Tribalism is the enemy within

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Tribalism is when one group of people start to think people from another group are “wrong by default”. It’s the great-granddaddy of racism and sexism. And the most dangerous kind of tribalism is completely invisible: it has nothing to do with someone’s “birth tribe” and everything to do with their affiliations: where they work, which sports team they support, which linux distribution they love.

There are a couple of hallmarks of tribal argument:

1. “The other guys have never done anything useful”. Well, let’s think about that. All of us wake up every day, with very similar ambitions and goals. I’ve travelled the world and I’ve never met a single company, or country, or church, where *everybody* there did *nothing* useful. So if you see someone saying “Microsoft is totally evil”, that’s a big red flag for tribal thinking. It’s just like someone saying “All black people are [name your prejudice]”. It’s offensive nonsense, and you would be advised to distance yourself from it, even if it feels like it would be fun to wave that pitchfork for a while.

2. “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count.” So, for example, when a woman makes it to the top of her game, “it’s because she slept her way there”. Offensive nonsense. And similarly, when you see someone saying “Canonical didn’t actually sponsor that work by that Canonical employee, that was done in their spare time”, you should realize that’s likely to be offensive nonsense too.

Let’s be clear: tribalism makes you stupid. Just like it would be stupid not to hire someone super-smart and qualified because they’re purple, or because they are female, it would be stupid to refuse to hear and credit someone with great work just because they happen to be associated with another tribe.

The very uncool thing about being a fanboy (or fangirl) of a project is that you’re openly declaring both a tribal affiliation and a willingness to reject the work of others just because they belong to a different tribe.

One of the key values we hold in the Ubuntu project is that we expect everyone associated with Ubuntu to treat people with respect. It’s part of our code of conduct – it’s probably the reason we *pioneered* the use of codes of conduct in open source. I and others who founded Ubuntu have seen how easily open source projects descend into nasty, horrible and unproductive flamewars when you don’t exercise strong leadership away from tribal thinking.

Now, bad things happen everywhere. They happen in Ubuntu – and because we have a huge community, they are perhaps more likely to happen there than anywhere else. If we want to avoid human nature’s worst consequences, we have to work actively against them. That’s why we have strong leadership structures, which hopefully put people who are proven NOT to be tribal in nature into positions of responsibility. It takes hard work and commitment, but I’m grateful for the incredible efforts of all the moderators and council members and leaders in LoCo teams across this huge and wonderful project, for the leadership they exercise in keeping us focused on doing really good work.

It’s hard, but sometimes we have to critique people who are associated with Ubuntu, because they have been tribal. Hell, sometimes I and others have to critique ME for small-minded and tribal thinking. When someone who calls herself “an Ubuntu fan” stands up and slates the work of another distro we quietly reach out to that person and point out that it’s not the Ubuntu way of doing things. We don’t spot them all, but it’s a consistent practice within the Ubuntu leadership team: our values are more important than winning or losing any given debate.

Do not be drawn into a tribal argument on Ubuntu’s behalf

Right now, for a number of reasons, there is a fever pitch of tribalism in plain sight in the free software world. It’s sad. It’s not constructive. It’s ultimately going to be embarrassing for the people involved, because the Internet doesn’t forget. It’s certainly not helping us lift free software to the forefront of public expectations of what software can be.

I would like to say this to everyone who feels associated with Ubuntu: hold fast to what you know to be true. You know your values. You know how hard you work. You know what an incredible difference your work has made. You know that you do it for a complex mix of love and money, some more the former, others the more latter, but fundamentally you are all part of Ubuntu because you think it’s the most profound and best way to spend your time. Be proud of that.

There is no need to get into a playground squabble about your values, your ethics, your capabilities or your contribution. If you can do better, figure out how to do that, but do it because you are inspired by what makes Ubuntu wonderful: free software, delivered freely, in a way that demonstrates real care for the end user. Don’t do it because you feel intimidated or threatened or belittled.

The Gregs are entitled to their opinions, and folks like Jono and Dylan have set an excellent example in how to rebut and move beyond them.

I’ve been lucky to be part of many amazing things in life. Ubuntu is, far and away, the best of them. We can be proud of the way we are providing leadership: on how communities can be a central part of open source companies, on how communities can be organised and conduct themselves, on how the economics of free software can benefit more than just the winning distribution, on how a properly designed user experience combined with free software can beat the best proprietary interfaces any day. But remember: we do all of those things because we believe in them, not because we want to prove anybody else wrong.

182 Responses to “Tribalism is the enemy within”

  1. John Bowman Says:

    Nice article Mark. You make Canonical sound like a place I would enjoy working at. When can I start?

    While reading this and thinking about how nice a quality that is of a company to have, about the only thing that came to mind was wonder at how the actual employees are regarding the work that they do. Is it all about the individuals works contributing to the overall product or is it a “we’re all in this together” type of an environment. If its the latter, then sign me up!


  2. fhd Says:

    I agree a 100% here. In fact, I regard the behaviour you described as tribalism as one of the central problems (still) holding humanity back.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent blog post, Mark.

    Quote: “2. “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count.””

    Then I scroll down and see:

    “I delete nasty comments – your opinions are welcome but please keep them polite and constructive.”

    Feel free to consider my reply being nasty.
    No more comments.

  4. 80 Says:

    That’s true: “tribalism makes you stupid”, i’m looking forward how you will improve collaboration with upstream communities (not only GNOME or Debian but also Xorg -where Canonical is non-existent-, linux kernel, core tools, etc …) instead of whining that “others distribution” doesn’t want to synchronize with Ubuntu. I’m eager to see ubuntu be more community-driven (I’m amazed that all members from the Ubuntu community council are not elected but rather named by you).

    Don’t misunderstood, people are not hating ubuntu or Canonical, they’re just disappointed about the ratio “effective contributions to the growth of free software”/”boasting about our leadership and blablabla”.
    Maybe critics were a bit harsh, but you shouldn’t pour oil over fire and shut your ears to critics even constructive ones. Greg had a point in his blog post, if you don’t build up your expertise by working closely with upstream, you’ll never make it. You’ll never be respected by the free software community with such rants (after all, you’re the guy who tried lure openSuSE developers on their own mailing-list, have you ever think that you should calm down ?)

  5. mark Says:

    Evidence does not have to be nasty.

  6. Jimbo Says:

    In terms of number of employees and amount of revenue generated, Redhat is a substantially larger company than Canonical, so why on earth would anyone expect Canonical to contribute as much code as Redhat? It seems the only way anyone could be offended by Ubuntu is if they are basing the comparison not on code vs. company size but on the code vs. amount of mindshare that the companies are able to generate. I don’t think anyone at Canonical should have to defend themselves because their distro is able to generate lots of mind share with everyday computer users.

  7. Máirín Duffy Says:

    “One of the key values we hold in the Ubuntu project is that we expect everyone associated with Ubuntu to treat people with respect. ”

    That’s cool. Did you ever end up apologizing?

  8. Grant Says:

    Excellent blog, Mark. I teach IT at 16+ level in the UK, and I have a pastoral role for one ‘tutor group’. I’ve bookmarked this blog post and, I hope you don’t mind, I am thinking of using this in a session on equality, diversity and ethics with my tutor group next academic year (Sept. onwards).

  9. Shishimaru Says:

    Well said,mr. Shuttleworth. This post make me think about lot of things.
    Just choose what is right to do and keep it straight on,without strange problems.

  10. robin Says:

    Good read, and a refreshing view. I really can’t stand fanboy attitudes even when I am a strong advocate of something. I use Ubuntu and OS X daily and think both are amazing. It’s unfortunate that I am on the receiving end of relentless teasing and cynicism from both sides for not using one or the other exclusively.

  11. halfbabycaked Says:

    All in all, Greg saw this “yadda yadda yadda” coming. I am certainly not nasty if I point out that it’s not constructive by a long shot to close your post by referring to those who think differently than you do with “The Gregs”, a derogatory definition of those opposed to whom is deemed righteous (here embodied by Jono and Dylan) and whose example should be followed. This is highly contradictory, and invalidate the whole point you’ve been struggling to make throughout your whole post. Sorry, but you’re not different from the tribal attitude you’re pointing your finger against!

  12. Lee Cowdrey Says:

    Amazing commentary on the current world we live in, from a technology perspective personal aspiration tends to lead towards allegiance rather than favouritism. People sometimes just forget the latest gadget, piece of software, technological breakthrough or idea stems from what someone else has managed to achieve in the past. Without IBM and Microsoft originally crafting the personal computer, most homes around the world would not now benefit from the Internet and instant communication it brings.

    To this end it does not matter who made a major contribution or whether the reward was financial or personal satisfaction. Since the dawn of time we all have been building upon other peoples success and as Mark stated so accurately people will always group together based on an opinion or belief, it is unfortunately human nature.

    Like the various communities behind Ubuntu, Debian, Gnome (and majority of FOSS) the general public tend the favour the under-dog and that drives tribalism; this has already been seen with Apple’s own rise from the flames with new phrases being introduced to describe them and fan the fires of rivalry.

    A new convert from a proprietary market space will be vocal and that is good as long as it remains constructive and beneficial. We all need to remember, life is full of choices; choices come from opinions, personal opinions are formed from our own minds and surroundings (education, marketing, fellow peers and of course our friends and families).

    Free speech provides a platform for opinions to be shared and everyone is entitled to their own opinion but never forget the same way you may believe day follows night, your neighbour may believe night follows day. The net result is the same, another day to make something better, easier or more enjoyable to benefit us all.

  13. mark Says:


    Canonical has more than 100 developers working full time on free software. How we organise our work may be different to the way you think it should be done, but it’s hard to argue that it’s an insignificant amount of work. And I’m glad that, even though our contribution may be pooh-poohed, it’s regularly emulated. We’re raising the bar for the way things get done, which benefits everybody. Yes, we could hire a lot of people to work on the kernel. But the kernel is already the world’s biggest single collaborative project – it doesn’t need our help. Design in free software, on the other hand, has come forward in leaps and bounds since we pushed it to the top of our agenda.

    I have never said that other projects should align with Ubuntu. I’ve said that (a) cadence works, amply demonstrated now in many projects. (b) interdependencies between projects suggest that having a cross-ecosystem cadence would work even better, and (c) there is now lots of good evidence that 6 month cycles plus 2 year meta-cycles is a good pattern: it keeps conferences and events at a predictable time of year, it finds a balance between the hardware crowd who want new software every 1-2 years to take advantage of the latest hardware, and the software crowd who don’t want to change their API’s that often, but can handle a 2-3 year cadence. I think the FLOSS ecosystem would be better off with a cross-ecosystem 6/24 month cadence, and Ubuntu would align with that, not the other way around.

    And finally, the “ratio” of contributions is very narrowly defined: the survey tracks “commits to projects on GNOME hosted infrastructure”, which neatly excludes all the projects we underwrite that happen not to be there, but have been very helpful in making a GNOME desktop the world’s most popular Linux desktop. We’ve tried submitting our work through the GNOME processes, but been blocked by people who say that “they may want to follow a different design”. In the past, code talked, now apparently it doesn’t. Anyhow, my view is that it’s hard to take numbers to heart when the numbers systematically exclude all the things you work hard at.


  14. It’s not about tribalism, Mark. « Greg DeKoenigsberg Speaks Says:

    […] why is that, whenever this question comes up, the answer is always some variation on the theme HATERS GONNA HATE instead of actual […]

  15. mark Says:


    Yes, this is probably “the same old song-and-dance about how everyone collaborates, and everyone competes, and everyone wins, and the strength of the open source model, and not a fair comparison because Red Hat is so much bigger, and distro wars are bad, and can’t we all be friends, and yadda yadda yadda” that he anticipated. Except that I really mean it.

