Raging About Things in Non-Constructive Ways

This blog post is the third in a series of many that I will be posting about UDS, the Ubuntu Developer Summit. It is inspired by "Is This The World We Created" by Queen.


Today's theme is rage.

Exhibit A: "Why Ubuntu 11.10 fills me with rage" (or "Mr. Shuttleworth, Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.")

Exhibit B:"Disunited" or "Please stop wrecking Ubuntu."

What is driving the apparent rage that rhymes with "{Some aspect of} Ubuntu sucks and I'm unhappy and I am so outta here. How dare they"?

I think the answer is nearly self-evident:
We (by we, I mean the majority) are immersed in a culture where "software is done TO us by those we don't know" and we are used to that paradigm. There are few counter-examples in the technology industry to draw from. People are struggling as the proprietary technology world clamps more tightly every day.

There is a new paradigm taking root in the world, and many people reading this blog are a part of it. This paradigm is one where "software is done FOR us BY us."

To all the ragers, in Ubuntu there is no THEY. There is only US. Unity is not only software but is also a concept. Ubuntu is not only software but is also an ethos.

Now, let's come together as one and make great software.

UDS is the place to do it. I hope you'll join your community and focus your energy in constructive places like UDS.


Randall, I like the idea of being able to influence the software I use (that's what makes me use Linux on the desktop for many years now). However, I'm starting to realize that there is only a limited amount of time available to me to actually implement the changes I'd like to see.
And frankly it's even worse: not only are there features which are yet missing and which need to be implemented to make Ubuntu on my desktop a better place; but there are also features which are being removed or changed and where I would have to put in additional work just to keep the status quo. Take the case of tab scrolling which was disabled some time ago in GTK: I suppose when finally switching to Oneiric in some weeks, I'll be able to cook up a patch which reenables this feature, so that I can keep using the desktop as usually. But it'll be another half day spent with digging in Bugzilla and Git and C code, and building packages and testing.

There are only so many half days in six months (when the next deluge of changes and disabled stuff and bugs is released). Given that I actually have a day job and some other interests in life besides keeping my computer in working order, there are actually very few half days available; and also I'm not sure I want to spend them for the computer (which in the end is just a tool).

So, given the sparse time and the fact that after max. five years I'm left in the cold if I don't upgrade my (now fixed and mostly working) Ubuntu system to the newest deluge, and given that WinXP now has been supported for ten years: Yes, even with Ubuntu I get the feeling that software is done TO me, and that I'm powerless against the changes that are forced upon me.


I'm not leaving Ubuntu and hardly raging, just snarktastically unhappy with the current direct of the project.

As for "non-constructive", I have not been as active in recent years as in the past, but a significant chunk of the documentation that was released with 6.06 LTS was edited, created or improved with my input, and that core of docs (along with associated work on the doc wiki) was in at least two or three years of releases after that. It's since been substantially revised and I've lost track of the inner works of DocTeam, but they're still doing great work. Pity about the UI they're currently obliged to document...

I have seen an increasing number of decisions apparently removed from community level and instead handed down by fiat from Canonical, too. Some of them are good - the new Ubuntu font is lovely; some of them are horrible mistakes - Unity, for one. Some of them look like mistakes at the time but work out as technology matures - the video/audio codecs mess a few years ago comes to mind. Some horrible mistakes are quietly abandoned - F-Spot, for example.

Hopefully time moves Unity into one of those last two categories! I'm going to be sticking around to find out, no worries, although it might be from Xubuntu or something Unity-free while that particular mistake works itself out.


We (Ubuntu Vancouver) actually had a great time documenting Unity (11.04). We're looking forward to documenting 11.10, with a little help from our friends hopefully.

I think the key thing to remember is that Ubuntu is a "work-in-progress." It will never be perfect, but the longer we stick with it and contribute constructively, the farther will be the lead we have over anything else. We're already witnessing many Ubuntu firsts, and that will accelerate with more help and community involvement.


