Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mark Shuttleworth's business concept is flawed

Last week an old discussion flared up once again when TildeHash published "Meritocracy vs. Democracy", a long lament for.. the position of a few buttons!

This may baffle some oldtimers, since it is an issue that is fixed within a few minutes by:
gconftool-2 --set /apps/metacity/general/button_layout --type string "menu:minimize,maximize,close"

So why this uproar? Why are some many people so upset by a simple design issue?



Note this isn't the first time Ubuntu hit the headlines in the most unfavorable way. A rather ugly battle was fought last March between Caitlyn Martin and Sam Varghese over.. a broken printer driver! Although I'm usually as pragmatic as Sam - I gambled, I lost, now revert - I'm glad I kept out of this discussion since both parties resorted to some vicious "ad hominem" attacks.

However, a pattern seems to arise. Strangely enough, some people thought that a simple poll could change Mark Shuttleworth's mind and were obviously appalled when it didn't. Jim Morrison said it all: "You can't petition the Lord with prayer" and that applies to the concept of the "benevolent dictator" as well.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the audience that Ubuntu attracts are not your usual "computer-savvy" user who has no problem reinstalling something, switching distros or even forking a distribution. They obviously seem to want something that just works, which is not the product Mark Shuttleworth supplies.

Ubuntu has a horrible track record where reliability is concerned. More than once, people were left with a broken installation after an update or upgrade. For that reason, I don't touch it. I simply lack the time to hunt down and track bugs. I need my machine each and every day to do the work. For that reason, I stick with the distro I installed until the hardware breaks down. That's not too big a problem: if I need something I download the tarball and compile it. If it doesn't work, I uninstall it and revert to the original package.

So why is Mark Shuttleworth's business concept flawed? Well, first it is based on Debian's unstable branch. Read my lips: it's called "unstable" for a reason. You might call that conservative, but if you need a product that "simply works" it's not the way to go. True, LTS versions are based on "testing", but that still isn't "stable". Second, since Ubuntu users seem to be less geeky than others you have to take them into account. That means you can't get away with a commandline fix if you go into a direction they don't like. You have to get it straight away, because they can't fix it.

Is this concerning me? No, I'm "computer savvy" enough to keep my machine in working order. And since I require high availability I won't touch Ubuntu with a pole. Furthermore, KDE is a second rank citizen in Mark's universe and that's my desktop environment. In short, I never liked Ubuntu and don't like it any better now.

But if users turn away from Ubuntu it will hurt Linux in the long run, because all these guys seem to think that Ubuntu equals Linux - which is simply not true. A customer lost is twice as hard to get back than a new one. Their experiences will echo all over the net for years to come. So maybe it is time for the community to fill that niche, make a new distro which has a radically different philosophy based on reliability and user acceptance. My best bet is Linux Mint for several reasons. As DistroWatch put it:
This [Linux Mint] is one project where the developers and users are in constant interaction, resulting in dramatic, user-driven improvements with every new release.

Need I say more?

So instead of whining, why don't you all jump on the Linux Mint bandwagon? I'm sure they are only happy to accommodate you all. It shouldn't be too difficult, because it is derived from Ubuntu. Again, I'm not running it - but that shouldn't keep you from finding out what FOSS is all about: choice.

FAQ
Don't you know that Mint and Ubuntu are close cousins?
Yes, I know: I wrote it, can't you do me the courtesy to read it?

Why do you consider Mint a safer choice than Ubuntu, when they're close cousins?
Because of their policy. They do not follow Ubuntu blindly, but only release when they're satisfied there are no show-stoppers. Furthermore, they don't promote updates or upgrades. Instead, they want you to do a clean install. I consider updates and upgrades too risky, especially for a newbie. It should be discouraged and that is exactly what Mint does. Consequently a running machine keeps running and that is what the doctor ordered. If you had followed the link, you could have figured that one out yourself. Or do you think that underlining words is just neat?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are complicating yourself.
gconftool-2 --set /apps/metacity/general/button_layout --type string "menu:minimize,maximize,close"

That can be done through Ubuntu Tweak just install and change it's as easy as changing any other configuration. Also the normal user doesn't give a rats ass where the buttons go. They switch to mac without a problem and without a hitch, so what makes it so diferent. This only bothers overly anal people.

Anonymous said...

Long ago, I read a book about home made airplanes; it described wing patterns at a point. Normal versus cannard (wings behind, like the Concord) and how the latter is more stable.

You know what? Acrobatic planes need to be unstable. This simple truth is very enlightening... stability, so needed in server environments, is a serious hindrance in more agile situations.

