Ubuntu. What Just Happened?

Ubuntu community (in the broadest sense of the word) friends,

I have been reading the recent posts on Ubuntu Planet with mixed feelings of disappointment but mostly with excitement, and always with keen interest in searching for a pattern that would assist us in understanding change.

Rather than analyse or critique individual posts, I would like to present a visual model of what I think just happened, as an engineer(1) and a manager.

This just happened.


Is this a bad thing? No. If we (the Ubuntu project and its contributors) are to get to orbit and do something epic, the we need different rocketry at different stages of our journey. Physics. Deny it at your peril.

Let's all ask ourselves these important questions:

1) Look back to the "early days" of Ubuntu. What was needed then? Is it still needed in that exact form now? More of the same?

2) If you are on the rocket ship (one of the manned sections, not a booster rocket), but not in the capsule, do you want to argue or debate with those who are? Or, by extension do you want to disrupt mission control? Throw a little sand in their faces? Those who built the rocket, who made deep investments, and decided the flight plan, and who are monitoring systems have our best interests in mind. We all need to get to orbit. Let's help.

3) Do you have children? Do you know children? Do you intend on having children? Do you want them to suffer another twenty five years at the hand of rent-seeking monopolists who build mansions in Los Altos Hills and Redmond whilst the young struggle to eek out a living? Do you think that innovation at a snail's pace will free them in your lifetime? We have been at this for over 25 years now. Want another 25?

4) Have you ever met a billionaire face-to-face and talked to them? Have you wondered why they don't try to change the world? I've met two. One of them cares and is doing something tangible with both his mouth and his money. The other pontificates from his mansion in Palo Alto. Can you guess who's who?

5) What if there was no "them"? What if we ignored a lifetime of propaganda saying there is always a them? What if there were no "Canonical Conspiracy"(2)? What if we all embraced the philosophy of Ubuntu?

6) Can you guess where I stand yet?

Where there is change, there is opportunity. In this case there is a massive opportunity. This is going to be big. When I (officially) joined the Ubuntu project four years ago I felt it: a feeling I hadn't felt since the early beginnings of the World-Wide-Web. "Spidey sense is tingling." I still feel it, but more intensely.

Ubuntu is still true to its roots: To bring software freedom to everyone in the world, without prejudice. Everyone.

Be a part of "the next big thing". Help change the world. Ubuntu is not just software, it's also human, and it's about to go viral.

1. Yes, I am a degreed electrical engineer. Need voltage?
2. No, I do not work for Canonical. I work for community, and I happily include and embrace Canonical as part of my community.

Image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/


Ubuntu is NOT on the right track. It's lost the plot. Every time you search your OWN database you are creating a small file that will be sent to AMAZON who employ workers as slave labour, Ubuntu is now worse than Microsoft in effect because at least Microsoft TELL YOU when they want to use your personal information.


These star trek references need to stop. They're childish. None of you are going to "orbit", evah. But you burned up alright, I'll give you that much.


istok, it's comments like these that give us even more determination and more awareness that we are on the right track. Thank you and please keep it up. :)


Great post.
Awesome analogy and picture, very creative :)
Thanks for all your efforts at vUDS, keep up the good work.


I really think there's a big misunderstanding between the Community and Canonical. And a big communication issue.

You see, lots of people have the feelings that they have work for nothing for the next release, with the Mir announcement, the reflexion about the Rolling Release. We can't know what is true or false, the words used are sometimes very hard, and at the end, playing with provocation isn't a good thing.

I don't know how works the Community Council, but I think they are the guys who are the best placed to restore the trust, because there not Canonical's members, but they represent the community. Maybe we have to amplify their signals

Else, I have another plan. At the end of the UDS-R, Jono asked to Mark if he can do an IamA on Reddit. Since there's no news.

I think, that could be a strong signal if Mark could do his IamA soon.

It is too early to loose the rocketry. Let's fix this community issue


From a business POV, this analogy is totally fine. Ubuntu, supported by several other projects, got up to a point where it can now dispose them, so it can go further.
The problem is, as you've already mentioned before, Ubuntu is not just software. There are hundreds, miles of people which dedicated a lot of time and effort, contributing to Ubuntu. And all that effort is suddenly discarded, together with those people.
I'm not saying Canonical is evil. It makes sense. But, somehow, some part of the community is wounded with the latest decisions. It's not just Mir... It started with Unity.
Don't take me wrong, I like Unity (but I'm a KDE user). However, Canonical's business model, as stated in previous comments, should be better communicated to people, because many felt cheated.
It's like: people are feeling like they're being detached from their main ship, hopeless, in the middle of the lone and cold space...


Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Luis.

The time and effort it has taken to get the rocket to this altitude has not been wasted. All the engineers, managers, and programmers that worked on the first stage can now look with pride at what they have accomplished. (I've expanded this idea more on my response to Benjamin's comment - see thread). There are no people on that rocket stage, only spent fuel.

I agree that Mark needs to explicitly state "The Mission". And, Canonical (Jane Silber, CEO) needs to explicitly state the "Corporate Mission" within "The Mission". More clarity would be useful.


So to answer to your questions ,

1) I will assume that what was needed in 2005 is quite dependent on people, and I would argue that not everybody think free software is a priority. For some people political stability, having a place to live, etc could be seen as more needed. But let's restrict to free software. In 2005, and like today, what is needed is a continuous stream of new contributor, to replace the one that are leaving. Some people would say that ubuntu brought people, some will say that ubuntu took them from others community, or put some company out of business. So yes, the need for contributor didn't change. Now, the question is "does having a convergent system" bring more people ? That's up to see the future. If that's the case, then the ubuntu community should sooner or later become self sustainable, which is obviously not the case at all for Ubuntu, unlike Debian or Mageia. So until that happen, I would label that objective as failed.

2) sorry to say, but that seems like a slave/master relation. It is ok to not be in the capsule, as long as you were fully aware of not being there. And that's the whole issue, people were being said they were equal, and obviously and given your analogy, that's not the case. Also, each time Mark speak, he often forget to speak of the others more contributing members of the community, like Suse, Intel, Red hat, Google. I can understand he refuse to acknowledge competitors, but given Canonical benefit so much from their work, it would just be the least polite thing to do.

3) no, and frankly if I cared enough of children, having them use free software would not be my first concern. The whole question is just bad rethoric. There is a whole wikipedia article explaining better than I could how this kind of argument is just using emotional to replace logical thinking. I didn't really expect you to use that, seriously, as the whole idea has bad connotation ( since that's often heard for censorship of the web, etc, etc, and I really do not think that's a good idea ).

4) No, never meet one of them. And I do not see why having money would make them want to change the world more than those that don't. Thinking everybody want to change something is just having a narrow view, some people do not care of the same stuff as others. Now, if the question is "should we follow people who want to change the world", the answer is yes, but this bring "why focus on those who have money ?", ie is it more important to choose something that can be done due to money than something that really matter but would be harder to do ? Sure, everybody can make compromise and that's ok, but people should be clearly aware this is a compromise and that they exchanged some of their goals for ease.

5) Well, it would much more easy to ignore the divide between the multiple group if it was not so blatantly apparent. The Ubuntu one trademark issue, the bypass of freeze for Amazon, the cancellation of UDS, the whole idea that when you do something in secret ( writing mir for 9 months for the newer example ) are all tangible reasons to see a divide between Canonical and the community. Shall I give the official definition of conspiracy :
" The act of two or more persons, called conspirators, working secretly to obtain some goal, usually understood with negative connotations.". The only part that can be discussed is "negative connotation", and that's very subjective. For Canonical, taking world by surprise is good. For people who worked on something just to hear "this serve nothing now", this is negative. So yeah, there is more than 1 person, they do stuff in secret, they have a goal. Now, I agree that calling that conspiracy is technically right, but in practice hold too much wrong connotation for what is just a lack of proper communication.

6) I think you stand on Vancouver, as indicated by your previous blog post. Maybe you mean that you stand on the shoulders of gints, of all theses people that have worked hard ( and stil work hard ) to give what was needed for Ubuntu to create a os based on the works of others.


Thanks for this. I also appreciate others' comments.

Judging from the success of the Global Jam (or at least I can speak to the Vancouver one -- I've put up the group pic of that jam as my wallpaper!), my guess is that most people are just focusing on using and spreading Ubuntu. I have been following a bit about some of the "controversies", but at the end of the day, I'm just excited about Ubuntu's philosophy etc., and while I have my own questions regarding various things, I don't want to be distracted too much. I really like the face-to-face aspect of our LoCo -- it energizes members, it builds community, and it provides support. But more importantly, it reminds us all that we have the same goals in mind -- to make Ubuntu better for all. Even when we sometimes may have different ideas of what strategies we should use to reach those goals, the bottom line is that we are all in the same community with similar goals. Perhaps it takes a while for us to test out what strategies work best, but the key is that we are in it together. Or at least I hope we would all stay in it together.


Thanks for your support, Anita.


Great post!


Thanks Pablo.


