If there’s one consistent piece of criticism that gets lobbed in Canonical’s and Mark Shuttleworth’s direction, it’s that they do not contribute enough code – or anything else for that matter – to the Free software world. Mark Shuttleworth has apparently had enough, and has written a very, very lengthy blog post detailing how he feels about this criticism.
Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with the people criticising Ubuntu and Canonical in this way. While Ubuntu may not contribute in hard lines of code, the distribution contributes something else that is at least just as valuable: mind share. I’ve never had any of my friends come up to me asking questions about Linux and what it was until Ubuntu came onto the scene.
That being said, Ubuntu is of course nothing but a tiny part of a massive ecosystem of Free software, and Shuttleworth obviously recognises that. “Ubuntu, and the possibilities it creates, could not have come about without the extraordinary Linux community, which wouldn’t exist without the GNU community, and couldn’t have risen to prominence without the efforts of companies like IBM and Red Hat,” he details, “And it would be a very different story if it weren’t for the Mozilla folks and Netscape before them, and GNOME and KDE, and Google and everyone else who have exercised that stack in so many different ways, making it better along the way.”
So, what does Ubuntu bring to the table, according to Shuttleworth? What does Canonical contribute to the world of Free software? “A total commitment to everyday users and use cases, the idea that free software should be ‘for everyone’ both economically and in ease of use, and a willingness to chase down the problems that stand between here and there,” he states, “I feel that commitment is a gift back to the people who built every one of those packages. If we can bring free software to ten times the audience, we have amplified the value of your generosity by a factor of ten, we have made every hour spent fixing an issue or making something amazing, ten times as valuable.”
It seems like many people are too narrow-minded to look beyond just one measurement of contribution: lines of code. If you measure contribution solely in lines of code, then yes, Ubuntu and Canonical might not contribute as much as, say, Red Hat – but is that truly the only possible way to measure contribution?
“I didn’t found Ubuntu as a vehicle for getting lots of code written, that didn’t seem to me to be what the world needed,” Shuttleworth argues, “It needed a vehicle for getting it out there, that cares about delivering the code we already have in a state of high quality and reliability. Most of the pieces of the desktop were in place – and code was flowing in – it just wasn’t being delivered in a way that would take it beyond the server, or to the general public.”
As much as I respect other distributions for the massive contributions that they’ve made and are making, there’s no denying that Ubuntu has spread the idea of running Linux on your consumer desktop more than any other.
“Those who say ‘but Canonical doesn’t do X’ may be right, but that misses all the things we do, which weren’t on the map beforehand,” Shuttleworth further added, “Of course, there’s little that we do exclusively, and little that we do that others couldn’t if they made that their mission, but I think the passion of the Ubuntu community, and the enthusiasm of its users, reflects the fact that there is something definitively new and distinctive about the project.”