Compare, e.g., a motorcycle and a car.

Regarding the arguing about icons and corners, I also would like to pint it's all about defaults: the differences in layout, the installation of things that come with an agenda etc. Some people (read most noobies) won't change anything and just use the default setting. Any change, even a one-liner, is asking too much of them.

I'm having some trouble with Ubuntu, but I think it's poised to be the first to gather market share when Linux starts gaining ground like Firefox did. I don't think it's flawed, but everyone in Linuxland needs additional marketing...

IMHO.

Tucanae Services said...

Excuse me but I would think your complaint and solution are also flawed. Ubuntu is based on Debian unstable. Ok. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. If the child is unstable, then the grandchild is as well.

'nuff said.

The Beez' said...

@Tucanae Services
First, you didn't click the link did you? It states Mint won't release when they're not happy.

Second, if you read carefully you will see my proposal was for a new distribution. Nowhere I stated that Mint was that distribution. Just an alternative to Ubuntu, highly compatible and with a rep that they do listen to their community.

CJ said...

>>I simply lack the time to hunt down and track bugs. I need my machine each and every day to do the work.<<

Bang on Beez! Tis for that very reason I tend to use Fedora and Debian. They haven't let me down - at all.

OTOH, Ubuntu is a fork from hell. Suddenly shit stops working. I know - my brother uses it and spends a lot of time doing sys admin.:)

Arup said...

Ubuntu breaks, thats a lie in itself, in that case Fedora hardly runs and rest of Linux distros are junk defined, Of all the distros out there, Ubuntu is the one that runs and runs well, also its the only one that can be presented to a Windows user looking for an alternate. No wonder Google and IBM foster Ubuntu and not any other distro.

Nitbunty said...

The problem with this is that users are not happy to stick with older versions of applications for the sake of stability.

In my experience, its always been more 'risky' running older and more stable distros (e.g. Ubuntu Hardy vs Karmic) because one inevitably ends up hacking the system in order to get newer versions of applications to work.

Linux Mint is nothing more than Ubuntu with an additional layer. If Linux Mint switched to a Fedora base, would it gain more followers? Do you consider Fedora to be any better in terms of stability?

Jacob said...

I largely agree with you. The change that sparked my rant -- yes it's a rant, and I try to avoid rants -- was the small change of window control button position, but this isn't the only reason I wrote about the subject. If it were only that, I would have let it go.

I wrote it because I see Ubuntu as the "noob" distribution that -- whether I like it or not -- represents GNU+Linux to new users. And if Canonical is not willing to listen to what their users want, than this makes the operating system as a whole look bad.

And the idea of "vote with your feet" is not easy for the new user. I think suggesting it is just ridiculous. New users do not (or cannot) "distro hop" easily.

I am a technical user (I use Debian GNU+Linux-libre), and I don't use Ubuntu personally. And I hate seeing the distribution with the most potential losing more and more of it with every update.

Fernando said...

I am very familiar with Linux in many flavors. Nevertheless, my choice is Ultimate edition which is based on Ubuntu.

If you don't like Ubuntu, don't use it, end of the story. But to criticize one of the best and most popular Linux distributions in the word is just ridiculous. The fact is, Ubuntu is more popular than any other Linux distribution in this world.

Jack said...

Non-LTS are based on Debian's unstable branch, but LTS releases are based on Debian's stable branch.

What I think is: non-geek users should have installed LTS releases, but computer savvy's should install non-LTS every 6. months.

I don't know why should a new distro start and solve the problem of stability. There are more then 600 distro already in place why do we need some new one? And there is already Debian stable branch.

What is the biggest problem is how to "join" two most important things for end-users:
- new functionalities and
- stability.
It is not 100% possible without braking each other.

So if user prefer stability then install LTS release. If user needs extra stability then stay at "LTS - 1 release" until LTS release gets first major update. If user likes to get new functionalities then install Ubuntu every 6. months.

But I agree with you Linux is all about choices if someone needs more stable release then go to Debian stable. If you like more new functionalities go to Fedora.

But complaining all over about Ubuntu is a good sign, it means many non-savvy users are using it. Savvy users don't complain, they fix it them self or install new distro.

dave said...

Microsoft release OS after OS that is full of gaping holes, kludged solutions, inconsistencies and bugs.

Ubuntu quite clearly does work for a lot of people - why else is it so popular?

I've used every release since the first beta and though there's been the odd hiccup, nothing has been anywhere near as bad as you suggest.

It seems hard to believe that the Linux Mint people fix each and every bug that Ubuntu doesn't (thus making Debian Unstable into Debian Stable)?