  16. Alket Says:

    @Máirín Duffy I don’t think that Mark should apologize, it obviously was a joke, treating this joke too much becomes something “serious” without reason.Don’t forget , the Canonical CEO is Jane Silber.

  17. David Krider Says:

    THIS is what Canonical has done for _GNU/LINUX_.

    If they have spent more time generating more MINDSHARE for free software than actually enhancing the CODEBASE, I say SO BE IT! I don’t hear Dell toying with the idea of installing Fedora or OpenSuSE on their laptops. Yes, you can get RedHat or SuSE on their servers (I don’t know about Ubuntu LTS; I haven’t checked), but Microsoft proved — a long time ago — that the desktop drives the server closet in commodity operating systems.

    I’ve spent several years each running Slackware, then RedHat, then SuSE, then Gentoo, and now Ubuntu. Canonical’s strict adherence to their code of conduct is almost all the reason you need to see why Ubuntu is winning hearts and minds. Arguing about code commits is like arguing about security vulnerabilities. Everyone’s got a point, from their point of view. The bottom line is that Canonical has done something for “libre” software that NO ONE has done before, no matter how much revenue they generate (RH), or how long they’ve been around (Debian).

  18. mark Says:

    “none of them do any of the heavy lifting in GNOME”… sounds pretty tribal to me.

  19. Fab Says:

    Hmm… Very smart: If you don’t like a debate, declare it invalid. That’s about the oldest trick in the politician’s handbook. It does not change the facts, however.

  20. John Says:

    Once again Microsoft and Apple get to point and laugh at the Linux community. This petty behaviour from both sides is what is holding Linux back.

    There seems to be this core of old school Linux users who are very upset at the success of Ubuntu because it has happened so quickly and get so much exposure. They are seen as the Microsoft of the Linux world. This has generated an us and them situation. Everything we do is great, everything you do is rubbish (from both sides).

    I have a friend who has been using Linux for 15+ years and recently switched to Ubuntu from Gentoo for his Laptop because of the ease of getting up and running quickly. He was surpised when I asked him about the antagonism towards Ubuntu, comments like “Ubuntu is an African word meaning ‘I can’t configure Debian'” as he had not read much on Ubuntu before then. But you just need to read the comments on any article about Ubuntu to seen this antagonism.

    Yes, the majority of Ubuntu users like myself do not contribute code upstream or to Ubuntu directly. I do, however, try to give meaningful contributions in bug reports and answers in forums where I can as I do like to tinker and have a computer science background. I struggle to get into code contributions as I work in a country dominated by Microsoft and I have to work in Microsoft technologies like .net and SQLserver and in the evenings I have to spent time with my family rather than learning the languages of Linux (the Mono schism is almost as bad as the Linux-Ubuntu one)

    I have moved my wife, brother-in-law and parents onto Ubuntu and when we finally get our business up and running I will probably look to use Open Source as much as possible.

    Some non-Ubuntu people see people like me and the others I’ve brought onto Ubuntu as free-loaders but they miss the point. Linux will never be taken seriously until it reaches critical mass. Yes these types of people will never add a single line of code directly but by increasing the user base they encourage software companies to start to consider porting software to Linux.

    So please, both sides stop behaving like whining children and work together and stop making Linux the laughing stock of the rest of the computer community!

  21. Andrew Ampers Taylor Says:

    Anon. at 1:29pm says:

    Quote: “2. “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count.””

    Then I scroll down and see:

    “I delete nasty comments – your opinions are welcome but please keep them polite and constructive.”

    I fail to see the correlation of these two points.

    If I write: I think Mark is totally wrong because… Mark would publicise my post. It will disagree with him, but it would be polite and constructive. There is a difference between being rude and disagreeing with someone.

    But it is an excellent post, and worthy of the great Tutu!


    And, I will take note and write a thousand times: I must be nice to souties 😉

  22. sep332 Says:

    No one expects Ubuntu to be ahead of RedHat in those metrics. Greg’s problem is that Canonical claim that they are leaders in Linux development (especially GNOME) when clearly they are not. It’s not Canonical’s output that is the problem, it’s their grandstanding.

  23. mark Says:


    Similarly, “if you don’t like a contribution, declare it invalid”. The “facts”, the basis of the accusation being leveled at Canonical, are dodgy. We have made many contributions that are excluded from the framework of the analysis. There are many Linux companies and individuals who work their hearts out on projects that I personally don’t use. That’s not “no contribution”, that’s a life devoted to the very same goals that I have.

    It’s appalling for someone from GNOME to say that all the work of the KDE devs is a waste, or “no contribution”. It just turns our mutual, noble pursuits into a sorry swamp of petty squabbling. The point is: we all have large teams of smart, good-hearted people who are working flat out to improve FLOSS to meet the needs they think are important. There’s not one practice that Canonical is being accused of that you won’t find examples of from any other participant, if you’re willing to look closely.


  24. mark Says:


    Where do we claim that we are the leaders in Linux development? I don’t think I’ve ever accepted an award for Ubuntu without being at pains to point out that our success is the result of the work of thousands of other organisations – from Debian to GNOME to the linux kernel development team.

    It’s true that lots of people have adopted Ubuntu, and sing its praises when in fact they are delighted by something done by someone who had nothing to do with Ubuntu, except to be generous enough to publish their work in a way that we could integrate and share. But that’s not our fault, and frankly it happens all the time the other way too. There are plenty of things in other distributions that began in Ubuntu, either directly as Canonical projects, or in the broader Ubuntu community. And of course, occasionally someone who loves one of those distributions does an upgrade and raves about the “cool new stuff in XXX” which was actually built in Ubuntu. That’s just life, people make mistakes. How we react to others mistakes says a lot about us.


  25. Paul Smyth Says:

    I’m not going to repeat my post on Greg’s blog so I will simply say Ubuntu is the fist distro that I have confidently been able to recommend to my 66 year old Mum. My kids love it too and in my opinion have taken an ugly duckling called Gnome and helped mature it into a beautiful swan. At last someone realises that how the interface looks matters, consistency matters, the users matter!

    Now, my wish list:
    @ubuntuone email so I can dump Hotmail
    Synchronise packages option on Ubuntu One making disaster recovery simpler
    Blu-ray playback (bit more complicated I know lol)
    Landscape consumer version reasonably priced so that I can manage my Mum’s PC remotely.
    All of which I will happily pay for, keep up the good work.

    Paul Smyth

  26. cgable Says:

    “In the past, code talked, now apparently it doesn’t.”

    I am not a developer, but I can imagine that code can’t talk everything. So one should look into why it was rejected in the process. Perhaps it was lack of communication, planning and coordination on the beforehand? I can’t imagine that the reason was just because the code was from a different “tribe”. Processes involving humans are not automatisms that work without a lot of patience and communication. Giving up and saying “take it or leave it” is a bad solution, imho. :(

  27. Lex Says:

    I just want quote this comment:

    All the work would be more easy, maybe you can think about it… 😉

  28. Máirín Duffy Says:

    Hi Alket:

    I’m certain many women in FLOSS have war stories that would pale Mark’s LinuxCon 2009 ‘jokes’ to a trifle in comparison (I do). That doesn’t mean the apology many of us have requested is uncalled for. I sincerely hope that the requested apology has already been given. If not, it would be a nice gesture before the 1-year anniversary of the incident.

    Many of us are aware of the likelihood that the comments were not intentional, and apologizing for the upset they caused in the female FLOSS community clearly would not admit intention. Unfortunately, just the same as if I had accidentally spilled coffee on a co-worker – there are still negative consequences to unintentional offenses and I’m afraid for someone in Mr. Shuttleworth’s position and the context in which they occurred, the comments are of more impact to the perception of the FLOSS community as a whole than say wayward comments by a single arbitrary developer on a mailing list.

    I also have to disagree with you if you intend to assert that employing a female executive absolves a company’s male employees of any offenses towards females.


  29. BigWhale Says:

    Well said.

    Nevertheless, fanboyism and flamewars are fun when they are waged among friends for fun. A heated debate and a flamewar can in fact be a constructive thing and one party can learn a lot from the other. All in a good manner with no disrespect of course.

    All in all, I love the ridicule and mockery of the whole ‘being a fanboy’ thing, that’s I perform my Linux talks wearing Ubuntu t-shirt with a pink notebook running Windows.

  30. Michael Says:

    Well, that’s interesting to read this article, because from my own experience, there is a lot of “tribalism” coming from some people who themself consider as part of the Ubuntu community. Not directly, but I have seen some who either said “we should not present other distro because people do not understand ( ), or who said to debian booth “can you push a little, we are ubuntu, we need a bigger table” ( LSM 2010 ), and others.

    Other example of issues come from stuff around gwibber (, , i have looked at the issue because I package gwibber ), the way Jono Bacon depict others community in his book ( page 233, of the Art of community, while I found the process of Fedora to be more transparent, since the FPL is regulary changed ), etc.

    All of this are small incidents, but when you aggregate them, you have the feeling that there is something, some kind of trend of not caring of others project outside of ubuntu.

    I am well aware that not the whole Ubuntu community is like this, and that there is also lots of other people who are trying to help, even among Canonical employees, but I think that the way you solve this ( ie, silently ) do not good in the long run to remove the feeling that Ubuntu community is self centered.

    The way that Jono responded ( “we are working a lot, but we do it our way on our rocking awesome bugtracker”, bugtracker that is still very ubuntu specific code, even 1 year after being open sourced ) is just another step into the wrong direction.

    No one told that Canonical does no work. People say that you appear to work for you only, which is different.

  31. rascal999 Says:

    Pushing UI changes without reason promotes tribalism.

  32. Kazade Says:


    Seriously? You are bringing up a slip of the tongue nearly a year later. A statement that could be taken ambiguously anyway, and was quite obviously without malicious intent. Mark speaks to an international audience of people who have different levels of sensitivity about different issues including sexism. He can’t possibly apologize every time someone takes offence at a choice of words like that, he’d never be able to say anything!

    IMHO it’s ridiculous that such a big issue was made out of his phrasing in the first place. Just be the bigger person and move on. If it was malicious in any way I’d side with you in a heartbeat, as would many others, but it really wasn’t.

    P.S. Congrats on the engagement :)

  33. Alexandra Says:

    I think that tribalism is in the field of free software is not pleasant, but quite natural phenomenon …
    for example:
    Formation of Linux users are usually held in three stages.
    1. “Windows must die”
    2. “Hey, why do you use this distro?” man, I’ll tell you what’s what, because I read wikipedia and support forum, I am omniscient. ”
    3. “Wow! This new distro may something that, what I had so long sought, but there’s no much of what that I’m used to …’ll write about this idea on forum”

    just now a lot of users at stages 1 and 2, because stage 3 need experience and real skills. this is growing up) but for those who do not want to grow needs control of moderators, but they are minority.
    so that this problem is unlikely to be fatal, just need to control the extremists)

    // and sorry for my english)

  34. anzan Says:

    Thanks for this, Mark. While I do not always agree with Canonical or Ubuntu’s decisions, the pervasive tone of decency, which you do much to maintain, is why I use Ubuntu rather than Debian or any other derivative.