I'd like to encourage you to join the Ubuntu documentation team to pool the efforts going on towards writing documentation. It's great that people are enjoying writing documentation, but that enthusiasm could have an even greater effect if it was pooled with the Ubuntu documentation team and combined with their efforts.


Ubuntu would be a lot less of a work in progress, and a lot closer to "perfection" if it stuck with one DE technology long enough to actually work the bugs out, instead of haring off after the next new shiny thing.

Metacity worked nicely, then got abandoned for Compiz. Compiz was still pretty buggy when it was abandoned for Unity. How buggy will Unity still be in a few years when it is, in turn, abandoned for the next new shiny thing?

Imagine all the work done to make 11.10 as fast, smooth and quick-booting as it is under the skin, but with a next-gen "as close to bug-free as a DE can be" Metacity or something similar on the desktop. THAT would have been an Ubuntu release to get excited and unified around.

Shiny stuff on the desktop is a distraction, not an improvement.


While I generally agree with you, I think it's only fair to point out that Ubuntu was going to have to go somewhere after Gnome2. Gnome3/Mutter is a pretty invasive change as well, so Gnome3/Mutter or Unity/Compiz, something big was going to change.


I've read a few of the articles, and there seems to be one common theme. They want to be able to move the launcher to other places on the screen. Maybe that's something that should be implemented in Precise.

I'm not a developer (although I'm dabbling a bit), but I'd imagine that the code to move the launcher to the bottom or right side, shouldn't be too difficult to implement (especially since it's in virtually every other desktop available).

I think it would ease the "rage" a lot, if we were able to make changes to the configuration (moving the launcher, adding things/removing things from the panels, etc) without having to resort to hacking through the command line or other means. Maybe make a "System Settings (Advanced)" dialog, which allows you to make the configurations that are currently locked down. When the user opens the dialog, have a box pop up, that basically says "Making changes in these settings could possibly leave you with a non-working or corrupted system. You are strongly encouraged to back your data up prior to making any changes in here." (I'd reword it to something the user will actually read though).

Have a great day:)


That's a cool idea. Perhaps you can post your spec. to the Ayatana mailing list where it will get the eyeballs of the Unity team, including sabdfl. I'm pretty sure that over time we'll see some great add-ons that make tuning/tweaking the UI a piece of cake.

Thanks for the constructive input.


You know, I'm pretty sure that if people thought they could be accomodated here in any other way -- or at least any way that was worth the costs -- they wouldn't be dropping Ubuntu.

I'm okay with deciding that some people aren't worth trying to please, at least not with a given project. But talking about unity while making light of people's grievances is not a way to promote actual unity.


I guess it would boil down to "who are we trying to unite and in what order?" We likely can't achieve it in one fell swoop without infinite resources so in my opinion it's wise to pick a target that has maximum impact. That's the mainstream "user" currently trapped in proprietary-land.


Then with that attitude, Ubuntu is only for the absolutely brand new computer users or those are only use their computer for very minimal things. Power Users, Geeks, we need to look elsewhere.

Unity is causing a lot of disharmony with the core Ubuntu users, long-time supporters.

gnome3 and unity aren't good for power users, so we'll go elsewhere.


My guess is that power users are usually only a few commands or clicks away from installing a new desktop environment (shell) on Ubuntu. The most pwerful will no doubt write tweaks and config utilities to make Unity more to their liking.

Also, have you checked out Kubuntu lately? ;)


It's easy to say "Ubuntu is us."

It's much, much harder for that to actually be true.

I'd argue that the recent popular discontent with Unity, 11.10, and Ubuntu generally suggests that people *don't* believe that they're in the "in-group", don't feel like they have control. They believe that they're "just" users.

Jono, and this year's UDS, seems to have started to realize that. The most recent reactions (Ubuntu Community Day? what?) feel more like a band-aid than anything substantive. But there's still time, we'll see what happens.


Ubuntu is indeed us. We can change it. We are changing it.