Perhaps some "hands-on" experience would make your article less of a "I don't use the product I'm here to criticise" and more of a "I speak from experience". Experience trumps opinion everytime.

The Beez' said...

@Jack
It's "testing", not "stable":
"We are more conservative in our package merge with Debian, auto-synching with Debian testing, instead of Debian unstable."

@Arup
You know there have been several incidents through the years - don't pretend otherwise. I'm not a fool and neither are my readers.

@Fernando
I don't use Windows either, still I feel free to criticize it. Press and friends give me enough information.

Anonymous said...

I object to your description of Caitlyn Martin's complaint as being over a "broken printer driver". An outright lie at worst, a complete misunderstanding of what led to it at best. The fact you were unable to follow her very straight-forward and simple explanation of her stance demonstrates that you read that having already made up your mind, and took it completely out of context, as it appears did many others. Her points were all valid, and with merit. Please don't spread lies, or attempt to belittle others just because you don't like their point of view, it makes you look small.

The Beez' said...

@Anonymous
You can object all you like, I provided the link, so users can make up their own mind.

Exact quote: "I have an HP Laserjet 1020 printer which works fine under Linux. Well, it always has, but today I plugged it into my HP Mini 110 netbook running Ubuntu 9.10 and nothing happened. None of Ubuntu's printing tools or CUPS recognized the printer. lsusb correctly listed a USB device for the printer but did not have a description for it. I checked in synaptic and the proper drivers and firmware are all installed."

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

I use Ubuntu and in most cases it's fine but true it's hard to find a version where xorg for example, for some reason doesn't randomly decides to take 100% of CPU and I need to restart.
This was the reason why I changed windows for Linux, to get the stability. However for the most time I find Ubuntu a very pleasant experience.
Few times I've tried using stable distros like Debian, but always come back to Ubuntu. It's just too hard to install newer versions of some programs.
Here is the perfect system for me, very stable base, window system, xorg, the system in general but the ability to install the newest versions of secondary software, like firefox, thunderbird, miro, vlc, pidgin and so on...
It's still hard for an average user to install new versions of a program by downloading it from site and just double click like on .exe file on windows. Since Ubuntu is the most popular they have PPA and most of software can be installed from these repositories.
I hope that in the future ubuntu LTS will use debian stable branch, or at least synchronize the versions with debian freeze so that packages get more stable in the future.
Btw, Mint is good.

Anonymous said...

Shuttleworth's business concept flawed? That must be why he's a billionaire...

JMiahMan said...

Shuttleworth's business concept flawed? That must be why he's a billionaire...

There's a huge different between Thawte and Ubuntu. Shuttleworth didn't become a billionaire from Canonical and obviously it wasn't going too good for him because he stepped down as CEO last year. If you would do any research you would fine Canonical is not cash flow positive and most likely Shuttleworth's space endeavor's aren't either. Just because he become a Billionaire off of Thawte doesn't mean every thing he touches is gold or for that matter profitable. I think Ubuntu is a huge representation of that and as a Linux Systems Admin for a rather large company we won't consider Ubuntu a reasonable alternative for another Linux distribution let alone a Windows System. It's just too easy to build your own and maintain it (desktop or server), after all it is my Job and I wouldn't but that in the hands of a unstable branch of Debian.

Joe said...

I'd like to answer this hysteric, hand wringing article with a bit of fact: Ubuntu LTS is not based on debian unstable. It's based on debian testing. And while it's cool to hate on ubuntu, and lots of fun to take cheap shots, I'm forced to admit that the ubuntu LTS servers I've deployed have been rock solid with zero issues. So it's hard to square that with the posters wild assertions that it "breaks regularly". Uh uh. I don't see that happening. Those servers just run.

Chris Carpenter said...

Okay, first off I have an issue with the people saying "Ubuntu must be good, or it wouldn't be popular"(Fernando, for instance). By your reasoning, Windows should be the best operating system currently in existence. Since I think, here, we all probably agree this is not true, your logic is flawed and you need to come up with some new reasoning.

Second, anyone who says Ubuntu works perfectly is either purposely spreading propaganda for their favorite distro, oblivious to the issues other users are having, or is arrogant enough to just think everyone who has issues is just stupid and doesn't know how to use a computer(I've seen people say this, on the forums for a distribution that is -supposed- to be for people who don't know how to use their computer/Linux very well).

Many many users have had issues with ubuntu. I, personally, haven't had any issues with any distro. However, I don't take this to mean that no one has any problems, like some of you seem to do. No operating system works flawlessly, and neither does any distribution of Linux. You are ALWAYS going to have -someone- that has issues with it.

