I had the opportunity to present at the Linux Symposium on Friday, and talked further about my hope that we can improve the coordination and cadence of the entire free software stack. I tried to present both the obvious benefits and the controversies the idea has thrown up.

Afterwards, a number of people came up to talk about it further, with generally positive feedback.

Christopher Curtis, for example, emailed to say that the idea of economic clustering in the motor car industry goes far further than the location of car dealerships. He writes:

Firstly, every car maker releases their new models at about the same time. Each car maker has similar products – economy, sedan, light truck. They copy each other prolifically. Eventually, they all adopt a certain baseline – seatbelts, bumpers, airbags, anti-lock brakes. Yet they compete fiercely (OnStar from GM; Microsoft Sync from Ford) and people remain brand loyal. This isn’t going to change in the Linux world. Even better, relations like Debian->Ubuntu match car maker relations like Toyota->Lexus.

I agree with him wholeheartedly. Linux distributions and car manufacturers are very similar: we’re selling products that reach the same basic audience (there are niche specialists in real-time or embedded or regional markets) with a similar range (desktop, workstation, server, mobile), and we use many of the same components just as the motor industry uses common suppliers. That commonality and coordination benefits the motor industry, and yet individual brands and products retain their identity.

Let’s do a small thought experiment. Can you name, for the last major enterprise release of your favourite distribution, the specific major versions of kernel, gcc, X, GNOME, KDE, OpenOffice.org or Mozilla that were shipped? And can you say whether those major versions were the same or different to any of the enterprise releases of Ubuntu, SLES, Debian, or RHEL which shipped at roughly the same time? I’m willing to bet that any particular customer would say that they can’t remember either which versions were involved, or how those stacked up against the competition, and don’t care either. So looking backwards, differences in versions weren’t a customer-differentiating item.  We can do the same thought experiment looking forwards. WHAT IF you knew that the next long-term supported releases of Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat and Novell Linux would all have the same major versions of kernel, GCC, X, GNOME, KDE, OO.o and Mozilla. Would that make a major difference for you? I’m willing to bet not – that from a customer view, folks who prefer X will still prefer X. A person who prefers Red Hat will stick with Red Hat. But from a developer view, would that make it easier to collaborate? Dramatically so.

Another member of the audience came up to talk about the fashion industry. That’s also converged on a highly coordinated model – fabrics and technologies “release” first, then designers introduce their work simultaneously at fashion shows around the world. “Spring 2009” sees new collections from all the major houses, many re-using similar ideas or components. That hasn’t hurt their industry, rather it helps to build awareness amongst the potential audience.

The ultimate laboratory, nature, has also adopted release coordination. Anil Somayaji, who was in the audience for the keynote, subsequently emailed this:

Basically, trees of a given species will synchronize their seed releases in time and in amount, potentially to overwhelm predators and to coordinate with environmental conditions. In effect, synchronized seed releases is a strategy for competitors to work together to ensure that they all have the best chance of succeeding. In a similar fashion, if free software were to “release its seeds” in a synchronized fashion (with similar types of software or distributions having coordinated schedules, but software in different niches having different schedules), it might maximize the chances of all of their survival and prosperity.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the stronger the “pulse” we are able to create, by coordinating the freezes and releases of major pieces of the free software stack, the stronger our impact on the global software market will be, and the better for all companies – from MySQL to Alfresco, from Zimbra to OBM, from Red Hat to Ubuntu.

54 Responses to “Economic clustering and Free Software release coordination”

  1. No sólo software » Blog Archive » GNOME y Ubuntu: o el márketing como una cuestión logística Says:

    […] un post de este mismo año, Mark Shuttleworth, habla de coordinar la pila entera de software: Economic clustering and Free Software release coordination. Más allá de entrar en esta discusión, me interesa resaltar el punto clave de su argumentación: […]

  2. GNUBoi Says:

    Canonical thinks Ubuntu is only superior in community but is worst at it,, i have checked the released notes of both the prominent distro(for example): ubuntu and fedora and below are the results:
    Fedora Release Notes:
    * New version of PackageKit for managing software, with more fixes
    and enhancements (which benefits all distributions)
    * New version of PulseAudio (which benefits all distributions)
    * Kernel 2.6.27, including better support for WiFi
    * Better support for the EFI for Apple Macintosh hardware
    * Faster graphical start-up by Plymouth, replacing the venerable
    * Better support for webcams through the hard work in kernel
    2.6.27 (which benefits all distributions)
    * New icon theme “Echo”, to be completed with the theme graphic
    “Solar” in the Fedora 10 release
    * Gnome 2.24
    * KDE 4.1
    * Adding the NetBeans IDE
    * Eclipse 3.4
    * Automatic installation of multimedia codecs
    * Better HDTV support in X.org
    * “Sugar” graphical environment (from OLPC) available for use,
    testing, and development
    ubuntu release notes:
    Xorg 7.4 brings improved support for automatic configuration of input
    hardware, such as keyboards and mice.

