterprise Linux. There is certainly overlap, but your intimation that somehow Fedora is less “community” because of Red Hat’s sponsorship is silly.

    Red Hat makes more contributions to upstream projects like the kernel, glibc, X.org, and so on than any other commercial contributor. You know where that happens? Red Hat contributes directly to upstream projects and then the Fedora packagers of the upstream projects pull it into Fedora. Those upstream commits benefit Ubuntu, SUSE, Slackware, etc. I’d say that is the very definition of “community.”

    We have SIGs around all kinds of package groups which have little to nothing to do with what winds up in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. See, e.g. https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Category:Packaging_SIGs for examples.

    We sponsor (read: “pay for events and travel and lodging for”) Fedora Ambassadors all over the world to draw new users into the Open Source community. See, e.g. https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Ambassadors and http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Events#North_America_.28NA.29 for details.

    You claim that a “community distro, in my opinion, is one that’s owned and developed by it’s user base.” You’ve just described Fedora. Fedora community members who are not Red Hat employees commit TONS of packages to the distro. We only have about a dozen employees who work on Fedora, and many of those are administrative, not technical. The entire rest of the distro is made up of community contributions. Now, there are a lot of Red Hat employees who are members of the Fedora community, but they are not paid to be. They just like it and participate. Heck, I’m one of those. My day job has nothing directly to do with Fedora, but I participate in the community.

    Can you show me some specific examples of how Fedora is not being a “community distro”?”

  • Eddie G.

    Ok. Seriously?…People PLEASE! We are LINUX USERS!….We don’t argue over insignificant points such as these! Whether a distro is “owned” by a corporation or a community…..DOES IT REALLY MATTER!? As long as we’re not “donating” money to totalitarian companies that have the slogan “Our Way Or The Highway” then who CARES if the distro “Mrs. Willoughby” uses is from a money making corporation or a group of developers from Scandinavia!? I really hope the following generations of Linux users will ignore this kind of banter….it doesn’t serve any purpose, we’re ALL in a “community”…..a community of GNU/Linux users! Why are we bickering over which distro is “owned’…and by whom?…is it not enough that you get the desktop environment of YOUR choice…the apps YOU need that WORK…without being CHARGED for every new icon added…and the ABILITY to switch to whatever “flavor” or GNU/Linux YOU so desire? I happen to use Fedora-CEntOS-Scientific-Ubuntu-Oracle-LuNinux-PearOS-Snow-Debian AND openSuSE…do you really think I give two monkeys eyeballs as to which ones are owned & operated by a corporation…or run by a group of developers?…..sheesh! There’s SO many other…..more enlightening things to discuss..let us move on to those things which will enhance our usage of Linux and better the “community” as a whole…shall we? Ok…I’m coming off the soapbox now…rant over! LoL!

  • Can I propose a bit of a middle ground on Fedora?

    I think Christine is reasonable in drawing a distinction between Fedora, as a project sponsored by a major commercial backer, and, oh, say, Debian as an archetypal example of a true ‘community’ distribution. I wouldn’t argue that Fedora is entirely of the same nature as Debian.

    But at the same time it’s not entirely true to say “It’s wholly owned by Red Hat, who ultimately has the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on any decisions involving the distro.”

    Wholly-owned isn’t a concept that really applies to a F/OSS project, but let’s not quibble about wording. If you look at the organizational make up of Fedora it is ultimately true that, should push ever come to shove in a really big way, Red Hat has a veto: the highest authority in the Fedora project, the Board, is split 50/50 between elected and RH-nominated positions, and the casting vote is held by the FPL, who is appointed by Red Hat. So yes, ultimately, Red Hat holds the strings of Fedora.

    Day-to-day, in practice, though, Fedora gets built by the people who build it – whether they’re RH staff or not. Most stuff that happens in Fedora just happens: someone with commit rights does something, and no-one complains. And lots and lots of non-RH people have commit rights to Fedora and ‘do stuff’ all the time. We have entire desktops and spins that are maintained by non-RH staff.