Anywho, the -main- point of the original article isn't really that Ubuntu is crap (Though he talked about that quite a bit too). The main point is that they don't listen to their users, which is obviously the case. If they did, the defaults would be back the way they were. Yes, it's not a democracy. However, a distribution that claims to be user centric and has a reputation as a good distribution for new users -needs- to listen to their users to maintain their reputation.

In any case, I'm using debian testing as my main distribution, and have had far less issues than with ubuntu's LTS release. Personally, I agree that Ubuntu is broken. At least they are listening to many users wanting to keep mono away from default applications.

Helge said...

The title of this article reads ""Mark Shuttleworth's business concept is flawed". I was hoping for a critical view on the way Canonical attempts to make money (currently mostly through support and cloud storage and sync services). Instead it is old re-hash on how broken Ubuntu is...

Anonymous said...

The uproar over the windows buttons is because Ubuntu developers couldn't be bothered to add a simple configuration dialog for it. Since Ubuntu targets general desktop users, not programmers, the gconftool-2 line isn't that obvious and self-revealing as some people try to portray it.

Anonymous said...

I happen to like -- no, I happen to PREFER the windows control buttons in the upper left hand corner of the Window.

Oh, and the ability to change themes (and not only the location of the buttons, but also the look of the buttons) is already built in to the windowing user interface and does not require the use of the command line Terminal. This allows any user who wished to find out how to do simple customization operations the abliity to change fonts, colors, borders and more.

How easy is it to change the button type and location in Windows? I prefer upper left hand corner. Is this a reason for me to hate Windows? No, it's not. But then, I have enough OTHER reasons to hate Windows -- which is why I use Ubuntu (and Mint on my wife's desktop and Ubuntu Netbook Remix on her netbook).

Anonymous said...

"So why is Mark Shuttleworth's business concept flawed? Well, first it is based on Debian's unstable branch. Read my lips: it's called "unstable" for a reason."

It's called unstable because there are constantly new/updated packages being uploaded that have no testing on them.

Once the versions of the packages Ubuntu will use for a release are decided, the bug squashing, freezing, more bug squashing, and finally the release done, it doesn't really matter if the packages originated from Debian testing or unstable or packaged by Ubuntu devs from the upstream sources, the Ubuntu versions of these are stable with only bugfixes being applied as necessary, assuming you limit yourself to official channels. Just because it's "stable" doesn't necessarily mean it will have less problems than the previous release.

And yes different decisions are made when it's an LTS release, but that has as much or more to do with how well the upstream is expected to support their stuff over the support life of an Ubuntu LTS release. In some cases that may mean not pressing the edge as much, in other cases the upstream support situation may dictate that Ubuntu include a newer, rawer, less tested version of something so the Ubuntu devs are not stuck maintaining an old unsupported version for X years.

Later, Seeker

Maddog said...

The buttons were moved to the right in to prepare the vacant spot for the upcoming "windicators", not just as a dictoral movement.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog post with interest.
You make some points that are merely rants, which diminishes your whole effort.

It is important to write constructively and avoid rants and clich├ęs. I hope a future post will be something good to work on.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you have NOT done your research!! Linux Mint derive from UBUNTU. Try to look at the bigger picture as Mark is trying to do with Linux.

PatsComputerServices said...

"Ubuntu has a horrible track record where reliability is concerned. More than once, people were left with a broken installation after an update or upgrade. For that reason, I don't touch it. I simply lack the time to hunt down and track bugs. "

I would say you're a fool. Why? Because you quote that Ubuntu has a horrible track record, yet you don't know for a fact if it does or not. You're basing it on someone else opinion.

I have no right to say that Ubuntu is better than Fedora or any other distro, because I haven't tried the other ones. Just like you have no right to say that their track record is horrible, when you haven't even used it. Or you haven't used it since an early version (which probably doesn't even look or act like the most current versions).

I wouldn't put a lot of value on your opinions or posts about Windows, because you don't use it. So, for that reason, I wouldn't put a lot of value in your opinions on Ubuntu.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

stolennomenclature said...