  35. Carla Schroder Says:

    I’m with Mairin. All the talk about community, respect, and “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count” rings rather hollow when Mr. Shuttleworth couldn’t even bring himself to offer a timely, simple apology for a very public series of disrespectful, crude, exclusive comments. The ultimate tribalism is the tribal leader excluding himself from following his own rules. We’re all imperfect, and nothing mends missteps better than saying “I was wrong, I am sorry, I hear you and I will do better.” Leaders lead by example.

    Regarding Greg K’s blog, I’m not sure what he’s mad about; the criticisms that Ubuntu does not try hard enough to work with upstreams, and doesn’t contribute enough code, or enough of the right kind of code, are common complaints. Are they valid? Does it matter? I don’t know, and after reading all of this I still wonder, since Mark’s response is more about why people shouldn’t criticise Ubuntu than addressing the actual criticisms.

    Marketing, building sales, support, and distribution channels, working with Tier 1 and independent vendors, attracting a new generation of enthusiastic users and contributors, and serious effort in developing a better Linux UI are areas where Canonical excels, and where no other Linux distribution has had any real success. The retail desktop arena is littered with the corpses of failures; it’s an ambitious and difficult market segment to tackle. In some ways the major Linux distributors are just as slow to adapt as the proprietary world. For example, wide-screens and netbooks—is any major Linux distributor besides Canonical designing UIs that fit well on these so-called wide-format screens, which are really square screens with inches lopped off the bottom because they’re cheaper to produce? Most of the Linux netbook distros are either Ubuntu derivatives, or some weird “cloud OS” thing that assumes the users don’t really want local apps. (I don’t count the goofy, borked efforts from the likes of HP, ASUS, etc because they’re not every good, they’re larded with proprietary gunk, and they’re not really interested in genuine openness.)

    I think Ubuntu has given the entire Linux/FOSS world a much-needed boost, and good new energy in directions that nobody except end users was all that interested in before. I think we can do without the lectures on manners– they’re non-responsive, and glass houses and all that.

  36. Open Sources » When is free riding…not? Says:

    […] way up to the tippy tippy top of user space”). Canonical/Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth responded, decrying Greg’s imputed “tribalism” as “the great-granddaddy of racism and […]

  37. Anonymous Says:

    I’m rather disappointed in this argument. Instead of taking level-headed criticism, and addressing the obvious limitations of the author’s arguments/statistics (commit timeframe includes years canonical didn’t exist; canonical has less than 1/16th # of employees so a finding of 1/16th or greater is good; canonical’s contributions may be increasing year-by-year and looking at that stat would be much more informative), you have introduced a Red Herring (tribalism).

    You’re not helping the rest of the community get behind Ubuntu by distracting us from the real issues, and it also doesn’t help that you’re categorizing/tribalizing people with terms like “The Gregs”. You need to address these issues head-on with level-headed arguments, reassurances, and concrete evidence that you are and will be addressing their concerns.


  38. Oz Says:

    As everybody knows we have seen this kind of discussions before. I constantly feel that most people miss the constructive part of Canonical/Ubuntu criticizing. Well, at least I happen to think that the point is this: While Ubuntu is a nice distro and all that, it really seems that Ubuntu developers are not doing much work *with* others. I mean together. Ubuntu people are on their own Launchpad land working with Bazaar, tools which nobody else of the major players use. I know Ubuntu people are good people who treat everybody nicely and feel that Launchpad and Bazaar are cool but it’s still effectively Ubuntu’s own corner, not a “working together” case.

    On the other hand Red Hat people are sort of spread all over the development land and do work with everybody. In this sense they are heroes because they are real team players who have managed to work together with (and as part of) many different projects, not just on their own corner.

    I hope that repeating those points is not invalidated by calling it just tribalism. Personally I appreciate everybody who works for free software. So really, thanks everybody. :-)

  39. Michael Says:

    Mark wrote: “So if you see someone saying “Microsoft is totally evil”, that’s a big red flag for tribal thinking.”

    Is it? What if someone said that the USA Government was totally evil? The USA Government is killing millions of people right now? Is that not considered evil? Sure the USA government might do some things that appear not to be evil, but the underlying reasons are to maintain their control and power.

    This is the same with M$. M$ is evil just like every for-profit business. For profit businesses are evil because they make something called profits which are the result of exploitation. For profit companies discriminates against people who cannot afford their services (which turns out to be most of the humans in the world). Businesses surely do “good” but their motivation is evil just like the USA Government’s motivation which is to maintain their power and money. M$ is a really good example because they have destroyed many other companies throughout their history, stifled innovation, and restrict freedom of thought thanks to patents (just like the USA who destroyed many nations and free people – genocide on the native Americans, over-throwing sovereign nations, and flat out war).

    Are those people really tribal or are they presenting a culmination of their thoughts based on evidence and experience?

  40. thornad Says:

    I don’t think all tribalism is bad.
    Just like not al globalization is good.
    Tribalism is an extention of individualism.
    It is good in my optinion to have very different communities, opinions, etc, and to have groups supporting those opinions and so on, as long as “we agree to have different opinions, and not think someone is less valuable because of their difference”, but rather understand that them being different is what makes us being unique.
    One thing we shouldn’t have is consensus. Then we are fucked. I grew up in a communist country. Consensus sucks.
    I lived many years in US and in EU. Melting pots suck. Homegenizing sucks.
    Many tribes with many different opinions living consciously respecting each other (with occasional fights, arguments and other psychological dynamics)… that is something I’m looking forward to.


  41. Máirín Duffy Says:

    Hello Kazade,

    There is a difference between apologizing for every ‘slip-of-the-tongue’ and making multiple badly-received remarks as part of a major professional event’s keynote. This is especially true when multiple prominent colleagues in the FLOSS community have requested an apology. Since the comments offended folks of the same nationality, I’m not convinced that international audiences are a factor.

    Mr. Shuttleworth has done an admirable job of reminding us of tribalism and the merits of being respectful to each other in this blog post. It’s certainly easier to preach the advantages of mutual respect when you yourself have been slighted – a little more difficult when you discover you’ve delivered a slight. The medium is the message, and the message would be more inspiring if its author exemplified it in both directions.


  42. Luke Says:


    Point well made and understood. :)

  43. Luke Says:

    Oops, changed PC.. Luke == Kazade :)

  44. mark Says:

    True. I apologize unreservedly to all offended by my poor choice of language on that or other occasions.

  45. mark Says:

    Being individual, and standing up for the things that are really important to YOU even if they are not important to others, is wonderful. But tribalism is when you turn the fact that some other group of people have things that are important to them into a basis for categorical anger and demonization.

  46. Anonymous Says:

    >Ubuntu is, far and away, the best of them.

    Now that’s some very artistic form of expressing one’s tribalism.

  47. Pages from playbooks « Larry the Free Software Guy Says:

    […] To recap, here is Greg’s blog item, and following it is Mark’s response. […]

  48. Máirín Duffy Says:

    Thank you very much Mark. I really appreciate that and I’m sure it will make a big positive difference to my female colleagues as well.

  49. Contribuciones a GNOME – Red Hat 16%, Canonical 1% | Ubunlog Says:

    […] is de enemy withim – Mark Shuttleworth Compartelo: ENTRADAS […]

  50. Martin Owens Says:

    Frustration seems to cause a lot of the problems. We’re frustrated about the Microsoft problem, the Apple problem and the Public perception problem.

    But like an anarchist collective of college students our frustration with the guy down the hall who keeps on leaving the toilet seat up seems to transcend any frustration we may have for the man.

  51. Sara Mathison Says:

    I just want to de-lurk really quickly. As one of the females who felt slighted last year, I want to say thank you Mark for addressing it and apologising today. I really do appreciate it. I love using Ubuntu and have moved many friends and family to it. My Mom bought a Dell with Ubuntu on it! Anyway, some of us females-in-the-tech-field are sensitive cause heck, there aren’t that many of us. So thanks again for working on such a great operating system and the principles behind it.

  52. lucazade Says:

    I mostly agree with Mark, tribalism is not good in any context.
    What I would like most from Canonical is a clear roadmap of its projects because sometimes i feel surprise of some decisions.
    Maybe it is a problem of communications or probably a problem of wrong expectations.

  53. Cont3mpo Says:

    People. Red Hat, Canonical, Fedora, Mandriva, GNOME, KDE… all contribute to make a better Linux experience. percentages? attack other distros? a dude anger with canonical? My god, sound like “Apple vs Windows”.

    Relax, all create great things.

  54. FS Says:

    While i dont totally disagree, i have two opinions here.
    Firstly, i believe that conflict breeds innovation, hence it is not too bad of a thing if you can keep it under control.
    Secondly, i believe every culture or tribe has its weak and strong attributes, and the way to go is to focus on the good attributes.

  55. Randall Says:


    Mark is right.

    I believe that some of what we’re seeing is due to the “fork in the road” we are collectively staring at. (Some call it a chasm.) Not everyone (innovators/early adopters) wants to take the turn, at least not without being the driver or at least the navigator. It’s upsetting to some but really we must move forward. This is not the time for “I have more hours behind the wheel than they do” or “I paid for the petrol”.

    Let’s put the debate on hold with a promise to revisit once we hit 30% market share or so… by then it should be *much* more interesting.

  56. Philip Kilner Says:

    I found Greg’s post quite difficult to understand, and quite distressing. I simply couldn’t find anything positive or constructive in it. I would like to think that I would respect his opinion if I understood it, but I was unable to discern clearly what it was without having ever seen an example of the position he seemed to Ubuntu/Canonical of holding. I unsubscribed from the comments, because my emotional reaction was affecting my work yesterday.

    Mark’s post was both constructive and intelligible, and has quite lifted my spirits. Thanks, Mark.

    Have a good weekend, everybody.

  57. MatthiasF Says:

    I would like to point out that a significant percentage of those working in open source these days are young and we must keep in mind that they are more susceptible to clique behavior, emotional outbursts, and buying into the cult of personality (taking a difference in opinion or preference as personal insult).

    For this reason, you should be more lenient with them and yet moderate them more as well. How you do this defines what type of a leader you are, but pointing out something as a problem doesn’t fix the problem. You want to stop tribes from developing, then fight the tribalism by making people rely on others outside their comfort zone.

    A mentoring system or moderation by obscurity (making sure the person moderating is not known as well as not involved in their work and the moderator doesn’t know the person either) would work well to tackle any issue of tribalism.

  58. UberStudent Says:

    Tribalism is the scourge of all humanity. I can’t agree more with rejecting wherever found, even if it happens to be in your group or inside yourself.

  59. Ben Collins Says:

    I agree with you 100% Mark, but I gotta say, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it.

    FLOSS is missing a lot of what drives innovation, basically capitalism. I don’t mean that FLOSS companies can’t make money (and I hope they do), just that the normal forms of driving things isn’t the same. So it has to be replaced some how.

    In this case, it’s sheer elitism. I suffer form it from time to time, and many people do as well. I’m not sure we can fix it, or stop it. You want to get into that new Miami Beach club with the long line? You gotta be known. Same goes for the free software community…and if you get on the blackball list, it’s hard to get off it.

  60. Matt Johnson Says:

    “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count.“

    Mark, you are the poster child for ignoring evidence that opposes your opinion. The first step in convincing your cult to follow your new rules should be learning to take your own advice.

  61. Carla Schroder Says:

    When I first read “Tribalism is the enemy within”, and some of the related articles, I thought Mr. Shuttleworth was deflecting criticism rather than facing it. I’ve done some more reading, and talking, and thinking, and I think I was wrong. Some criticisms are so far out in left field it’s hard to respond to them. Misinterpreting the numbers (Red Hat 16%! Ubuntu 1%! oh noes!!) was rather silly, since they measure the entire lifetime of Gnome. Red Hat is much older than Ubuntu, and has always had a strong Gnome focus. So for whatever it is worth and for whoever cares, I this blog makes some pretty good points.

