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Future of Kubuntu, Should You Be Worried?

Jonathan Riddel recently announced that Canonical is stopping the funding of Kubuntu project. Jonathan wrote, “Today I bring the disappointing news that Canonical will no longer be funding my work on Kubuntu after 12.04. Canonical wants to treat Kubuntu in the same way as the other community flavors such as Edubuntu, Lubuntu, and Xubuntu, and support the projects with infrastructure. This is a big challenge to Kubuntu of course and KDE as well.”

The news lead to many questions. There are numerous discussions on the mailing lists and on the Internet about the future of Kubuntu. the announcement raises some questions which need to be answered.

Why LTS version where there is no paid support?
One question that many were asking was the timing of this decision. A few weeks ago Canonical endowed Kubuntu with the LTS (long term support) status. The question that arose was, what is the point of promoting Kubuntu to the LTS status when they were planning to drop the paid support?

In general sense these are two different things. If you have purchased support you would want it to be supported for a longer period of time. But its not necessary that an LTS version should have paid support as well.

Quite a lot of users are using the LTS version of Ubuntu without any paid support. LTS version basically means that it will get updates for a longer period as compared to the regular versions. So, many users who don’t want to upgrade their systems every six months or have a lot of customization or are running it in ‘mission-critical’ situations can use LTS versions without having to worry about the short-term support cycle.

Similarly, now Kubuntu (and other flavors which were promoted) enjoys the same benefits its users won’t have to worry about upgrading every six month. In other words it should be perceived as ‘improved’ support for Kubuntu by Canonical as now the flavor will have a LTS version too.

What about those who bought the paid support for Kubuntu?
Rich Johnson, an Open Source consultant, wrote in a comment of a previous story, “Kubuntu doesn’t have a single business user support contract, so in regards to that, it means absolutely nothing. If there are businesses out there that are using Kubuntu, they have been using it without a support contract. Support contract is not the same as official support. Kubuntu will continue to have official support as a community distribution, you just can’t get a support contract.”

How is Jonathan’s reassigning going to affect Kubuntu’s development?
It heavily depends on how big the Kubuntu community is and what kind of role Jonathan was playing at Kubuntu. It must also be kept in mind that there was no paid contributor during the 11.10 release of Kubuntu as well.

Harald Sitter, also known as apachelogger, explains:

Kubuntu is and always has been a mostly community driven project. To give you an idea what mostly means in this case: out of the 25 people who notably contributed in the past year, 1 person was employed by Canonical to do so (i.e. 4% of general Kubuntu work was financed by Canonical). Please do not get me wrong though. Jonathan is a great developer and does a considerable amount of work, particularly in those areas where the community currently lacks motivation, hence some workflow revision is in order to make the ‘new’ Kubuntu equally efficient.

That also doesn’t mean that Jonathan won’t work on Kubuntu at all. He just won’t work on it in during the ‘office hours’. He may, and I trust he will, work on it after office, just the way a majority of free software developers work.

Does that mean future of Kubuntu is dark?
Kubuntu’s future is as bright as it always was. The KDE team has turned this DE into a powerful desktop environment which can run on 3 major class of devices – desktop, netbooks and tablets without any compromise for usability.

The popularity of KDE will only grow with time as more and more users will be looking for a familiar yet modern UI which is KDE. As Windows 8 is approaching (which according to SJVN with be DOA) a lot of disgruntled Windows users who are at the fence and waiting for that one push will find KDE to be a perfect replacement for Windows. It has the familiar interface (they won’t have to relearn a lot of give up on what they are used to), security and stability of GNU/Linux and ease of use.

This demand for KDE will strengthen the Kubuntu team and other distros which offer great integration with KDE such as openSUSE and Linux Mint. (Interestingly Linux Mint recently hired a developer to work on KDE).

I have been using KDE for months now and am loving the ‘compete’ control I have over my desktop. I installed Linux Mint KDE for a review and I am very happy with it.

Having used KDE for a few months, I am now confident enough to recommend it to users and install it on their machines (along with the Gnome Shell 3). I can already see the excitement when I tell someone that they can once again use panels and pin apps when and where they want.

Bad decision by Canonical?
Canonical is a company whose primary goal is profit; it’s not a non-for profit foundation. Canonical invests money and they want to see ROI or return on their investments. If something is not working, they should discontinue investing in it. That’s a wise business decision.

The decision of Canonical to stop funding Kubuntu is justified as Jonathan explains, “This is a rational business decision, Kubuntu has not been a business success after 7 years of trying, and it is unrealistic to expect it to continue to have financial resources put into it.”

Canonical is doing a great job with Unity. But I don’t know how the desktop is going to turn into a profitable business for Canonical considering even someone like Apple, with more than $90 billion in cash, can’t make a dent into the desktop market dominated by Microsoft.

Mark Shuttleworth is a successful entrepreneur. He founded Thawte in 1995, which specialised in digital certificates and Internet security and then sold it to VeriSign in December 1999, earning R3.5 billion. So, what ever Mark is doing with Canonical there has to be a very good reason behind it, which you and me can’t see at the moment.

Ubuntu beyond the desktop
Ubuntu TV do seem to hold great potential if the company succeeds in bringing the ‘physical’ products to the market, in time. The company is also working on Ubuntu mobile which can be profitable if executed well. I wonder if Canonical has learnt any lesson from HP’s Touchpad, RIM’s PlayBook and sluggish sales of Windows Phones.

So, I don’t think Canonical did anything wrong by stopping the funding of the project. They still provide Kubuntu teams with the same resources which other *buntu teams get.

KDE has a bright future
The beauty of the GNU/Linux world is that there is something for everyone. If Kubuntu is not working for you, you can always go with Linux Mint KDE, openSUSE KDE, Fedora, Chakra or Mepis. openSUSE is known for their great integration with KDE (Gnome apps actually look great in openSUSE KDE). There is one more distro in the making called Mageia (fork of Mandriva) which uses KDE. With Active Plasma 2 and Spark KDE has entered the post-PC era. KDE is already future proof.

So, there is nothing for KDE fans to be worried about.

In my opinion as long as its GNU/Linux it doesn’t matter whether its Kubuntu, Linux Mint, openSUSE or Fedora. It’s like a big garden, pick the flower that you like. The only OS I am fan of is the one that works for me. Period.

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And, for god’s sake don’t fight that your pink is better than his red.

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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