Why do people keep repeating the mantra that "FOSS is ALL about choice"? Where does it say that? Scan through the GPL license and I doubt the word choice comes up even once in that context. The correct statement is "FOSS is ALL about FREEDOM". And the freedom being spoken about is freedom about how the software is used, not freedom to choose which bit of software you want. This "FOSS is about choice" mantra is used to justify the absurd proliferation of Linux distros (none of which ever work properly) and half finished then abandoned software projects, typical of FOSS. I agree with and admire the ethics behind FOSS, and some of the software is great, but most of it is not. The truth is that having hundreds if not thousands of me-too Linux distros, created primarily to give the authors something fun to do, none of which are complete, all of which are constantly in a state of flux and riddled with bugs, is not by any stretch of the imagination a good idea or of any benefit to the end users or the Linux community in the long term.
As to Ubuntu, it is my experience that it is the most stable and reliable of the cutting edge distros. If there is any real choice in Linux, it is between modern up to date distros with lots of bugs, or old, stable, out of date distros that have to be run on old hardware. Thats the real choice.

Alejandro Tamalet said...

The Beez concept is flawed.
So your main concern with Ubuntu is that is unstable because it is based on Debian's unstable branch and then you suggest Linux Mint which is based on Ubuntu's packages. Don't you see a contradiction there?

Anonymous said...

I use Ubuntu because it's easiest to use from the distros I've tried and it looks best.
I can easily add new software through custom repositories from software makers (most of the popular software has it's own repository for Ubuntu).
As for stability, true some versions are more stable than others and this is an issue that needs to be resolved in order to gain new users.
This new version is quite stable at least in my case and I'm quite sure I'll not give it an upgrade anytime soon.

As for buttons on the left (which I got used to in few days), there is an explanation on Mark Shutleworth's site for that.

I see nothing wrong in Mark's vote of worth more points than mine. For now he has done a great job in every respect. Most of the distributions are not usable by an average user, that got fixed since Ubuntu arrived.
For example simple things like installing flash can be a pain on lot of distributions. It's ok to have an philosophy and stick to it but you need to be pragmatic in some cases being without a flash is just mad.

Anonymous said...

I think that changing a fundemental button placement scheme (close,expand,minimize) in the middle of no where was VERY ODD.

If ubuntu wants to appeal to the most broad of user bases, than keeping the close,minimize buttons where 90+% of the population is used to seeing it is a must. To change a major default out of no where like that baffled me.

Even more so was the decision to do it cuz Mac/Apple does it that way!

Do not get me wrong, I think Ubuntu is great and the new theme looks amazing. But, putting the close button right above (File, Menu, About) is just asking for it to be closed on accident.

Kinda like Apple's one mouse button mouse, ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I find the article by Bezemer most refreshing, and I tend to agree with it. And no, Linux enthusiasts won't like the views set out in it.

First of all it clearly recognizes that what most people (end-users) need from an operating system is anything but "acrobatics" or "agility".

They need simplicity and the absence of time-wasting little problems like broken printer drivers, upgrades that hang the system, and even desktop icons that don't work.

To those with modest admin skills such things are just minor nuisances, but to end-users they are a *big* waste of time, if not a total show-stopper. And no, it does not make sense to expect end-users to educate themselves about anything whatsoever on their computer except how work the GUI (that of their applications and that of the big utility program known as the operating system).

Linux Enthusiasts on the other hand often seem to be more willing to spend time tinkering with the OS than in getting actual work done.

For better or worse, only professionals, power users, and hobbyists can be expected to know about the OS. Not end-users.

So ... if you want to pitch a product at end-users, you must not use an "unstable" branch, and you *must* do strict quality control.

Apart from that, the attitude of Linux Enthusiasts in general is a big problem: someone who needs to to install a printerdriver without taking a course in system administration doesn't want to hear any variants on "RTFM U N00b". Which, unfortunately, is usually what he can expect when posting questions like "my printer XYZ won't print, what do I do?" on a Linux forum.


This is why, for all its architectural warts, its vulnerabilities, and its price, MS Windows continues to enjoy about 95% marketshare, against perhaps 3%-4% for Linux (divided among a myriad distributions).

If Linuxers want to change that, they must:
- (a) provide a product that "just works" using only default setting
- (b)can be administrated using a well-documented GUI,
- (c) refrain from scaring end-users off by telling them their OS needs to be "agile" or "adventurous"
- (d) refrain from spouting a fountain of nay-saying every time someone criticizes a Linux distro
- (e) definitely refrain from telling people "if you don't like it, don't use it". People will in fact do just that, switch back to MS Windows, and leave Linux a niche product.

Anonymous said...

The Linux ecosystem is still based on cooperation. Thus, users are expected to be at least testers.

The target Ubuntu users as described in the article are unable to be testers and consequently does not belong to the Linux ecosystem.

If given a stable system, they will complain it is obsolete. If given a current system, they will complain it is unstable.

Thus yes, the business concept looks like flawed.

Why did not Mark set-up some educational program mandatory to use Ubuntu? Was that concept also flawed?

M. Ortgage said...

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