"Users" is a term invented by an industry where people have no say. I don't feel that this term has any place in Ubuntu. Every person who enjoys Ubuntu daily or even spins it occasionally is in a position to contribute to it. That can be as simple as translating one string into another language or as intricate as designing a totally amazing UI that trumps Unity. ;)


You know, I just did that: I contributed to GNOME localization, I helped writing and keeping up to date the manuals of a Linux distro, I gave away Ubuntu CDs to my students; if it weren't for time reasons I'd also liked to become an Ubuntu member and contribute to the Ubuntu community.

Now I'm glad I didn't do that. Why? Because GNOME 3.x is a completely different UI paradigm, one that implies many regressions for me (and many other users). Did the GNOME devs listen to their user base complains? No way, the common answer was "GNOME Shell is the future, you just have to adapt to it" and/or just "Go away, choose another desktop, you have plenty of choices".

At the same time here comes Unity, with not one, but two original sins: 1. it is basically based on the same UI paradigm as GNOME Shell 2. it ironically fragments the Linux desktop even more. Both shells could be bearable enough if they were customisable, so that one could adjust her/his Linux desktop to match her/his work flow. But both GNOME and Canonical devs seem to be adamant on this: you don't get to have that choice. So that, indeed, the only choice left is that to migrate elsewhere. This is a farce, and a sad one, if you consider that freedom of choice is what got me to Linux in the first place. If it wasn't for that I'd surely go the OS X way, why be content with imitators when you can have the real thing ...

So please forgive me if I don't buy the "Ubuntu is US" line, and stay "unconstructive". BTW, do you really think that you're going to reach millions of 'the mainstream "user" currently trapped in proprietary-land'? May I ask you how you plan to do that? Because I don't see ads for Ubuntu, I don't see events sponsored by Ubuntu, I don't see viral marketing or any form of marketing capable to reach those millions.

Ubuntu used to spread by word of mouth mainly, and you still haven't realised that you've just managed to send away a good percentage of the people doing that. I can't surely do it any more: not for a childish retaliation, of course, but simply because I don't use Ubuntu Unity, so how could I recommend to install and use something that I stay away from?



Great! Does it mean I can make Ubuntu change its stupid default choices (Unity, ugly orange theme, Banshee, Thunderbird...) and revert to sane ones (Gnome-shell, Adwaita, Rhythmbox, Evolution...)? I don't think they're still hearing us.


In an ideal world you'd be right, but look at the results of Jono's survey. There is a pretty widespread feeling that the only way to have your opinion count is to work for Canonical. Showing up to UDS isn't enough when someone will just override the decisions made at UDS anyway. Nor is it enough when decisions are made ahead of time and only minute details are left to hash out at UDS.

The transparency you claim exists is a sham.


Mackenzie has a very valid point.

I've contributed to Ubuntu for about six and a half years or so, and four of them I've spent on the Community Council. In that time one of my principal interests has been the relationship between Ubuntu as a project, and Canonical as a sponsor.

Although I don't think that the community has nothing that it can add to Ubuntu as a project, because clearly it is possible for volunteers still to contribute very meaningfully to Ubuntu, I do think that Ubuntu is no longer a community driven project. Many decisions and processes (and the way that Unity was sprung upon the project is an example) show that Ubuntu is now a Canonical project supported by the community, rather than the other way around. I think if you ask Mark whether that is true, he will openly acknowledge that. Some might not, but they are just spin merchants.

Many people will have no problem with that. Some people (like Mark) will think that it is the only sustainable way for Ubuntu to be run. A further subset of people will disagree with it, but will continue contributing (I'm in that category). And a final subset of people will be so demotivated by it that they stop contributing. These are all valid opinions and none of them should be undermined.


Have you been to a prior UDS where this has occurred? I'd be interested to hear your story. Thanks!


I've been to 4 UDSes now. The part with "only minute details left" is a common feature. I don't bother to going to non-Kubuntu or non-accessibility desktop-track sessions anymore since the first two UDSes I attended made it obvious that Ubuntu's desktop sessions and Kubuntu's desktop sessions work pretty differently. Kubuntu's start from "what do we want to do?" Ubuntu's start from "how do we want to do it?"

I participated remotely in UDS Jaunty, and I definitely remember a decision from that UDS being overridden.


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