  62. Rorie Says:

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  63. Destrahtl Says:

    I feel that there are certain products and brands that I cannot use because the organizations are working against my values and they are working to limit my choices. Apple is a perfect example of this for me. I want open standards for my devices (like a standard normal to mini USB cable) while they are working to force me into the exact opposite with things like their iTunes store and non-standard plug. They want vendor lock-in. I just simply know that their objectives are mostly opposite to mine. This makes me resent and avoid their other offerings and it quickly brings the value of their other offerings close to zero (for me). Is this tribalism?

  64. dart Says:

    Red Hat’s Rant

  65. Ilan Volow Says:

    1. I’m under the impression that the survey merely counts lines of code in commits, as opposed to counting actual man hours spent developing all aspects of the software. So if Red Hat spent 10 man hours a week doing GNOME usability research, and Canonical spent 300 man-hours a week doing usability research, then such a disparity wouldn’t be taken into account by the survey, would it? I would assume that such a survey would be heavily biased towards recognizing only code contributions (one of FLOSS’ eternal problems). The Construct Validity of such a study would be questionable.

    2. Wouldn’t a more fair assessment of each company’s contributions include their respective budgets spent on Gnome? Would Mark and Red Hat Representative be willing to put up hard numbers spent for total sum spent on GNOME work, usability, art, coding, etc?

    (duplicate post Akismet thought it was spam)

  66. anon Says:

    Wow comp sci turned anthropologist suddenly thinks he, of all people, can define Tribalism:
    “Tribalism is when one group of people start to think people from another group are “wrong by default”.”

    I can think you’re wrong by default regardless of whether we’re part of a hierarchy or not, tyvm. That has absolutely nothing to do with Tribalism, my friend.

    Don’t place blame somewhere you don’t understand just because it’s an easy target. That’s as ignorant as Linux developers complaining that people don’t use Linux for a desktop “because Microsoft keeps changing the rules” and just as arbitrary of an attack.

  67. Florian Says:

    If nobody developed an unbearable (even irrational) itch to scratch, a lot of interesting things would never have been. Cooperation is all good and well, but enmity and competition can bear results too.

  68. LinuxLover Says:

    So, tell us Mark, what exactly HAVE you done for any FOSS projects? Please enlighten us…

    I’m not going to sit here and make accusations against you. Just come clean…

  69. Ernesto Manríquez Says:

    Some months ago, a female friend of my girlfriend came to me with an Asus Eee first-gen, 612 MB of RAM, 2GB of flash memory, and Windows XP installed, whining because the performance wasn’t slow, but abysmal. I promised a fix, but I warned her that I would change her computing experience forever. So I took a 2 GB memory card, configured Ubuntu to place /usr in that card, and performed a clean install of Karmic Koala Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Boot times were slashed to a FOURTH of those with Windows XP, and performance (except Flash performance, that remained abysmal but that’s another story) was suddenly more than acceptable, even with Compiz. And she didn’t know about computers, she didn’t care about Ubuntu, Free Software, GNOME vs. KDE holy wars and the like. Her computer was WORKING now. And she was HAPPY, and she now LOVES the UNR.

    Although I’m a Fedora user, I keep recommending Ubuntu for cases like those. Her case was a battle won for Free Software. That’s the contribution you make to our ecosystem and I am grateful for that. If you could contribute more to KDE, it would be great.

  70. Donjan Rodic Says:

    Well said Mark.
    Clearly one of the contributing factors for this sort-of-jealousy is that Ubuntu gets much more praise/exposure/credit than Red Hat, regardless of contributions.

    Now one of the big questions I’d really like you to answer is: why aren’t you working hard on getting your code into upstream?

    The problem, you see, is that you (respectively Canonical) are losing karma.
    Free Software seems to be less important for Canonical every passing year, with more emphasis put on the Open Source and buisness aspects.
    This lowers your moral high ground.
    And it can only be remedied with actions, not talking.

  71. Jef Spaleta Says:


    And yet… Fluendo and Collabora and Litl.. all smaller companies of recent vintage are contributing more than Canonical. The Red Hat at the top of the list is a…red herring… What is disturbing is that these other companies are also there ahead of Canonical contributing to Gnome. If it were just an age or a size issue, Canonical should be out ahead of those other small companies…and Canonical isn’t.

    The criticism can not be dodged entirely. Canonical is 100+ software engineers on staff according to Mark. Are they all focused on Canonical led and owned projects? How many does fluendo or Collabora have on staff? Far fewer right? But there they are ahead in contributing more than Canonical does to Gnome. Where does Canonical collaborate exactly? Where does Canonical feel comfortable stepping out and being a peer contributor instead of being a project owner? When does Canonical feel comfortable working in infrastructure and processes they don’t control themselves? If not GNOME, then where?

    And why do Fluendo and Collabora feel comfortable making their contributions but Canonical does not? Maybe its because those other small companies don’t have a vested interested in their own development infrastructure in the same way Canonical does with Launchpad. Maybe those other companies are willing to work with other business interests as peers instead of trying to require copyright and infrastructure control to gain an advantage at the decision making table. Maybe Canonical needs to control project development to prove to themselves and others that their way is the better way instead of letting their methodology expand organically. I don’t know what it is…but there is definitely a cultural breakdown inside Canonical which makes it more difficult for them to collaborate in a consensus fashion as peers in a neutral commons.

    The irony is, with the impending merging of apparmor Canonical might actually have its most significant upstream collaborations in the kernel itself and not up in the user oriented interfaces at all. A complete 180 in terms of the public position taken to defend against prior criticism that Canonical wasn’t contributing to the kernel.


  72. arthur m. Says:

    What some may call mindshare, I call noise. I’m sorry, but Ubuntu has not fixed any single problem preventing Linux from being mainstream. There’s a world of difference between stating a problem (bug #1) and being able to solve it.

  73. mark Says:

    @Destrahtl It would be tribalism if you said “Apple has done nothing good for my computing experience”, and “Sure, I used an Apple for a while and that was helpful, but Steve Jobs gets all the credit when actually it was some junior guy that did the hard work.” But you didn’t, so no, your position isn’t tribal, it’s standing up for what YOU care about, and that’s fine by me.

  74. mark Says:


    My…. cult? So everyone who affiliates with Ubuntu is a cult member? Wow.

  75. Jose Says:

    Hello Mark, very interesting topic!!!

    We could understand politics and all the “politically correct” language thing. Everything a person says, another could interpret it in their worse possible sense(the geek feminist topic…). Huge population looking at you means a lot of people will take your word as a different thing that you think or expect (different people mean different people with the same language as a function of what they are used to witch is different in different places).

    With regard to Linux, having used more than 9 different flavors before Ubuntu, I just want to point to something: I don’t care how many resources someone spend on Linux when the money is spend making a very “high level-lazy” implementation of a OS configuration tool and everybody else(hey computers are fast,let’s be lazy) that is so slow to use that it doesn’t solve the problem at all(suse), or makes an OS just thinking on companies and not users(RH), or the official update period is measured in years, or half decades in practice(the old debian before Ubuntu influence). If nobody cares about the end user.

    Of course you used a lot of their work, but you added something: “The right decisions”, at least for some people, you created the best solution, as someone just pointed, just look at google trends. This is called efficiency and is good, less effort and more results. If you are the smarter on the block but just solve the wrong problems, who cares?

    Just ignore them, don’t fall in the trap, do what Newton did with Linus, don’t waste energy in disputes:

    Just do what you need to do.


  76. Jose Says:

    Sorry for the typo:
    “the same word mean different for different people with the same language as a function of what they are used to witch is different in different places.”

  77. Bruce Perens Says:

    Yes, tribalism is a problem for Ubuntu. But is it a problem for Free Software? I’m not at all sure. Free software development is sort of a massively parallel drunkards walk, filtered by a Darwinistic process. In other words, we start out with everybody doing their own thing, and then we filter the results through the community for quality. The competitive code gets its own communities, and the code that can’t compete dies on the vine, wasting only one person’s work.

    Now, we come to the “Nasty” part: Are Ubuntu and Red Hat more of a problem for Free Software than tribalism? Unfortunately, Ubuntu and Red Hat stand as wealthy and powerful gate-keepers between users and the non-wealthy-and-powerful Free Software developers. I don’t see that the agenda of such gate-ways can possibly be long-term compatible with the goals of Free Software.

    This is most clear with issues that are real show-stoppers for Free Software. Proprietary hardware drivers are one, and Ubuntu’s record isn’t great in that regard. Software patenting can entirely kill Free Software, and may yet do so someday. While Ubuntu has helped some with FSF’s action on the Bilski case, Ubuntu and Red Hat have been notably absent from any effort to actually lobby public and legislative sentiment against software patenting. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, they looked at the sentiment of the software industry – which is still pro-software-patenting – and quoted BSA extensively in their finding.

    Unfortunately, Ubuntu and Red Hat make it more difficult for Free Software to lobby users on these issues, because Ubuntu and Red Hat stand between users and the Free Software community. Thus, users opinions are formed by Ubuntu and Red Hat, not by the folks who actually wrote the code.

    I am sufficiently concerned regarding the negative effect of Linux distribution companies on the future of Free Software that I might apply distribution-hostile license to my current project, and I am considering whether to promote such a license to others. The intent would be to restrict distribution for profit and distribution as part of a support-for-profit engagement, in order to create a closer connection between developers and users without the gate-keepers. This would be giving up some of what I’ve stood for as a 20-year Free Software evangelist and co-founder of the Open Source initiative, but it would be to save the rest.

  78. Mark Says:

    What are Ubuntu’s plans to sync up with upstream? Will they eventually maintain their own gnome release or will they give back to the community?


  79. Chris Says:

    You say that ‘tribalism makes you stupid’ and then the next thing you say is a call to the Ubuntu community not to get caught up in tribalism..!?!

    Why don’t you call on the entire Free Software community to avoid this behaviour? Your blog post is advocating the very behaviour you are criticizing.

    This kind of post is IMO unbecoming of someone in your position. When leaders in the FOSS movement focus more on politics than technology, they contribute to these kinds of divisions.

  80. nyder Says:

    Um, ya dude. though your rant is really about religon and stupid people.

  81. Miért ne legyünk fanboyok « Antal István Miklós blogja Says:

    […] ne legyünk fanboyok Mark Shuttleworth nemrégiben írt egy brilliáns cikket arról a témáról ami engem személyesen zavart mindig is: az elfogultságról. A cikkben […]

  82. Froilan Irizarry Says:

    Wow this is really sad.

    I can’t believe that the “infamous Shuttleworth comment” is still an issue after almost a year. I was at LinuxCon 2009 during Mr. Shuttleworth’s keynote and everyone that says it was offensive either wasn’t paying attention, just wants to rock the boat, or is to touchy to live in society. Oh and by the way my girlfriend, who is a programmer and uses Ubuntu, was also there and laughed….yeah she laughed because Mr. Shuttleworth’s comment was an ironic answer to an audience member who made a comment about explaining things to his non technical girlfriend. Please let us put this stupidity behind us, you find it offensive then say so and don’t use anything associated with Mr. Shuttleworth. Mr. Shuttleworth I say to you no harm done!

