Is Ubuntu Development Becoming Less Open? [Updated]
While the larger Ubuntu community was busy downloading, installing and enjoying the latest edition of Ubuntu yesterday, a post by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth ruffled some feathers.
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Canonical Founder Mark Shuttleworth says parts of Ubuntu 13.04 will be kept a secret, out of the public eye until its unveiling.
It was not just Alex (or me) who interpreted Mark’s blog as Canonical moving to a closed development. Jan Wildeboer, a Red Hat evanglist, wrote on his on Google + page:
The Steve of Linux at it again. Canonical moves to closed development. How sad. How NOT Open Source. How exactly the “tribalism” approach that Shuttleworth officially condemns.
What lead to this interpretation? Shuttleworth had written:
Mapping out the road to 13.04, there are a few items with high “tada!” value that would be great candidates for folk who want to work on something that will get attention when unveiled. While we won’t talk about them until we think they are ready to celebrate, we’re happy to engage with contributing community members that have established credibility (membership, or close to it) in Ubuntu, who want to be part of the action.
The obvious interpretation was that Canonical will be developing projects out of public eye, only with some select or handpicked developers or contributors having access to them.
The post also made abundantly clear that the leadership of Canonical did not want these contributors to talk to public and keeps things secret:
No NDA’s needed but we will need to trust you not to talk in your sleep.
When Williams or Wildeboer raised doubts over it they had genuine concern. Even I was not sure what Shuttleworth meant by that post, looking at the discussion thread it appeared the reality was something else. So I approached Shuttleworth seeking clarification.
1) Whether Canonical is inviting contribution in areas which were closed earlier or 2) Whether Canonical is restricting access to some projects (which could have been otherwise open) to only select community members.
I did not get any response from Mark but [response from Mark Shuttleworh just arrived, read Mark Shuttleworth: Nothing That Was Previously Public Will Be "Taken Private" [Exclusive] Michael Hall, a Canonical employee, clarified that it was the first case which means Canonical is actually letting contributors to access those projects which were otherwise developed internally by Canonical developers.
Instead of going close Canonical is in fact opening up a bit more. Which, everyone would agree, is a welcome move.
Shuttleworth was apparently keeping an eye on these discussion. He posted another blog to remove the confusion.
What I offered to do, yesterday, spontaneously, is to invite members of the community in to the things we are working on as personal projects, before we are ready to share them. This would mean that there was even less of Ubuntu that was NOT shaped and polished by folk other than Canonical – a move that one would think would be well received. This would make Canonical even more transparent.
However, Shuttleworth did not miss the opportunity to mention Fedora, Ubuntu’s competitor:
Ubuntu set the standard for transparency a long time ago, when we invited anybody who showed a passion and competence to have commit and upload rights, a strong contrast with the Fedora policy of the time, which required you to be a Red Hat employee.
That’s past, Steven J Vaughan-Nichols writes, “Fedora, while still under Red Hat’s control, has long abandoned requiring its developers to be Red Hat employees.”
Wildeboer further clarifies on his G+ page, “There are no Red Hat developers that do NOT work with upstream (be it Fedora or other projects). There is nothing we develop in secret or in private. We tried that in the past – GFS, Satellite and a few other projects come to mind – but we learned (painfully at times) that it doesn’t work. So we have a very simple mode nowadays. Upstream is king. Open wins.”
This in-fight is bad for the growth of the Linux community. Wildeboer’s post, from what I see, was seeking clarification on this policy change as you have to admit that the previous blog of Shuttleworth did leave some scope for misinterpretation. A clarification was needed and, thankfully, it has come from Shuttleworth in time.
So, we all can go home with this assurance that instead of going close Canonical is in fact opening up a bit more. Which, everyone would agree, is a welcome move.