    Where decisions are actually made by some kind of decision-making body, there are several that aren’t RH-controlled, and even where a board or committee has a lot of @redhat people on it, they’re usually just making decisions based on their own discretion as to what is good for the Fedora project; they usually aren’t subject to ‘guidance’ from RH’s corporate hierarchy (not that it has much of one…) or considerations of ‘what’s good for Red Hat’. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that no @redhat person ever thought ‘hmm, is this going to be a problem for that huge Red Hat release next month?’ because I’m not an idiot and neither are you, but believe me, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going on _all the time_.

    So can we just agree to a kind of middle ground? No, Fedora is not a perfect ‘community distribution’, Red Hat ultimately holds the Fedora strings. But at the same time, in practice, Fedora isn’t some kind of Red Hat-directed RHEL sandbox where nothing happens without approval from the Red Hat Guidance Committee or something. In practice, the people who make Fedora mostly do it with an honest effort to make Fedora the best project it can be, regardless of RH’s concerns, and that applies whether those people are @redhat or not.

  • Oh, and regardless of that question, I absolutely agree with Thomas in feeling sad every time the ‘RHEL beta’ meme gets reproduced. Yes, Fedora is an adventurous, cutting-edge distribution. No, it is not just a RHEL beta (for a start, Fedora has _far_ more stuff in it than RHEL does; RHEL doesn’t officially include KDE, never mind Xfce, LXDE, MATE, Cinnamon or Sugar). The relationship between Fedora and RHEL is a complex one, and ignoring RHEL, Fedora as a project has its own explicit goals that we work hard to honour in building Fedora releases, and that of course are entirely open: https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Fedora_Release_Criteria is basically an attempt to define precisely what it is we want a Fedora release to be.

  • Oh, and Christine, in practice both Debian and Fedora make decisions very much by consensus. There’s both a Debian Project Leader and a Fedora Project Leader, but if you got them and Mark Shuttleworth in a room and asked them, you’d find there’s a _huge_ difference in practical terms in what they actually do. Robyn doesn’t write out the Big Central Five Year Plan for Fedora; it’s much more of a role of going around talking to all the different groups within the project to try and build consensus and just make sure everyone is on the same page about what’s going to happen next, and I’m pretty sure the DPL’s job is much the same. I think community(ish) projects can be quite successful with consensus decision making, though it _can_ be problematic as well.

  • Stephen Murcott

    I wonder why people seek to discredit the good work of others. Loads of small projects make up all of the brilliant Linux distributions out there and they are all worthy of praise. Of course companies need to make cash, Amazon, Facebook and Google make plenty of cash using Linux, am sure they have people that contribute upstream… (well I hope so).

    Post Ubuntu’s emergence as a force in the Linux/FOSS community there has been much more care to be nice to new users.

    I remember what a shock it was for me to find forums where people were encouraged rather than told to go use a proprietary solution.

    Ubuntu’s success as a distribution was it’s ability to make Debian friendly and help people to use it. Canonical using Ubuntu have built a massive and diverse community. Ubuntu has humble beginnings and has come a long way. I know it barely resembles what it started out as on top but underneath it is the same deb based system.

    Thanks Ubuntu for helping to make such a huge difference to the FOSS ecosystem. Although I don’t use Ubuntu or Debian because I prefer to live on the edge… I have to say I know and respect many people that do and it is a brilliant community effort.

  • W. Anderson

    Hopefully I can provide some insight into what distinguishes a Community GNU/Linux distribution from a “technically” pseudo Community distribution, but which otherwise, as was mentioned several times in comments, works identically (and organization operationally) to those considered more pure Linux.

    Based on my ‘direct’ involvement with Gnu/Linux, as a USA representative for Suse GMBH, Germany in late 1990s and earlier as a consultant and instructor on RedHat, and laison bewteen RedHat sales and CompUSA Stores for technical retail (which was not finalized before CompUSA went down the tubes) of RedHat, the general understanding of a “community” Linux distribution is one in which a Not-for-Profit (NFP) organization, and in most cases a “NFP Foundation” are the legal owners and controllers of that particular distribution in it’s many forms, including the copyright and trademarks.