The picture is right, but probably not in the way it was intended. In the capsule, we have Canonical and probably a very few community members - or people that Canonical considers trustworthy. Or, as Mark puts it, people he trusts to "you not to talk in your sleep" about whatever Canonical wants to drop next on it's competitor - and on the contributors.

And then we have the carrier rocket, the giant community that has been driving Ubuntu for years. They fulfilled their purpose, they have been burned and are now left behind. But who cares, as long as it helps the few in the capsule?


I think that about sums up how some people are feeling.


That's exactly what I thought, too when I first saw the image.


The photo depicts jettisoning a rocket stage that has fulfilled its purpose because the current conditions need different rocketry.

Think of the detached rocket stage as old code, old effort, old plans, and old strategies (i.e. spent fuel). If you were one of the engineers that designed that first stage, would you now feel cheated by mission control? Or, would you be proud that you built a critical piece of the ship that helped the mission succeed? Would you watch in awe as the ship you helped design approached orbit? Would you tell your children "Hey I helped make that!" Or, would you rather the pilot not detach the first stage?

Or maybe you'd begin designing an interceptor to blast what remains of the rocket out of the sky? "That'll teach 'em to mess with my plans." (Insert evil villain laugh.)

And don't forget the mission of those both in the capsule and on the ground: They are bringing something valuable to the world: software freedom to *everyone*, without prejudice. And, they are doing it as quickly as possible so that your lifetime isn't wasted on the same nonsense and greed that we've seen for the past 25 years.

If you're not in the capsule, you can still be part of mission control. I don't think it's acceptable to interfere with either the cosmonauts or the ground crew.


That's just it. These people didn't know that all their hard work was just "Stage one" of the rocket. They didn't know everything they did would have to be jetissoned. They're looking on in horror as the rocket ship falls apart, because no one ever told them it's supposed to do that.

I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs, in that he was completely willing to tell people to go to hell and take their stuff with them because it didn't fit with his vision. People created some amazing things to live up to his standards. Mark, and Canonical, have always been willing to blaze their own trail in that style.

It's just that you're trying to have it both ways. You want everyone to be friends at the same time as you treat them and their work like expendable resources. That's not how it works. And in pretending that that's how it works, you're trivializing their distress and delegitimizing what they're going through.

There can't be a "let's realign our goals and figure out how to work together" conversation until after you accept what just happened, and the effect that it had on people who USED to value their relationship with Ubuntu.

If you're willing to throw people away, you don't get to act surprised when they throw you away.


I wish Canonical the best of luck with getting their Ubuntu to take over the world.

Your metaphor assumes that the rockets/people Ubuntu has just jettisoned are not necessary for Canonical's Ubuntu to take over the world--or even, to treat your metaphor the least charitably, that Ubuntu will be *better* if they are not present.

Well, for your sake, I hope you're right. I am skeptical, though.


Hi Karen,

Thank you for your comment. Please read my response to Benjamin's comment. The first rocket stage is NOT representing people.

Can you name another project that has the same goal to bring software freedom to everyone, without prejudice? Does this project have a plan? A timeline? A solid management team? How long will we have to wait for it?



Interesting analogy Randall. What type of engineering do you do?


Clearly not the Ubuntu variety.


Clearly not, Mr. Afraid ;)


A great analogy and a brilliant post. Nice One Randall. I totally agree.


It's happened before. Mint, Arch, and others formed from similar disgruntlements. It will happen again.

The most recent blowup occurred in 2011 after the big Unity-is-the-future announcement.

Putting my own manager hat on, I suspect some community members need to take a step back from the (very fulfilling) Ubuntu hobby and seek additional fulfillment offline. I have watched a long line of new enthiusiasts become over-committed and overworked enthusiasts, then become burned-out ex-members. We in the community do an awful job of coaching our peers to sometimes step back and cool off as part of contributing.


Thank you for the insightful comment, Ian.

Sabbaticals and extended vacations are indeed a great idea. I suspect the burnout issue affects Canonical and non-Canonical contributors alike. I'm going to assume that Canonical management is managing their staff. As a Community Manager I'm going to look for opportunities to help contributors nearing burn-out to de-stress and rejoin later with renewed enthusiasm.

Part of the issue in the (non-Canonical) community is that we haven't been actively seeking help hard enough or for long enough. Time to change that.


I think that Canonical need to fix the communication system ;) .
And define clearly where the rocket is going and how.

Good communication avoid 90% of the FUD, Doubt, fear and misunderstood. I agree with the direction but the communication is really bad.


You are correct.

A while back I asked Mark for a clear Mission Statement. Time to poke/beg/ask again perhaps :) He's a super busy man so I'm trying not to be the biggest pest on the planet.




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