In the heated exchanges between Ubuntu and Gnome going on right now, I have an observation to make. It’s directed at Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu, and the coders behind Ubuntu who contribute code upstream to Gnome.
Ability does not necessarily mean authority.
When you’re super-awesome, and banging out successes at a rapid pace, it’s easy to feel like other people are slowing you down. But when you start having that thought, you’ve begun to lose proper perspective, I think. At least, that seems true in this case.
Some background: Ubuntu is a kind of Linux, and Gnome is an optional system for making Linux all pointy-clicky. Gnome’s been around a lot longer than Ubuntu, and is run by a different set of volunteers (or whatever their structure is called). Open source software teams have different community models, ranging from the informal to the very formal, and different guiding goals. Ubuntu is run by a business (called Canonical) and Gnome is run by a peer-reviewed, join-anytime-just-bring-good-talent volunteer network. Ubuntu thinks Gnome should do some things, and Canonical’s head honcho is throwing weight around via his blog because Gnome’s not following Ubuntu’s suggestions.
The thing the Ubuntu folk are forgetting is that Gnome made Ubuntu possible, at least in its current form. Sure, Ubuntu could have gone with any of the great Gnome alternatives. Or, Ubuntu could have made the black command-line screen sexy again.
Or in Star Trek’s mirror universe, where Spock was a semi-evil Uncle Tom to human slavers, Ubuntu could have killed Gnome in a balls-out public coup carried out by dodgy thugs, and then taken Gnome’s girlfriend, because that’s just how that universe rolls. (Wasn’t that fun?)
But we’re in actual reality, so back to what really happened: Mark Shuttleworth started a company called Canonical, which (like all companies publishing a flavor of Linux) borrowed severely from a community that, among other things, has this as its defining goal:
No company, of any kind, no matter how good their attitude or contributions, is ever coming along and asserting authority over the free/open source software community. The authority doesn’t exist, and fuck you for asking.
Mark, you’re forgetting that Google is turning evil right now. You just can’t expect open source programmers to respond well to putting code into their project Just Because You’re Ubuntu. If Linus Torvalds himself came along doing exactly what you’re doing, I’d expect Gnome to react the same way.
(Which he wouldn’t, because Linus apparently dislikes Gnome and always has.)
Nobody’s forcing Mark or Ubuntu to use Gnome. I think Ubuntu sees itself as the only Linux project that matters — a result of Ubuntu’s popularity being wider than the popularity of any component project Ubuntu borrows from.
Mark Shuttleworth, step back and re-examine the nature of your relationship to those groups which enabled you. You have certainly done very, very much to earn a place of peerdom in the FOSS community. Bravo, and thank you, for that! But you’re in the corporate world most of the time, and you seem to forget that corporate rules are not in effect between entities in the FOSS community.
Which, among other things, means your wealth and popularity are valid for a lot of things, but it doesn’t allow you to slap people in the face with your scrotum until they do what you say.