    Developers may work for a commercial entity full time, and may even be paid to work on the GNU/Linux distro. However, the commercial sponsor has absolutely no rights or legal claims on any code created for that distribution, unless for in-house developed code was to be used internally and never put for the to the distro team or public.

    RedHat, as the legal owner and copyright holder on Fedora could do this but chooses to continue full Free/Open Source Software model in support of the Community. But conversely, they could change the copyright on RedHat from a certain point release on and make Fedora proprietary. The Community, especially groups like CentOS could take GPL code “up to that point” and continue modifying it to actually make a fork.

    The commercial Xandros distro died after support stopped, and a fork was not created. Mandriva died, but a couple of fork came out from Communities afterwards.

    A perfect example of the differences in pure community and corporate owned code is with MySQL. Oracle corporation who owns MysQL wwhich is GPLed like Linux decided to make improvements on the database after a certain release number that would be available “only” to commercial subscribers. The answer for the “community” was creation of a fork by original MySQL crator and proceed from there.

    Lets hope this does not happen with Fedora and Ubuntu, but never assume or guarantee that it cannot.

    The point missed by all those talking past each other is that such potential bifurcation does not exist “now” with RedHat or Ubuntu and will most likely not happen, at least not to the degree as I have described as possible unhappy outcome.

    The Software Freedom Law Center – http://www.softwarefreedom.org/
    as the premier legal authority in USA and possibly internationally on GPL license and other Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) licenses, should be contacted for a further clear, but legalese explanation of the matter.

    You folks are basically agreeing on principle but arguing on matter from an inacurate perspective.

  • What a great conversation we’re having here today–entirely in the spirit of free and open source software. Thanks to W. Anderson for clearly defining for us what we mean by a community distribution, with a special thanks to Adam Williamson and Thomas Cameron for joining-in and upholding Red Hat and Fedora’s side of the discussion.

    Eddie G., there has been not attempt here to vilify Ubuntu. Indeed, if you read my article you’ll see I go out of my way to defend the good that commercial distributions like Ubuntu do for GNU/Linux. I was merely addressing those who insist that Ubuntu started life as a community distribution, which patently isn’t true.

  • “RedHat, as the legal owner and copyright holder on Fedora could do this but chooses to continue full Free/Open Source Software model in support of the Community. But conversely, they could change the copyright on RedHat from a certain point release on and make Fedora proprietary. The Community, especially groups like CentOS could take GPL code “up to that point” and continue modifying it to actually make a fork.”

    This is not in fact entirely true. See the Fedora contributor agreement:

    https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Legal:Fedora_Project_Contributor_Agreement

    Note that it does not require an assignment of copyright to Fedora or RH, or the use of any specific license. What it basically says is that in order to contribute something to Fedora you must license it under one of the licenses that are ‘acceptable’ for Fedora (which is basically all F/OSS licenses), and if you do not specify a particular license for your contribution, it will be considered to be licensed under the ‘Fedora default license’, which is currently MIT.

    Theoretically, an evil Red Hat could ram through a declaration of any given ‘default license’, but that wouldn’t give Red Hat the actual ownership of the contribution: the author would still have it. We’d have to come up with some incredibly weird license to give ourselves as a licensee more right to the code than the author, and it’d likely be legally unsupportable. And if you’re worried about that, all you have to do is explicitly license your contribution to Fedora under any F/OSS license you choose, and then neither Fedora nor RH can re-license it.

    So no, Red Hat can’t in fact ‘make Fedora proprietary’. Red Hat could only make proprietary the bits of Fedora that RH contributed. We cannot re-license explicitly licensed contributions to Fedora, and we cannot practically make ‘default licensed’ contributions RH-proprietary.

    This is significantly different to the Ubuntu CLA, which requires copyright assignment to Canonical.

  • “What a great conversation we’re having here today–entirely in the spirit of free and open source software.”

    Except the part where you won’t post my comment. It’s been in “waiting for moderation” for several hours.