    On the topic of Mr. Shuttleworth’s post….thank you for posting this insightful article. Usually I’m the most FLOSS guy among my group of friends, including those who work in IT, and every time the subject of open vs closed source comes out the topic of “elitism” in the FLOSS community is thrown at me. I have to say that this has got to stop, as a community we profess the power of being free and the merit of promoting freedom but many a time this is dumbed down by nay saying, nasty comments such as “noob this and that”, RTFM, etc. In my honest opinion Mr. Shuttleworth post addresses this in an excellent way. In my experience the Ubuntu community forums have been one of the nicest place to search for answers and post questions, comments, or answers. I must say well done!

    So once again thanks for the post Mr. Shuttleworth and people please as a community lets stop this back and forth of nonsense and work together for a better FLOSS experience.

    As the great John Lennon once sang:
    “You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one”

  83. Ohrer Says:

    Why so butthurt, Mark?

  84. Noah Gift Says:

    Great points Mark. Keep up the writing, and…amen.

  85. mark Says:


    I agree that there are dangers inherent when there’s only one way to “get the software”. Apple’s App Store is an example, but a worse case for me is the “enterprise build” business model.

    In Apple’s case, at least they’ve instituted an ecosystem where developers can give their app away or share in the revenue. But with today’s enterprise linuxes, the *only* way to get the same build of the code as your neighbour is to pay the distributor. Now, for all that Red Hat or Novell are major contributors to the ecosystem, they are a tiny fraction of the real bulk of contribution, which comes from a much more diverse base.

    Even in the numbers being cited this week, Red Hat’s figure was 16% and the “volunteer/unknown” figure was 40%. And yet, the only person that gets paid if you want to use Red Hat’s *build* of the code everyone else wrote, is Red Hat.

    There’s a nasty effect dynamic there: the world tends towards software monopolies (everyone prefers to run what their neighbour is running), but that means that one company will end up receiving the vast majority of the revenue regardless of the extent to which they collaborate.

    That’s the specific reason why we have only one build of Ubuntu, rather than separate “community” and “enterprise” builds. And why it is, and always will, be available to anybody to use, free of charge. If you want Canonical’s services they are there, for a fee, but there’s no requirement to buy them in order to get the benefits of a shared platform with your neighbour.

    Now, of course, if you do use Ubuntu then Canonical has an advantage in selling services. But it’s a head start, not a guaranteed requirement. And if you do buy a support contract from us, yes we generating income from our ability to provide a service for software to which we were only a small contributor. It would be better if there was some guaranteed way of identifying the portions someone was buying that support contract for, so that the revenue could be shared with the relevant projects proportionally.

    So, I agree with you that the role of the distributor is one of great responsibility. I think Canonical and Ubuntu handle that responsibility relatively well, and certainly better than the incumbents. I don’t agree that the role of distributor is by design that of a gate-keeper. For example, we go to a lot of effort to make things like PPA’s possible so that there are easy ways for software authors to get *their* version of a package to Ubuntu users.

    I was initially quite amazed at your suggestion of an anti-distributor license. But after sleeping on it, I figure it’s a free world and if you wanted to try that, so be it, and time will tell if you’re onto something. The FSF will not agree, you’re aware, but that’s between you and them.


  86. kamereon Says:

    Hey Mark, how do you manage to keep your posts so totally calm and smart? You got yourself a bunch of writers hired, haven’t you! :-)
    keep it up!

  87. FS Says:

    Mark put the “s” in https.. with openssl!
    What I just wondered about after reading the other posts is this:

    I take the assumption that tribalism is “natural” as it is a survival mechanism. However, what I don’t know if the tendency is memetic – i.e. anchored in choice, or if it is genetic – i.e. as a survival mechanism.
    If it is fully genetic, you can say what you want; you will never get rid of it and fighting against it will cause all sorts of weird psychosis. However, you can direct it to an extent, but it will still be tribal.
    If it is fully memetic, you can do something about it, but you need the mindshare to get it done, John Lennon style.

    Being part of Apartheid and having my heart&mind radically altered after it was that kind of transformation; I’m also sure that gays that come out or new feminists experience the same; it kind of whacks you hard and makes you believe that people can change for your cause. The heart needs believe, but the mind needs to remain sceptical.

  88. » Mark Shuttleworth sul contributo di Canonical a GNOME Says:

    […] tutta risposta Shuttleworth ha tirato in ballo la filosofia, i fanboy di Apple e le distro war per affermare che il «tribalismo» non faccia bene a nessuno. […]

  89. koolhead17 Says:

    Great post.
    Well let them crib and crib more. Carry own with what you are doing. World is changing and people are changing too.

    I installed Ubuntu on 70 yr old uncle`s box last day, he is happy. I really dont care what REHDAT and other has to say. FUD will go own. People started recognizing Linux because of Ubuntu. In short on Desktop arena Ubuntu == Linux.

    Let them fsck and you carry on good work.


  90. James Says:

    You say, ‘So if you see someone saying “Microsoft is totally evil”, that’s a big red flag for tribal thinking.’

    You’re so right Mark. Those people who say that the Nazis were all bad just don’t get it. To be fair, the Nazis tended to generalise too, but so long as we keep that in mind we can keep things in perspective. Nazis, Jews, Gypsies – they all have their good and bad points.

    Profound sense of irony required here.

  91. James Says:

    ‘So, for example, when a woman makes it to the top of her game, “it’s because she slept her way there”. Offensive nonsense.’

    Except if in that particular instance she did, in fact, sleep her way there. The problem with some of your arguments is that you go from one extreme to another. The fact that someone believes, incorrectly, that all black people are criminals does not mean that no black people are criminals, or even that criminality is evenly distributed between black and white. I have no idea whether or not it is, and I don’t really care. I just object to people adopting one or other view without good reason.

    What does this have to do with tribalism. Just because groups form, does not mean that the prevailing view within the group is necessarily wrong, and just because people generalise as a short hand way of conveying their views to those with a similar view to their own (tribal members if you like) it does not mean they are necessarily unaware of the subtleties of the argument.

  92. Mark Shuttleworth sul contributo di Canonical a GNOME | Giovanni Raco Says:

    […] tutta risposta Shuttleworth ha tirato in ballo la filosofia, i fanboy di Apple e le distro war per affermare che il «tribalismo» non faccia bene a nessuno. […]

  93. James Says:

    “The very uncool thing about being a fanboy (or fangirl) of a project is that you’re openly declaring both a tribal affiliation and a willingness to reject the work of others just because they belong to a different tribe.”

    Well of course we do. We all belong to tribes – you too; you even lead one. Why would we not attack a tribe which supports a lifestyle diametrically opposed to the one we support, and if we find other people with similar views, then obviously we will gang together for mutual support.

    What about the Ubuntu community? Isn’t that a tribe, carefully crafted by highly paid PR staff. Isn’t the point of that to encourage blind support for the Ubuntu way (guided by Canonical).

    Surely all you are doing is pushing aside views which might hamper your business choices, because your aim has little to do with supporting the GPL (which is at the heart of Linux and what makes it distinct from other OS) or even open source. It is primarily commercial. You saw a business opportunity and took it. That’s great so long as your business plan (making money) does not conflict with my support of the GPL.

  94. UberStudent Says:

    Now with more time, let me weigh in with more than passing remark.

    Fact is, per the terms of the GFDL, Canonical could contribute absolutely ZERO code to GNOME and the Linux kernel and it’d still be 100% within its rights. I suggest the obvious when I say that there may be some correlation between how downstream one is with the percentage of the code they contribute upstream. Count me as completely unsurprised at the current dust-up.

    As a downstream actor within the Linux world, I’d fully expect Canonical to be principally involved in downstream affairs. And it has indeed done that in an enormous way. Canonical is often slammed for its marketing efforts, fueled by its otherwise nonsensical six-month release cycle, but such is precisely the appropriate domain of a downstream distro. It does what the folks upstream just are not, in this case, pushing Linux into public consciousness while developing a handful of packages intended to make Linux a more desktop-friendly platform for its users.

    My own distro, UberStudent Linux, is one step further downstream from Ubuntu. Do you think we have plans to contribute to GNOME or the Linux kernel. It will only be an after-the-fact concern if it happens at all.


    Because our concerns are elsewhere, and those concerns keep us more than adequately busy. UberStudent’s concern is to advance Linux into a historically hard-to-crack market segment, i.e., the higher education and advanced secondary school markets, places that neither Linux nor GNOME nor Debian nor Ubuntu (nor Edubuntu), nor Red Hat, have really done anything of write-home-about note.

    You see, UberStudent, is already involved in FULL-TIME matters, ones that GNOME, Debian, and Canonical aren’t really thinking about. BUT, what they all *do* think about absolutely makes it possible for UberStudent to think about what it thinks about. That’s the essential nature of things for an entity downstream.

    I’d venture that a good section of the folks upset at the current dust-up are, at core, upset over the first instance of the bare GFDL finally coming to confront them face-to-face.

    I do understand feelings of having others “take” your work and “get the credit” and “extract the benefits” from it. It feels awful, like robbery, betrayal. But if you dislike this, I suggest that the core issue at play is much more one with the GFDL than anything else, whether a misunderstanding of it or a fundamental flaw of it, I’ll leave for others to debate. And yea, that’s got far larger any implications than the current dust-up.

  95. Lotte tribali su GNOME, ma c’e’ ben altro dietro « Idl3's Blog Says:

    […] Probabilmente avrete gia’ letto il post di Greg DeKoenigsberg (prima Red Hat poi Fedora) e il contropost di Mark Shuttleworth (Canonical). Forse vi sarete anche gia’ fatti un’idea […]

  96. Richard Says:


    I read your comment with interest and I’m interested to dig a little deeper. If I understood it correctly you are arguing that large distributions, such as Ubuntu, are a problem because they mean that choices as to what software/features most people use are made by the distributions, not the users themselves (by picking different distributions/packages etc). i.e. they act as ‘gate-keepers’ to your users? If you consider each user a ‘vote’, then the big distributions are gathering together lots of people (many of whom have never ‘voted’ before) and pooling their votes.
    Would you agree with me that many users are not necessarily qualified to ‘vote’? Many users offered the choice between KDE 4.0 and 3.5 would plump for 3.5, and yet those working behind the scenes (including Canonical) knew that in the long term the KDE 4.0 architecture was the way to go. Hence it’s long been the convention that people pool their votes so that a qualified representative can act on their behalf. If, in the long term, that representative doesn’t deliver those users are free to change their ‘vote’ by switching to a different distribution that has better represented their needs over the long term. i.e. the fictional ‘KDE 3 forever’ distribution might have gained a few users in the short term but over time wasted away due to lack of interest.
    I suspect the biggest problem is that many of the new users don’t share the traditional views of the open source community and hence user-orientated distributions such as Ubuntu appear to be pushing the community in a way it doesn’t believe in. However, the beauty of open source is that if people feel strongly enough they can fork projects and push them in the ‘right’ direction until the mainstream realises the benefit of that work. If you license your work so that it can never be integrated into a distribution doesn’t that work against your point of view eventually becoming accepted by the mainstream? Wouldn’t that make it ultimately self-defeating?


  97. mark Says:


    You ask “Why would we not attack a tribe which supports a lifestyle diametrically opposed to the one we support, and if we find other people with similar views, then obviously we will gang together for mutual support.”

    Very simply: because we are no longer subject to survival of the fittest, we can be expected to rise above the pressures of evolution. Tribalism has its roots in competition for resources. There might only be enough water in that pond for one tribe or the other, so best “we” kill “them”. And intellectually, if we can make ourselves feel morally superior about that, we sleep easier. So we say that “all of them are bad”, therefor an attack on any of “them” is justified in advance. “Yeah, stick it to them, you nail them, they’re all [XXX]”.

