How surprised would you be, if I walked up to you and told you that every human needs oxygen to survive? I’m assuming that you wouldn’t at all be surprised – you might start feeling a little uneasy that a random stranger walked up to you with such a crazy question, but you wouldn’t be surprised by the we-need-oxygen fact. Apparently, people are surprised that Ubuntu is not a democracy.
As most of you are probably well aware of now, the Ubuntu team is currently testing a brand new theme for the Ubuntu 10.04, which is part of a massive branding overhaul for the popular Linux distribution and associated software. And if there’s one thing people can get worked up over, it’s pretty colours.
Apart from the colours, there’s a much more important change that’s part of the new theme. The Ubuntu designers have decided to move the window border widgets to the left side of the window (like in Mac OS X). The reason for moving them to the left side is apparently to free up space on the right side, where the team wants to do something in the future. “Moving everything to the left opens up the space on the right nicely, and I would like to experiment in 10.10 with some innovative options there,” Mark Shuttleworth explains, “It’s much easier to do that if we make this change now.”
Left, right, middle – it’s all the same to me. I used to be a full-time BeOS user, I’ve used QNX as my main desktop back when that was still possible, and I’ve owned a whole boatload of Macs, so I’m comfortable with wherever the darn window border widgets are placed.
There is however one more curious thing about Ubuntu’s new theme: the position of the close window widget. It’s not located in the top-left corner – as any sane person would expect – instead, they’ve opted for putting it as the third button from the left. By any standard, this is just plain weird, and it seems a lot of people agree with that notion.
In a long discussion attached to a bug report in Ubuntu’s Launchpad about this, people were wondering why such a massive change was made without their consent; they were feeling left out. “We are supposed to be a community, we all use Ubuntu and contribute to it, and we deserve some respect regarding these kind of decisions. We all make Ubuntu together, or is it a big lie?” wonders Pablo QuirÃ³s, “If you want to tell us that we are all part of it, we want information, and we want our opinion to be decisive.”
Shuttleworth’s reply was clear. “We all make Ubuntu, but we do not all make all of it,” he writes, “This is not a democracy. Good feedback, good data, are welcome. But we are not voting on design decisions.”
All this is ruffling some feathers here and there. While the concerns regarding the location of the window border widgets is legit, in my opinion, the concerns regarding the policies of it all are not. Open source or Free software does not mean democracy. It’s more NATO and less UN (if that makes any sense). The Linux kernel project, GNOME, KDE – none of those are democracies. A relatively small group of people are the ones making the decisions, and that’s a good thing.
This is open source. Code, and be included with the big boys.