    Nice.

  • I would think the idea of making any Linux distro proprietary would be an impossibility given the so-called viral nature of the GPL. If Linus had chosen to release Linux under a permissive open source license, like BSD or MIT, then it would be possible to turn a particular distribution proprietary and Linux today would be in the same mess that proprietary Unix is in. But for someone like Red Hat to now try to become proprietary, they’d need to replace the kernel with something like BSD and find replacements for all GNU components being used. That’s my understanding anyway.

    And Red Hat BSD probably wouldn’t be as easy to market as Red Hat Linux.

  • I’m sorry, Cameron. I didn’t realize. I’ll get right on it.

    I’m not in my office anymore so I missed seeing this. It was held because of the links, to keep out comment spam. My apologies.

  • Thomas, no one is saying that Fedora isn’t a distro with tons of community involvement. And I do understand that it’s a type of “community” distro. However, I still don’t feel that it’s the same sort of community distro as Debian, Gentoo, Knoppix and a host of other distros that aren’t associated with any commercial entity.

    Again, as far as I’m concerned Red Hat is above reproach. The company has nothing but my utmost respect and I have no problem whatsoever with Fedora or how it is run. FOSS Force is a North Carolina based site, and we are proud to be in the state that’s also home to Red Hat.

    Really, really, really Tom, I am not against you. I would be happy to offer the services of FOSS Force to help Fedora any way I can. I’m not bashing (excuse the pun) Fedora or Red Hat by any stretch of the imagination. Again, I think that Red Hat has been absolutely one of the best open source players on the planet.

  • One correction on my part. I planned to and should have named Ubuntu parent Canonical as having more leaway on taking Ubuntu down the proprietary path, not Fedora. Rushing to write a comment in great haste before office close is sometimes problematic. My apologies.

  • I think we’ve all been there, W. Anderson.

    I don’t think anyone thought you were attempting to put Fedora in Canonical’s hands. :-)

  • Christine: when you go too far down the rabbit hole it starts getting very complicated and you start having to hire lawyers and stuff :), but very roughly, what I and (I think) W. Anderson are talking about are the bits of a distro that are unique to that distro. Obviously, no distro can ‘turn the kernel proprietary’, because no distro *owns* the kernel. When we start geeking out about distros’ copyright policies and licensing agreements and so on and so forth, we’re concerned with the bits of a distro that are actually the ‘value add’ of that distro. Distros take existing code and bundle it up, basically: what we’re talking about is the copyright on the ‘bundling’. There is copyright on the spec files in Fedora, on Fedora’s artwork, documentation and so on and so forth (ditto for any other distro of course), and that’s the stuff we’re talking about here.

    Canonical could of course never ‘make Ubuntu proprietary’ in the sense of releasing an Ubuntu and not providing any source (ditto Red Hat / Fedora, SUSE / OpenSUSE etc etc etc). The most evil of evil Linux distributors is required to publish the source to copylefted components of that distribution – this is why you can get the kernel source for Samsung’s phones, etc. But what Canonical could in theory do is take all of the stuff that was actually written for Ubuntu, and ‘take it proprietary': they could in theory not post any of the source code for the Ubuntu-y bits of Ubuntu 13.10, if they liked, and just say ‘ner ner ner no’. They own the copyright on the stuff that was contributed as well as the stuff they wrote, because that’s what Canonical’s CLA requires. They couldn’t ‘unpublish’ the source they’ve already posted for existing Ubuntu releases, or stop people re-using it under the terms of the license under which it was released, but they _could_ change things for future releases. The distinction I’m drawing is that RH couldn’t do that for Fedora even if we turned evil, because we don’t actually own the copyright on stuff that was contributed to Fedora: it is owned by the people who contributed it and we can’t just do that.

    No-one’s suggesting Canonical is actually going to do anything of the sort in any kind of foreseeable future, but it _is_ a significant difference between requiring copyright assignment and not requiring copyright assignment, for contributions.

