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.

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?