It's All In The Name

Back in the dark days of computing (pre Ubuntu), people were referred to as "users" to essentially frame the industry into a small group that was in a position of power and privilege and one that was not. The vast numbers of unprivileged people could only consume or use. Great for industry and profit, but poor for creating an inclusive society.

I found this photo on a photo sharing service and it is evidently a photo of a user.

Note that when we call people that enjoy Ubuntu's products users, we run the risk of putting them in the same negative box. Why do some people insist on calling people that enjoy computers and technology "users"?

I'm sorry but people who enjoy and run Ubuntu are not "users". We're past that. It's over. Did you come from a proprietary technology company that called people users? You're past that. It's over.

Can we as a community agree to drop the term? It's predatory.

Here are some suggestions for replacement words:

  • Human
  • Person
  • Man
  • Woman
  • Fan

Try something like this:
"A person that enjoys Ubuntu."
"A human that runs Ubuntu."
"A fan of Ubuntu."



Image by nosferatu9000


Hi everyone,

This is a cool topic. I'm into words. And some great points brought up on both sides.

The issue we are discussing here is one of nuance,connotation, and context - not dictionary definitions. If it were an issue of simple dictionary definitions, this post wouldn't have appeared., if you search 'user' gives the example of someone who uses a computer and someone who uses drugs. There is nothing inherently wrong with the word 'use' or 'user' in a simple definition but it goes beyond that.

When I hear the word 'user' my immediate knee-jerk definition is "Someone who uses something, or someone for their own gain or benefit." In the context of a hammer, I use it because it's an advantage to use this tool rather than trying to kick a nail into a wall with my sandals, a stone, or my forehead. Someone might use drugs because they gain a benefit (albeit temporary and fleeting) from this ingested item.

I use a computer or software for what it can do for me, *not* for what I can do for it.

And herein lies the discussion/issue.

For proprietary environments where someone pays money from the hard earned years of their lives to pay for inferior software they have a right to be a bit selfish and they are, therefore 'users' of that paid product (like the drug they paid for). They have an expectation put on the producers of the said tool.

But Ubuntu is different. The name itself ( says that it's different - not like the rest. The 'humans' of Ubuntu should start their experience right from the get-go with an understanding that they are CONTRIBUTORS (Thanks Jimmy for the good word, btw) and PARTICIPANTS in something that stretches beyond a few lines of code.

I stand in complete agreement that for the Ubuntu project we need to change the entire 'brand' with its own vocabulary that are more appropriate for the philosophy upon which it is built.

Otherwise, we're all a bunch of tools!


Words can be quite dangerous because they enter our brains without our choice.

1) I don't think it's up to others to decide who is a user or not. Each person should have that right to be called what they are.

I use a cup to drink water. I'm not a cup user. I'm a water drinker. [Insert racism commentary here]

It is misguiding by grouping everyone as a user. Plus "user" has connotations from the old world. Sometimes we need to change our language to reflect the modern reality. It influences the mind to think differently.

2) By calling youself a user, you are opting out of the meaning of ubuntu, and the entire point of the project (which may be true, but also dangerous and misleading to others). You don't "use" community. Everyone is part of the community. And, you don't simply use things for the sake of using.

I use a cup to drink water. I'm not a cup user. I'm a person who uses a cup to drink water.
People do things with ubuntu. There is a purpose beyond "using" it. At least I would hope so. I can click that ubuntu button on the launcher a few times... that's using.


I think "user" is just another alias for "consumer" which is a pejorative. I think Stallman hit the nail bang on again:


In Greece, we have a saying that goes: "There are no dirty words, only dirty minds".
I am many things (like every person in this world), even in relation to Ubuntu (Ubuntu community member, Ubuntu translator and admin of the translators team etc).
And i am a user of many things. Amongst them, i'm also an Ubuntu (and other Linux OSes) user. I consider this term a badge (or a medal if you want), not a discriminatory term.
Also, it is a great honour for Ubuntu in general to have users. That means it is useful and that's why people use it to do things.


Words shape our world. The words we use to describe things affect our perception of those things.

In reality, no one has to "use" Ubuntu. It's participatory. Compare that to a proprietary product.

See the difference?


Not really, we are the ones that shape our world. Words are just used (sometimes against their true meaning) to describe it, that's why you can't blame them. Exactly like you wouldn't blame a murderer's weapon.
I do get your point, but the world doesn't get fixed by changing the words, it gets fixed by changing our minds. Almost every word can be used with a bad meaning. It's not the word's fault, it's people's fault.


I think " user" is a commonly used term. In software, "end user" and "client" and "consumer" are also commonplace to define their relationship with a product or company. And I don't have a problem with any of it.

If we're trying to talk about the great people who use our software, however you want to dress that up, they're still —by the definition of the word— users.

All the words I mention up top have negative contexts. Drugs, prostitution and soul-devouring, world-ending megabeasts... But the context is extremely important. If you called me an {Ubuntu,Linux} user, I wouldn't expect people to think I'm somebody who injects source code. That's just silly. If they don't understand what Ubuntu is, the problem isn't in how we explained that a person uses it.

I'll also add that once you start adding perceived offence to terminology, you can uncork feelings (and perceived feelings) that take many generations to settle out.

I'll point to the ever-evolving carer-caree terminology in the UK. They've gone through so many combinations of carer/assistant/patient/service-user/client/customer/person/person-who-uses-services. Carers can't decide which they think is best for their clients. Even today there's a pretty serious split between the terms and so they're practically destined to switch between them forever and ever (wasting a ton of money in the process).

The funny thing there is, when social care users were offered the choice the terms a decade or two of hand-wringing had generated, they picked "service user" by a landslide.

I personally care more about the time wasted by hand-wringing than somebody inferring I take illicit drugs.


I won't dispute the popularity of the term, but I will dispute whether popularity has anything to do with whether *I* (or we) should play along or the validity of the term. We can choose to re-frame the way we refer to people, and I strongly argue that we should.

No one uses Linux. It's not usable on its own. But that's a whole other story.

In the caregiver / care-user example, there is a distinct power differential so perhaps the "user" terminology in that context is valid. That's exactly the differential that I wish to dissolve in Ubuntu.


A user is someone who makes use of something. I am a Firefox user.
A writer is someone who writes.
A watcher is someone who watches.
A tool user is someone who uses tools.

I think you are looking for negativity where none exists.

I agree that it's unfortunate that there are drug users that cause themselves harm.

People who use Ubuntu are users. People who contribute are contributors (time, attention, coding, testing, writing, supporting, evangelising ....).


Or, maybe it's not necessary to differentiate. What is gained by it?


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Tip Jar

Liked one of my articles? Please consider clicking the "Donate" button above

Namecoin (NMC) is also appreciated:

Thanks! Your support helps keep this site free and interesting.

An Ubuntu show right from Vancouver!

Real Local Community