  • That can be done to some of the “value added” stuff, but not all of it, according to my understanding. In Linux, for example, if an application acts like it’s a part of the functioning of the operating system, my understanding is that if you then distribute it installed (and presuming it’s yours to begin with), then that component might very well become GPLed by default. Linus Torvalds has expressed the opinion that proprietary hardware device drivers, if they were to be installed on Linux and distributed by the copyright owners (presumably the hardware makers), then they would become GPLed. This is what I meant by “the so-called viral nature of the GPL.”

    It’s my understanding that if you distribute a distro and want to keep a component of that distro developed by you under a proprietary license, then you have to be very careful about how that component is designed to interact with the distro, lest you inadvertently create the defacto effect of making the code GPL by accident.

    This is my understanding–and I’m certainly a little hazy on this, since I’m neither an IP attorney nor a software developer…

  • That’s one of the points where you need to hire lawyers, indeed, but I believe the consensus is that the bar is fairly high, there. It would be hard to argue that a spec file is a ‘derivative work’ of the code it packages, for instance.

  • That I also understand, as much as this dim bulb can. Thanks Adam. :-)

  • Guillermo Garron

    Suddenly I don’t like avocado anymore. I’m subscribing to this site and leaving the avocado one.

    That one is full of FUD.

    I don’t need to read haters’ blogs.

  • Guillermo, I don’t want to suggest what you might want to do about any other sites you frequent, but you’re welcome to peruse our site here any time you like.

  • Eddie G.

    @Christine: I didn’t mean to imply that YOU were the one vilifying anyone…I just didn’t want it to escalate to the point where it became one of those “Mine’s-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours” things! Lord knows I’ve been through ENOUGH of those from Windows-World! I for one am highly impressed that people who live around the globe are able to come together, have a discussion, while disagreeing with each other…and REMAINING civil about the whole matter! In MY humble opinion?….you ALL belong in POLITICS!…..with people like YOU all running this planet….we’d stand a better chance of survival as a race!…LOL! And just out of curiosity “Everyone” Does anyone know where I can find info on tweaking SELinux on Fedora 18?….there’s doesn’t seem to be an “official” guide or HowTo on it!….thanks in advance!

  • Eddie, there’s no need whatsoever to not be civil with one another as far as I’m concerned. :-)

    Maybe Adam Williamson can put you in touch with somebody who can help you with your SELinux problem?

  • Eddie G.

    @Christine: Cool!…& Thanks again Mi’Lady!…And I agree civility is a “lost Art” in this day and age of “Gimme-More-And-Gimme-Now”….LoL!

  • On a side note: I liked Red Hat when it was still Red Hat, and not RHEL-vs-Fedora. Mainly for one single reason: release policy and support cycles. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but I like using the same distribution on servers and on desktops. For some time I’ve been using CentOS for the job, but the long wait between 5.x and 6.0 (four and a half years) made me abandon it and look somewhere else.

    My ideal Linux distro: commercial-plus-community, one new version every year or every year and a half, with five years of security updates for every version. That’s why I finally adopted Slackware.

  • [...] C. Dvorak, a pundit, actually added an opinion of his own and so did FOSS Force . Dvorak must not be keeping up though. As someone told me, “Dvorak says that Shuttleworth [...]

  • Niki, when I first started using Linux on the desktop I bought a shrink wrapped copy at the Best Buy store. In those days, I still had a dial-up at home, so downloading would be out of the question. Best Buy offered two Linux packages, Red Hat and the Mandrake Power Pack. I chose the Mandrake Power Pack. If memory serves, it wasn’t long after that that Red Hat announced they were ending their consumer desktop to concentrate on the server.

    Back in those days, the web hosting company I was using ran Red Hat on their servers. They eventually changed to CentOS, probably because the cost of running Red Hat became prohibitively expensive for a competitively priced commodity hosting company. These days I run CentOS on both of the servers we maintain.

  • We must have made our first steps on Linux around the same time. After an initial false start on Slackware 7.1, I bought the Mandrake Power Pack 8.0 and had a few one of these, though I took a Linux course and then reverted to Slackware.