    The behaviour is instinctive, trivial to slip into (I do it a LOT more than I would like) and it’s a habit that’s very hard to break. But when you see it for what it is, it’s shameful. We’ve all had the experience of saying “that company is evil” and then meeting someone from that company who is very definitely not evil. Or country, or industry. And it would be far better if we taught ourselves to be better at standing for our own values than attacking others with nasty generalisations.


  98. Rick Astley Says:

    Wait, this isn’t an article about tribadism? I’m so disappointed.

  99. Nils Says:

    > So if you see someone saying “Microsoft is totally evil”, that’s a big red flag for tribal thinking. It’s just like someone saying “All black people are [name your prejudice]“.

    Well see binaryAPINonsense.txt in the Linux kernel source. W/o this kind of thinking we would probably have graphics drivers at the same quality as on Windows now.. But instead of supporting proprietary drivers some kernel developers think they can just develop their own drivers (see nouveau), because the drivers provided by NV are proprietary that’s something which is evil and they can’t be good.

  100. devolved Says:

    Sound advice for life in general.

  101. a tribe called linux « my own private radio Says:

    […] there is such an earnestness about his essay, (read it here) that a small part of me holds back. I suppose the principle at work is – if it seems too […]

  102. steve Says:

    Heh, someone pointed out that the emperor has no clothes on and the emperor says – ‘hey, look, I thought I had them on but if I don’t you should really be pointing it out, that’s tribalism’

  103. the_madman Says:


    I consider you an intelligent man and, while I don’t agree with every choice made towards Ubuntu development, I think the overall goal of Ubuntu, the progress made and the ideas for further progress admirable.

    However, if this post is in response to the numerous recent attacks against Canonical regarding contributions to upstream projects, then please, just ignore them and carry on working. Don’t be wavered by their snide remarks.

    Most of us, I like to think, are intelligent and mature enough to recognise the attacks for what they are: hormone-driven drivel by people who wish their (favourite) distribution was where Ubuntu is now. I don’t see anybody complaining about Android, which has completely forked the Linux kernel and gives near-nothing back; and, on top of that, has implemented its own user-space stack on top of it, thereby contributing very little in the way of code to the desktop area; yet, even where Canonical is working at least in part with upstreams, people complain that it isn’t enough, comparing what I consider a start-up with a vastly more mature, larger, more profitable company; comparing a recent, light shower’s contribution to the Ocean against a large, well-established flowing river. A comparison that simply isn’t sensible to make.

    While RedHat may indeed contribute more back into upstream than Canonical, I have yet to buy a RedHat netbook from Dell. The simple fact that I have bought and am currently using an Ubuntu netbook from the same company should reflect more on the work Canonical is doing to expose the Linux desktop to the non-enterprise consumer market, a market that RedHat have deliberately chosen to ignore: nobody blames RedHat for their choice (certainly not I), and I doubt RedHat regret that decision today, but someone sometime was bound to attempt to fill this niche as was best possible. If not you with Canonical, then someone else: it would now be someone else taking the flack for the work they would be doing towards putting Linux in the consumer space.

    So please, just ignore the squawkers. Any sensible, level-headed person with an opinion to value would at best praise Canonical’s good work, and at worst see the opposing argument as a desperate attempt to clutch at straws to try pull Canonical down. Such distractions only server to delay Canonical’s work, and your work with Canonical. You have proved them wrong with your work thus far: continue to prove them wrong with your work, now and into the future.

  104. Claire M. Lotion Says:

    Mark, sorry, I tend to fall into the tribalism trap, too. Please, forgive me. You’re very inspiring, as are Bill Gates, Linus Torvalds and many, many others. And yeah, we all make mistakes…

  105. zelrik Says:

    I totally agree, people need to make friends rather than not. It reminds me a blog post I made a while ago about fairness actually, similar idea but you worded it so much better than me…

  106. Ubuntu tribalism » Help Desk Screeds Says:

    […] Shuttleworth, Ubuntu chief, has an interesting post on tribalism in the free software world. He has a point; the only other places I’ve seen with free software’s level of internal […]

  107. Il «Tribalismo» secondo Gusions e non. – Gusions Blog Says:

    […] a più non posso alle quali il patron di Canonical non ha potuto non rispondere. L’ha fatto nel suo blog, senza risparmiarsi mezzi termini e paragoni con la concorrenza. Let’s be clear: tribalism makes […]

  108. GreyGeek Says:

    “… holding Linux back”

    This is a petty dustup compared to some battles I’ve witnessed and been in since I adopted Linux 12 years ago. To me it is a sign of a healthy community that all view can be exchanged, no matter how ridiculous they appear. Linux advances because highly skilled people do exemplary work both in coding, maintaining, documenting, supporting, or donating. That is why Steve Ballmer said in a speech given in Feb, 2009, that Linux is Microsoft’s greatest competitor. He gave a graphic showing the Linux desktop market share is bigger than Apple’s to back it up.

    However, to say the “Microsoft is evil” claims is tribalism is to bury ones head in the sand and ignore almost countless examples of illegal, immoral or unethical behavior by them. The recent ISO committee fiasco, or the infiltration of the EU Open Source report committee by the CEO of an MS front organization are merely some of the most recent examples.

    The only way that Linux can “fall behind” is if Microsoft’s API becomes the standard on the Linux desktop. That’s what James Plamondon called “Total Victory, Microsoft’s API on EVERY desktop”. He was the first leader of Microsoft’s “Technical Evangelists”, experts in “The Slog” and “The Stacked Panel”, along with astroturfing, sending letters from cemetery residences to Congress complaining that “MS was being persecuted for competing”, etc…

    If Microsoft’s API becomes the default on the Linux desktop then what is the point of Linux?

  109. Michael Russell Says:

    Tribalism based upon UNCONTROLLABLE factors, like race or birthplace, may be ignorant, and totally outdated in an age when we understand the scientific underpinnings human of equality, however judging people by their action, like which corporation they CHOOSE to work for, is not only rational, but a highly accurate way to predict their future actions.

    If you define that as “tribalism”, then you are mistaken when you call it ‘stupid’. You’re confusing different types of intelligence, some people are very smart programmers or logicians, and lack a fundamental understanding of ethics or compassion, and you would not want such a narcissistic sociopath working with you on any project, even one required for survival.

    When people freely choose to work for unethical corporations, such as MS, or AIG, or SAIC, et all, then they are either ethically blind, or they freely choose to do evil (the knowing destruction of sentient beings). Therefore, failing to discriminate between those who you judge to be ethically lost based upon the tribe they joined, is a critical error in judgement. That’s the definition of stupid.

  110. Aaron Harper Says:

    On the subject of tribalism. Tribalism in exclusive and exclusionary. Have you ever seen a person or group who spends an inordinate amount of time defining themselves as *NOT* [insert rival group here]? Half the time, they used to be part of the very group they degrade. Tribalism make us stupid in the sense that we throw the baby out with the bath water. Has Microsoft come up with anything decent in the last 10 years? Sure it has. But many elitist Linux fans who used to use windows will say otherwise mostly as a juvenile demonstration of how far they have evolved.

    Open Source must, by its very nature and at its very core, be inclusionary. After all, isn’t that the main difference between open and closed source, the availability and portability of modular code? The freedom to use and reuse code could be limited by our own prejudice. If this is the case, is zero cost software really free or is it bound by our own minds? There is an old Buddhist expression: “Change must come from within”. If you truly want to live the freedom of open source, see and embrace the benefit and good in all the work done. If the tool is truly horrid, don’t criticize, assist. Make positive contributions to the community, not negative which diminishes us all.

    Regarding the deletion of nasty comments… This is Mark’s blog. If you walk in his home and by your words and action make the move from honored guest to problem child, he is well within his right to remove you from his presence. Deal with it and behave. Better still, add value to the discussion and move from honored guest to compatriot.

  111. John Says:

    Mark Shuttlerworth its contribution to the gnome is almost ZERO (0)
    Because his team of Mark Shuttlerworth designer does a different job to a type windows aero? Mark Shuttlerworth you talk more and work his little team of professional software!

  112. John Says:

    There is to win the windows
    its beauty is show (aero)
    Mark do something different in gnome please!!

  113. roger Says:

    > Well see binaryAPINonsense.txt in the Linux kernel source. W/o this kind of thinking we would probably have graphics drivers at the same quality as on Windows now.. But instead of supporting proprietary drivers some kernel developers think they can just develop their own drivers (see nouveau), because the drivers provided by NV are proprietary that’s something which is evil and they can’t be good.

    Well, if your interest lies in stuff working regardless of whether they’re proprietary or not, feel free what the rest of the world does: use Windows or OS X. Honestly, doesn’t make much sense to use Linux as a desktop if you don’t care about the ideals.

  114. John Muir Says:

    Excellent insights on tribalism (self- and group identity) leading to delusions of superiority, close-mindedness and conflict. However, to apply it to religions and groups like Al Qaeda would have been far more poignant than something as minuscule in the big picture of humanity as Linux and Ubuntu. Sorry about the climate in the Linux programmer crowd. For a vacation, try working at Microsoft for a year as a programmer. You’ll probably come back refreshed with a deeper appreciation for open source.

    And if you have helped program any Linux distro, thank you for your contribution.

  115. dart Says:

    Typw linux in google….the second link is of UBUNTU…not REDHAT

  116. mark Says:

    @Michael Russell

    It’s reasonable that we should judge someone based on their actions. Past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour for a given person, modulo the fact that we all grow up over time and occasionally make major shifts in perspective. And affiliation is in part a statement of shared values, so it’s not indefensible to suggest that there’s a correlation between an employers past behaviour and an employees likely future behaviour. In that sense, yes, there’s an efficiency in prejudice. That’s why police do racial profiling. But it’s still prejudice. And it’s still wrong, because it still prevents those wonderful opportunities to bridge divides, make friends in unexpected places, learn from someone who sees things very differently or teach them something from your own wisdom.

    It’s also true that most of the stereotyping that goes on is not actually based on first hand experience. Racists often have few real interracial relationships, therefor they are making their prejudices up based on what they heard, most likely from someone who heard it from someone else. It’s all to easy, in the middle of all that, to inject false facts and anecdotes. And so we easily end up in a situation where one group of people hate another group of people without any actual facts to support that. In the end, we are all *born* tribal. It’s in our nature, in our DNA, for very good reasons. The challenge for all of us is to rise above it. That takes, more than anything else, *leadership*, because it needs to happen across self-identifying groups. It also takes courage, because every individual has to recognise it and stop it. Against millions of years of territorial, tribal evolution.


  117. mark Says:


    I might be misreading your comment, or maybe there should be a “shouldn’t” where you have a “should”. Regardless, I’m neither claiming to be above tribalism, nor unwilling to have my faults pointed out. If you read the comments on this blog you’ll see I publish lots of critique.

  118. Mike Says:


    While I appreciate the sentiment expressed and Ubuntu in general, I have to wonder how you can say:

    “we do all of those things because we believe in them, not because we want to prove anybody else wrong”

    If that’s true, then why name another vendor in bug #1?

    –Mike (seeking career opportunities)

  119. mark Says:


    Fair point, the bug is negatively framed when it could better be expressed in terms of free software’s progress.