    3G support: Network Manager 0.7 comes with a number of greatly
    features, including management of 3G connections (GSM/CDMA) and PPP/

    Guest sessions: the User Switcher panel applet provides a new option
    starting a Guest session. This creates a temporary, password-less
    account with restricted privileges – perfect for lending out your
    laptop for
    a quick email check.

    Encrypted private directories: the installer now offers the option to
    configure a secret encrypted folder for each user, to be unlocked and
    mounted at login time, using ecryptfs.

    Virtualization: Ubuntu 8.10 ships with a Virtual Machine builder that
    complete Virtual Machines to be built from the command line in less
    five minutes, with support for scripting custom virtual images.

    Java: a complete free Java? stack is supported in Ubuntu 8.10,
    OpenJDK and Apache Tomcat 6.0, making Ubuntu a great choice for Java
    development and deployment.
    Therefore, i think ubuntu should work more on community projects that helps also the distro as fedora, though ubuntu is also great distro…….

    PS: this is all my personal opinion but this facts are true….

  3. Balaji Says:

    I have been a Ubuntu user since 2005 and understand software quite well. I love Ubuntu’s web presence team. They have done an amazing job of making Ubuntu popular. However, I totally disagree with Mark Shuttleworth on his idea of synchronizing all Linux releases and also to force 6 month release cycles on every distribution. In fact, I hate the 6 month distribution cycle. Mark, you are wasting free software talent in forcing your developers to become pure drones that will only integrate softwares with the latest GNOME desktop. It is a total insult to their abilities. Here are my big grudges with Ubuntu’s 6 month release cycle:

    Ubuntu is ridden with bugs. It has 10 times more bugs than any version of any other OS around the world – and yes, although I hate Microsoft and Windoze, I must say that Ubuntu has atleast 10 times as many bugs as Windows does. And guess what – you don’t have even one tenth as many users as Microsoft has. And very blithely you quote your first bug as “Microsoft is still the market-share #1” – as if you can do ANYTHING at all to fix that.

    Here is my challenge to you:
    First fix the other problems in Ubuntu – things that don’t work and work perfectly in other OSes. Make Ubuntu bug free – totally. Then we will all boot Microsoft out of the ‘window’. In one release sound does not work, in one release the graphics drivers suck, in one release, the mouse stops working. I wish in the next release, if Ubuntu comes with bugs, your wife elopes with Bill Gates.

    And do you know WHY Ubuntu is so full of bugs? Because of your stupidity Mark – your idiotic rant on regular 6 month releases – due to your passion to make a LTS release in perfect schedule. Developers’ talents are not diverted totally into releasing software and packaging it – not in making better software. What you are doing Mark is totally destroying the Linux community of which even I am a part. I also make software btw – and I give it away for free – but unlike you, I am not a sucker for 6 month releases and schedules – a matter that only stupid jobless managers like. Developers hate pests like you – who have no job to do except lecture about meeting deadlines.

    The insane features you add for installation are totally useless after a point. Start making useful software for those that have now adopted Ubuntu. Retain these customers. They should continue to like your product. The more bugs appear in every release of Ubuntu – the more frustrating it is to every old user. And each time that happens, he wishes he were continuing on Microsoft products.

    Mark Shuttleworth says: You are of course welcome to take Ubuntu, and improve it dramatically in line with your own vision! The beauty of free software is that you are in no way required to accept my ideas, you have a choice of hundreds of distributions and the option to build your own from scratch or as a derivative. I appreciate that you have taken the time to make suggestions, though.

    One thing warrants clarification – in no way am I trying to tell any other project what they should do. I’m simply exploring an idea, that of better coordination between disjointed communities, and laying the groundwork to make that possible if people WANT to do it. I have no illusions about my ability to MAKE anybody do anything, but I have just as much right to outline ideas about how we can improve the free software ecosystem as you do.

  4. Endolith Says:

    Holding releases to a rigid schedule sounds like a nice idea, but it clearly isn’t working in practice.

    Intrepid is the worst release I’ve seen. I don’t understand how you can “release” a product with such major show-stopper bugs and regressions.

    Almost HALF of Ubuntu Forums users reported experiencing “many problems that I’ve not been able to solve” with Intrepid, whether they were upgrading or installing for the first time.


    If this were my first experience with Ubuntu, I would have abandoned it quickly and gone back to Windows, like I did with every other Linux distro I have tried.

    Edgy Eft caught my attention by being easy to use and working out of the box, and Linux replaced Windows on my machine as my daily OS for the first time. Now it seems priorities have shifted to shoveling a release out the door every six months, no matter how buggy.