    I live in the remote South French countryside, and we only have low-bandwidth DSL since early 2007. Up until then it was dial-up. Usually I ordered my installation media from a company that sold pressed CDs and DVDs. Today I have DSL, but I still get my Slackware subscription media by mail :oD

    I’m running a small Linux-based business here in South France, I just finished polishing up the website. It’s in French, but the screenshots are universal.

    http://www.microlinux.fr

    On servers and on desktops, I’m using Slackware with my own modifications. Here’s the desktop for example:

    https://github.com/kikinovak/desktop

    The screenshots on the site are still from version 13.37, haven’t updated them yet:

    http://www.microlinux.fr/desktop_linux.php

    Cheers from the sunny South of France.

  • Eddie: I don’t know of a single ‘how to tweak SELinux’ guide, exactly (there may well be something commercially published, I don’t read that kind of stuff), but there is a lot of information in the various SELinux manpages and on the web. Usually when I’m trying to figure out how to do something with SELinux I start with a few constructed Google queries and work from there. Dan Walsh’s blog has all kinds of useful info:

    http://danwalsh.livejournal.com/

    but it’s not categorized, unfortunately, so it can be hard to find precisely what you’re looking for. Googling with site:danwalsh.livejournal.com often yields fruitful results, though.

    What is it you were interested in tweaking specifically?

  • Eddie G.

    Thanks Adam!…I’ll be sure to check out the link…and take your advice about Googling. In particular, I am CONSTANTLY receiving an error message when I use my Fedora 18 Laptop (its a Gateway T6231 with 3GB RAM, a 320GB HDD, and a 32-bit architecture) I don;t have the error message ready here in front of me…as I am at work, but basically it always pops up telling me there’s a Problem with a google-talk-plugin,ooor a pulse-audio issue…..or something called “empathy”…NOT the chat program!….the SELinux window even goes so far as to tell me how to “solve” it. (By typing some lines in a Terminal!) and I DO…ALWAYS, but I’m assuming it doesn’t “take”…or there’s some switch I must not know of to get these things to stop interrupting me when I’m connected to work from home trying to get things done….

  • Eddie G. – this may be helpful re: SELinux: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxjenQ31b70 (SELinux for Mere Mortals from Red Hat Summit 2012, on the Red Hat channel)

    TC

  • Niki, you would’ve started just before me. I started with version 9.0 of Mandrake. After purchasing the Power Pack in the store, I ordered a cheap version on CD of 9.2 and 9.3 from Cheap Bytes. By the time Mandriva 2007 came out, Cheap Bytes could no longer offer the Power Pack, so I ordered the Mandriva Free version, which contained only open source software. In 2010 I moved on to PCLOS for a couple of years, then last summer I installed Bodhi Linux, which is actually the first distro I’ve used where I like the distro as much as I like the Linux. I really, really, really like the Enlightenment desktop, and the work that Jeff Hoogland and his development crew has done putting it all together is super.

    I’ve known a few Slackware users in my time. You guys are nuts! ;-)

  • Thanks Thomas and Adam. You guys are great.

  • Eddie: it sounds a bit like the troubleshooter is giving you a command which only applies to the running session (it’s not stored across a reboot). If you could post or email me the actual message you get and the command it tells you to run, I might be able to figure it out for you. thanks!

  • Christine: my father bought a copy of Mandrake 8.1 and we started on that, but we could never get it to work with our ADSL connection (back in the days where you actually plugged an ADSL modem into the PC and it needed all kinds of drivers and PPP-over-ATM support and whatever else, before ISPs wised up and realized it was a lot simpler just to give everyone a router). Then I went to university – no ADSL issues, my university was part of the JANET backbone… – and decided to install Mandrake 8.2 Beta. It’s funny how forgotten Mandrake/iva is these days, when it seems like everyone started out using it :/

  • About the time I quit using Mandrake/Mandriva, I remember reading a blog post, a Top 5 Distros thing, which said Mandrake had become irrelevant. I think a lot of us never felt comfortable with the company. There was always something about them, in my mind, that always made me a bit suspicious–although I exchanged emails more than a few times with some of their support people and always got super help. Was even taught a few BASH tricks I still use. I think I saw that you once worked for them, so you’d have a much better picture than I on what the corporate identity was really like. It’s hard to get things right when all you have to go by is gut instinct.