  120. kiakli Says:

    Hi Mark,

    You do not remember

    Great job Mark!!! :)

  121. mark Says:


    Yes, I do remember, it’s a blot on my record and I apologised in as was appropriate. However, in the context of the discussion on tribalism, nowhere did I say that “Novell has never done anything useful” or “Yeah, they did that one good thing, but that didn’t count”. My post then was a stupid and inflammatory one, but it wasn’t the same as what I’m describing here: the complete prejudice against another group *regardless* of their actions.

  122. Jef Spaleta Says:


    Uhm show me a publicly archived reference where someone from a corporate entity that competes with Canonical has sad flatly that Canonical doesn’t contribute anything of value. GKH said Canonical doesn’t contribute to the kernel offhandedly in a response to a question while giving a talk at Google aimed at getting Google to contribute more to the kernel development. He was called out on it, and he refined his statement showing that Canonical did in fact contribute a non-zero amount to the kernel.

    Show me a single publicly archived quote from anyone since then that has flatted said that Canonical doesn’t contribute _anything_ of value. Greg D. certainly didn’t say that. You are whipping up resentment over something that has never been said. Greg D. sure as hell did not say that Canonical wasn’t contributing _anything_. He was remarking on his surprise to find the GNOME _codebase_ was not a place where Canonical was contributing _code_..considering that GNOME is so very important to the Canonical product roadmap.

    What is at issue is the level of upstream code contributions by Canonical’s 100+ software engineers into _any_ projects from the kernel up into gnome ui. Up and down the stack of upstream projects that Canonical relies and that Canonical does not ultimately control..there is a lack of Canonical contribution. If there was a pocket of significant focus that would be defensible. But there isn’t even that. Canonical is just simply not contributing _enough_ _code_ back.

    if you want to argue that _code_ contribution isn’t the right metric to care about. Then go ahead and publish a methodology by which projects can start to measure the more intangible things so projects can run the analysis for themselves and find where Canonical’s overall contribution is. It’s easy to talk about the other ways to contribute. Its much harder to measure it. I dare you to publish a methodology which measures the intangibles… things like.. oh I don’t know… userbase size estimates. That’s one you love to talk about, and have never published a methodology on.

    To suggest that Greg D. post was criticism of a more expensaive view of contribution and encompassed the more intangible contributions entite are making is absolutely a misdirection on your part and a suspect a crafted response meant to to inflame emotions. Play the victim, inspire your tribe to come to your defence…ignore the real and valid concern about the level of code contribution and your company’s peril. Do you have the manpower to completely fork and maintain gnome? Canonical isn’t Google.

    Those 100+ software developers that Canonical has on staff write software….whatever software they are writing isn’t showing up in the codebase contribution statistics in a significant way. That’s a problem. I suspect its even a bigger problem that what we can see looking at external project codebases where Canonical is under represented. I bet if we look at Canonical controlled codebases, where copyright assignment to Canonical is required.. like libappindicator…we’ll find that the level of volunteer code contribution is very low compared to the externally developed stack…and that Canonical is Both measurements of code contribution point to a real problem in Canonical corporate culture with a focus on copyright and infrastructure control which is at odds with best practises for open source projects that can attract developers on a peer basis.

    All that is to say… I’m looking forward to git support in Launchpad.


  123. Ralph Loizzo Says:

    First off, thank you. Not for the projects and the work. For this blog entry. It reminded me of something that’s been nagging me since my college days, so many years ago.


    Relinquishing Dominion.

    Will we ever grow past this?

    I doubt I’ll live long enough to overcome all of my own faults, let alone everyone else’s.

    It takes guts to stand up and speak out; to lead. If someone criticizes you, or anything or anyone you are passionate about, it’s tough not to get defensive.

    But what if they’re right? If someone’s complaining about something you do or say. The best we can do is truly listen. Maybe they’re seeing something we can’t. And we’ll be better for having listened. Even if they’re trying to get our feathers ruffled.

    Sometimes, all we have and know is the direction we’re heading toward. Our goals. Our commitments. Our shared vision. Or our personal vision.

    The group efforts of Linux and its many distributions reflect humanity so well – that we all “may” share the same goal (or not), there are many methods to reach that goal. The splintering effect, the “tribalism” as you call it, is expected in today’s societies.

    Is that why other operating systems succeed in “market share”, or “commercial success”? Is it because they are efforts of people working together under a dictatorship? Do we need to be slaves to one person’s vision in order to produce something useful?

    The ideals of the open-source software ideology proves that to be false, time and time again. And one day, everyone will come to accept that all the best ideas come from everyone, working together.

    So instead of pointing fingers at each other – can’t we work together even better?

    I say yes – and I’m sure others agree.

    After all – isn’t that why it’s called “Ubuntu”?

  124. Duncan Murray Says:

    Excellent post Mr. Shuttleworth – I completely agree with you about tribalism (I call in generalisation). It is easier to treat a group as one, than analysing individual people/parts of groups, but it is to our detriment (as you say, it prevents us hiring the best staff for one thing).

    I am an avid user of Ubuntu – and fully supportive of all that Ubuntu does – thanks so much! I think it is a terrific operating system.

  125. Ubuntu Lover Says:

    “It’s just like someone saying “All black people are [name your prejudice]” and “So, for example, when a woman makes it to the top of her game, “it’s because she slept her way there”.”

    Mark, I am a confirmed Ubuntu lover but I really don’t like to read these things in a software discussion. It is just utterly offensive. It is not much removed from writing – “It’s just like saying Mark Shuttleworth is a dirty thief who smells and has gross stains on his underwear” and “So, for example, when Mark Shuttleworth makes it to the top of his game, “it’s because he took it up the ass”. This is just offensive rubbish that has no place in a blog about software from the founder of a software company. It is just offensive. Come on, man.

  126. Vinothan Shankar Says:

    A few things.
    To those suggesting that this is not the right response to what’s been said, well, maybe that’s true. I’m not saying I agree with you, but I can understand the argument. That doesn’t make the idea in the post invalid.

    This one’s to those attempting to discount the message Mark’s presenting by saying that he’s {no|not much} better – even if that’s true, which it probably is, it misses two, no, three, important points. The first is that whether Mark himself is able to effortlessly do what he advises the rest of us to do is irrelevant. He’s human (or so I believe currently, I’m open to evidence to the contrary) and therefore flawed. The second is similar – it’s that if people had never tried to get people to change in ways they themselves had trouble with, humanity would probably not be in the position it’s in today. I don’t actually have proof for this one to hand, unfortunately, but it’s clear as day from where I stand. The third part is that Mark has admitted to these failings himself, several times.

    Γ (Gamma): Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but the argument that work on GNOME is different from work in GNOME appears to suggest that it’s only a contribution to GNOME if it’s in the Platform section. Without even bringing Ubuntu into it, this seems a little unfair to those developing things in the External Dependencies and Desktop sections, ne?

    4: The difference when companies become involved is that it’s entirely possible for members of a group to be different from the entity which is the group overall. Since it’s been used already, let’s take Microsoft as an example. I highly doubt that anyone that works for MS is entirely evil. I suspect most of them aren’t more than a little bit evil; no more so than you or I (this stemming from my view that there are good and evil sides to everyone). The thing is, though, that many (but again, not all) of the actions of the corporate entity Microsoft could be argued to be evil. That doesn’t give us the right to bash people who work for Microsoft, or use their products, but it /is/ a justification of sorts for disliking the company and choosing to avoid their products where practical.

    e: Whether “tribalism” (and I’m not sure it’s quite the right word here, actually, but it will do) is genetic or memetic (and it’s widespread enough that it’s clearly one or the other) it’s still worth trying to cultivate another way of thinking. It’s entirely possible to overcome instinct by will – not always easy, but always (I believe) possible.

  127. Peter Webb Says:

    Jef Spaleta’s post at 8:30 am

    Greg D.’s angry post based on fallacious data is reasonable while Mark’s measured response is whipping up resentment?

    As I see it, Ubuntu and Canonical don’t have to prove anything. The burden of proof is on the accuser. You have to come up with appropriate metrics to make your case not Canonical.

  128. Simon Brouillard Says:

    I agree with you, Mark, Tribalism and behavior like this are a very
    sad thing for all people on both parts… it’s look like hooligannism in
    the soccer’s world…

    In the software industry, it’s a problem… when we need cooperation, we get
    just bad competitive harassment and…

    In The Free world of software and the Open source world we need to get an
    Opened View, about what’s the best…

    I’m working with Windows… and Ubuntu… and i am ok with both… i learn
    from the two parts of the OS medal…

    Tribalism is a kind of an immature behavior… It was sad… but it is in
    the real world… we have to deal with this kind of old… old… destructive

  129. Anon Says:

    I totally agree with Anonymous and with Jef’s last comment. All this talk of tribalism is a diversion from the real issue.

    I was at GUADEC this year and I spoke to a lot of people about Dave’s report and about Canonical’s contribution levels. No one I spoke to was entirely critical of Canonical, and nobody criticised its values. I certainly haven’t witnessed ‘fever pitch’ tribalism. Indeed, lots of people pointed out the ways that Canonical does contribute to GNOME.

    Instead of tribalism, the only thing I have seen is a genuine desire to see more code contributions from Canonical land in GNOME. There are real problems in the way that Canonical deploys its development resources. We’re all suffering because of Ubuntu’s divergence from GNOME, and GNOME would be much better if Canonical had chosen to put its development resources upstream rather than working on in-house solutions.

  130. Jonathan Carter Says:

    Hi Mark, nice blog entry. With all respect, I think that you’re a bit ‘tribal’ when it comes to your opinions on Red Hat’s business model:

    “But with today’s enterprise linuxes, the *only* way to get the same build of the code as your neighbour is to pay the distributor. Now, for all that Red Hat or Novell are major contributors to the ecosystem…”

    In the case of Red Hat, all the source for their enterprise system is available. 100% of it. With Canonical’s business model, you don’t even get access to all the code for the commercial services. This includes things like the Ubuntu One Server, Landscape and I guess also some elements of Ubuntu Advantage.

    I’m not convinced that Canonical’s approach is clearly better than the Red Hat one. I do agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest not to have a seperate enterprise and community release (Ubuntu is clear evidence of this), but my question to you is, in terms of doing business, what makes Ubuntu’s dependency on a bunch of non-free server side software for its commercial support options any different (or better) than having a seperate enterprise release?

    From my perspective, as someone who supports Ubuntu for a living, it doesn’t really seem all that different.

  131. mark Says:


    We also have a genuine desire to see more code contributions from Canonical land in GNOME. We started out with a strict focus on integration, and that generated a lot of activity in bug handling, patch generation and coordination between the distro and upstream projects, most of which won’t show up in the analysis that’s been done to date. As Canonical has grown, we’ve started developing new components: for example, notify-osd, where the upstream project was static. We consider everything we do as part of the GNOME ecosystem: millions of people use a “GNOME desktop from Ubuntu” with those components. We don’t want to fork GNOME, and as new players it’s natural that we would be introducing new ideas, and sometimes new modules.

    We’ve proposed many of those elements to GNOME, and have found the process very difficult. For example, see Ted Gould’s frustrations at the treatment that libindicate received when he proposed it as an External Dependency in GNOME. There are lots of external dependencies, it’s a standard way for a new module to begin its journey into GNOME. However, his proposal was rejected because the design it implemented *might* be different to the future Gnome Shell status menu. Now, the design of Gnome Shell is still highly in flux (see the radical change in the last two weeks, which makes it look much more like Unity than the previous design). And Gnome has always has a tolerant, open minded approach, we have had UNR well received as an alternative interface for GNOME for several years… so there’s really no reason to have rejected actual working code in favour of a *potential* conflict with *one* GNOME interface. And yet it was rejected.