    Anyway, I’m really glad to see Mageia picking up the ball and keeping the distro alive. People seem to like what they’re doing with it.

  • Yeah, I worked for MDK/MDV for several years. It was an interesting place to work.

    I think it got an unfair reputation so far as the company ‘Linux world’ relationship went, though you can blame bad messaging for some of that. Lots of people never understood that there was always a free (as-in-beer and as-in-speech) edition of Mandrake; the furthest we ever got down the ‘please give us some money’ road was when we delayed the release of the Free edition till a month after the paid edition for a few releases, but there always was one. Various other moves like the Club kinda got misrepresented (and, again, from the MDK side, badly explained). If I was feeling cynical I’d say that it seems to be inevitable that as soon as a desktop distribution tries to find any way at all to get some money from its users, there’ll be a huge, unjustified backlash: I’ve got no sympathy at all for the current strain of thought that seems to be determined to bash any move at all that Canonical makes to try and get some kind of revenue stream going “just because” (there are some legitimate criticisms of some of the decisions they’ve made, but there are a lot of people who just seem to want to bash absolutely anything at all they try to do to make some money, which is bullshit).

    The engineering staff at MDK/V were brilliant, many as good as any I’ve met at RH. Everyone who actually worked on the distro worked crazy hard – pretty much everyone pulled a 60+ hour week – for rather less money than ‘industry standard’ (and, in some of the bad times, no money at all). With a laughably skeleton crew compared to RH, SUSE or Ubuntu, MDK put out one of the best distros for many years on a regular cycle (and no, it wasn’t “based on” RH or Fedora); that’s by far the thing most of us who worked there are proudest of.

    Outside of engineering and management, MDK barely *had* any staff; sales, support and marketing were, like, about ten warm bodies (a bit more after the Conectiva merge, but still tiny). I was pretty much the entire community relations and QA department (and part of the PR department). MDK basically never had anywhere near enough money; everyone worked three jobs far harder than they ought to have done.

    The management, though, was generally terrible. A lot of the ill will towards MDK was due to various management machinations – people hated that Gael Duval was ‘forced out’ (it was actually a bit more complex than that, but he did get a bum deal), and stuff like that. The structure of the company was just awful, the chronic lack of money didn’t help, and a lot of the people who ran the company at various times frankly had no damn business running a Linux publisher. I can recall some good people in management – Anne Nicolas and David Barth (though others might disagree; another problem with MDK was chronic factionalism…) in particular – but there was a lot of utter incompetency there over the years.

    I haven’t had enough time to look at Mageia closely, but Anne is awesome and I know many of the ex-MDK staff and community members involved and there’s a lot of good people there; I’m not surprised they’re putting together what sounds to be a good distro.

  • Eddie G.

    @Thomas & Adam: Thanks guys! I will send you that info as soon as I’m able to….(God! I love the “open-ness” of the Open Source Community!..LOL! You guys ROCK!)

    Cheers!

    EGO II

    (and yes…those ARE my real initials!..LOL!)

  • Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you
    an email. I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  • @Elvira – At the top of the page, just below the masthead is a menu bar. Home-About-Tips-Contact-Completed Polls-Calendar

    Send me an email. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. I’m glad you like our site.

  • Ryan

    Did Thomas even read his own link?

    “Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, the world’s most trusted provider of open source technology. Red Hat invests in Fedora to encourage collaboration and incubate innovative new free software technologies.”

    It may not explicitly say the words “this is a beta for Red Hat Enterprise Linux” but the place to incubate your new technology is precisely what a beta is.

  • [...] best distros: Last week, I said that a FOSSForce.com write-up a few weeks ago about what constitutes a community distro was an “uncharacteristically [...]