    If the analysis is going to be limited to code contributions to modules started in GNOME before Canonical was founded, or maintained by *other* companies only, then I’m sure you can see it will be (a) frustrating and (b) a poor reflection of everything we are doing.


  132. Name (required) Says:

    > Comments are filtered through Akismet for spam detection. I delete nasty comments –
    > your opinions are welcome but please keep them polite and constructive.

    Constructive on a clown’s blog? Oh c’mon…

  133. Jef Spaleta Says:


    Please provide me with publicly archived references of discussion concerning Canonical attempts at GNOME contributions which have been rejected.. prior to the most recent libappindicator discussion. It’s not enough to just talk generally about a group of specified contributions. You have to start talking specifics are you have no hope of seeing deficiencies in the process addressed. Generalities kill reasoned discussion.

    I am aware of at least one inclusion of merit that worked correctly and that is the csd effort. where the Canonical dev, communicated with the gtk+ dev team very early in the process..spun up a branch with the changes in the gnome infrastructure and then responded to technical issues as they came up.

    Clearly some people inside the Canonical fenceline know how to work inside the GNOME development process. Figure out why they are successful an replicate that in the other efforts.


  134. Tony Says:

    Looks like you’ve missed the whole point again Mark.
    The issue at hand is not as you would like to believe, about who is doing what and where they are from in comparison to anyone else.
    It is about who is not doing enough and why they are not doing enough despite their own claims that they are.

    We’re talking about the lack of contribution by Ubuntu developers to the gnome project specifically here, and the redhat people have also pointed out that this Ubuntu trend is nothing new amongst 99% other upstream projects that Ubuntu distribute.

    To say that you are proud, when you should really be embarrassed because someone has revealed a stark truth, really speaks volumes about the level of confusion at your end.

    Get your Ubuntu developers contributing in a more productive way upstream and you won’t have to make silly side stepping the issue posts such as the one here.
    No one is ganging up. One person has simply pointed to the cold hard facts which lead to the only conclusion that Ubuntu contributions upstream are too thin on the ground for a distributor which “Apparently” Has the largest Linux user base amongst available Linux distributions.

    If being asked to contribute in an equal proportion to your claimed usage is unacceptable, at least admit it and make it very clear to those who already do, so that they know exactly where they stand with your commitment so that your position is made crystal clear to everyone.

    I see no instances of tribalism in this issue. Just your own failure to admit that in this one instance you are not doing enough. No one has said that Ubuntu contributions are wrong, maybe they implied lazy but not wrong.
    Pretty much everyone in FOSS is telling you that Ubuntu does not contribute enough upstream. Not just one specific group.
    Ignoring reason is not humanist and by ignoring the facts staring point blank right at you, you are doing just that. You can put this right. The problem won’t go away by just ignoring it or confusing it with something that it isn’t.

    Do something. That’s the whole point. You’re not.

  135. Shuttleworth apologises for last year’s comments at LinuxCon | Geek Feminism Blog Says:

    […] the other day, in the comment thread on a post about “tribalism” on his own blog, he offered an apology after prompting by Máirín Duffy and Carla Schroder: I apologize unreservedly to all offended by […]

  136. Simon Says:

    The pitchfork-waving is definitely stupid, but the “tribalism” isn’t always; or at least, not if you’re talking about making decisions (excluding those of the pitchfork-waving kind) based on “tribe”. To claim otherwise is to suggest that group affiliation (including, to use your examples, gender and ethnicity) just “don’t matter”, which is patently false.

    Yes, “good” or at least creative and innovative individuals can be on e.g. Microsoft’s payroll (Daniel Robbins for example, the founder of Gentoo Linux, was for a while): but this doesn’t alter the fact that Microsoft does what it does in order to make as much money as it can, and so the company as a whole will take any opportunity it possibly can to undermine or destroy free software projects, except when it can see a way to make more money by not doing so. This is a perfectly good reason to be suspicious of any deals made by Microsoft with companies involved in free software, and in fact it would be foolish to assume that Microsoft were acting out of benevolence. On the other hand, if an organization like Debian brings a proposal to the table, there’s less reason to scrutinize every possible implication looking for the catch. In neither case is it a black-and-white thing (Microsoft could be doing something genuinely benevolent as a PR exercise or whatever, and Debian could be trying to up its prestige for the sake of its developers’ egos despite not actually offering the best solution, etc.), but the “tribe” certainly does matter.

    They BOTH matter; the “super-smart and qualified”, AND the “female” in your example. There’s nothing wrong with tribal affiliations as such (which is a good thing because we all have lots of them); and even being suspicious of “another tribe” isn’t always stupid (especially if the “tribe” in question has a history of aggression towards other tribes: would you not be suspicious of a member of the KKK applying to be your race relations consultant?). The difference between smart and stupid has more to do with irrational condemnation and prejudice (your “Microsoft is totally evil”) than sensible recognition of a group’s characteristics (e.g. “Microsoft is in direct competition with free software and so its activities are likely to be aimed at hindering rather than helping the FOSS community”).

  137. Anon Says:


    Canonical contributes much to GNOME. No one has suggested otherwise. I’m personally extremely appreciative of those contributions. But they don’t contribute much code, and code is important to GNOME’s vitality and quality. Pretty much everyone in GNOME was aware of this before the stats were done. Dave’s analysis isn’t perfect, but the issue is real.

    You seem to be suggesting that GNOME should include multiple desktop shells. It has never done this. The project has always worked towards a single desktop. Alternatives such as UNR and Meego do exist, but they are not a part of GNOME itself, and GNOME does not consider those interfaces when deciding whether to accept new modules/dependencies. We’re in a transition period right now, but GNOME remains focused on a single interface: the Shell.

    There were no maybes or ifs in the decision not to include libappindicator. The GNOME Shell designs have been very stable regarding how the System Status area should look and operate, and libappindicator does not support those. The release team statement on the topic was pretty clear:

    ‘+ libappindicator (external dependency)
    – it doesn’t integrate with gnome-shell
    – probably depends on GtkApplication, and would need integration in
    GTK+ itself.
    – we wished there was some constructive discussion around it, pushed
    by the libappindicator developers; but it didn’t happen.
    – there’s nothing in GNOME needing it.
    => rejected for the reasons stated above’

    Your reply points to the problem in the way that Canonical often (there are notable exceptions) works with upstream. The development of libappindicator wasn’t discussed with the GNOME community (this was an obvious issue in the discussion of libappindicator: and it doesn’t integrate with GNOME’s future desktop shell. Is it any surprise that it wasn’t accepted? Let’s not be negative about this though. Everybody in GNOME would love to see more Canonical developers participating in the project. Consider this an invitation, not an accusation.

  138. Las aguas se calman en la polémica por el GNOME Census | MuyLinux Says:

    […] razonamiento y el post anterior de DeKoenigsberg fueron también utilizados por Mark Shuttleworth en un post inevitable que escribió para dar su opinión sobre el escándalo y que tenía un título muy descriptivo: […]

  139. Tribalismo y software libre - El Rincón del Tio Nuke Says:

    […] raíz de este artículo en el blog de Mark Shuttleworth, me gustaría hacer un resumen y reflexión en […]

  140. Mark Shuttleworth,el hombre tras Ubuntu, acerca de las tribus en el Software Libre Says:

    […] Libre Enviado por quarzoliquido el 02/08/2010 a las 10:29 AM Via | Nukeador: A raíz de este artículo en el blog de Mark Shuttleworth, me gustaría hacer un resumen y reflexión en […]

  141. Rob Shook Says:

    A respected scholar and author (Stephen L. Carter) – with whom I agree, and disagree on several points – wrote:

    “Democracy, at its best, rests on a foundation of mutual respect among co-equal citizens willing to take the time for serious debate. After all, even on the momentous issues that divide us, there is usually the possibility that the other side has a good argument. Yet if we paint our opponents as monsters, we owe them no obligation to pay attention to what they have to say.”

    I think one could replace “Democrary” with “The open-sourse community” and make the same point.

  142. Gerry Says:

    What inspired you to write this blog entry?

  143. bymar Says:

    Ubuntu is once again the best example that everybody in the world can be given access to superior products, coming from community cooperative work under a successful business model based in free software and open source.

  144. SilverWave Says:

    Hi Mark, nice to see a suitable response to the rant.

    I used to get annoyed at such posts, but came to the conclusion that as he had such an *obvious* axe to grind, that no one would take him seriously.

    On more pleasant matters, I came to Ubuntu *Because* of the Comments Policy.

    OK to be fair… I did initially think you were a bunch of tree huggers, but found out that you actual meant it :-)

    Ubuntuforums is a tranquil, polite and informative island of calm in the tumult.


  145. formar Says:

    Ubuntu is a superior product made under a community cooperative work and given free to everybody in the world. It’s a perfect example that business models based in free software and open source are convenient solutions for the consumer, the technological development and the economy.

  146. blorgh Says:

    People are totally aware that Canonical diligently works with the global community when additions like the Touchpad configuration addition to GNOME was ported to upstream… by Fedora.
    Or when the whole Ayatana notification framework reinvents the wheel.
    Or when the Poulsbou graphics drivers were brewed secretly for Ubuntu only.

    Of course, labeling people as haters is totally helping when taking the high road about “tribalism”. Never mind sexism, that talk of yours was just a fluke anyway.

  147. Las aguas se calman en la polémica por el GNOME Census [Actualizada] | Hellointernet Says:

    […] razonamiento y el post anterior de DeKoenigsberg fueron también utilizados por Mark Shuttleworth en un post inevitable que escribió para dar su opinión sobre el escándalo y que tenía un título muy descriptivo: […]

  148. Two apologies, and perhaps a new future | echo linux Says:

    […] who had contributed surprisingly little to GNOME, and Mark Shuttleworth (head of Canonical) replied in kind (if it a bit more […]

  149. Paul Smyth Says:

    Code contributions are the lifeblood of a software project but here’s the thing. Speaking as a Sys Admin of some 15+ years experience, programmers and engineers can spend weeks testing every scenario they can conceive of but I guarantee that within 10 minutes of a real user testing the product they will find something that wasn’t tested and break it. Don’t weight one contribution against another, they are all equal.

    Here’s an analogy. If I’m looking for a restaurant and I find two side by side. One has a beautiful, clean frontage & signage, smartly uniformed staff and a delicious menu in the window while the other has a dirty hand painted sign, some rough looking bloke in scruffy jeans and a scruffy old menu I know where I’m going to eat. Packaging and marketing are 90% of the battle otherwise the split between Windows & Linux would be reverse.

    I will continue to recommend Ubuntu to people who want to use an os that “just works” and don’t want to have to RTFM or face a hostile community of people who will tell them to RTFM rather than offer assistance and I really don’t care who does or doesn’t like that. Keep up the good work Mark, Jono & co.

  150. Odd Lots – Jeff Duntemann’s Contrapositive Diary Says:

    […] read this short article by Mark Shuttleworth. I’ve been saying this for years, but he’s a lot more famous than I am: Tribalism makes […]

  151. Tribalism. Makes you stupid? – flyingpenguin Says:

    […] attribution and how to best fit within the different distributions, however, last week Shuttleworth came out swinging. Tribalism is when one group of people start to think people from another group are “wrong by […]

  152. Sergeant Says:

    Redhat on several occasions made their position clear – overtaking Microsoft on the desktop is neither feasible in foreseeable future nor is it important enough for the FOSS world. They certainly doesn’t hide that they are satisfied with the server market. Nevertheless, Redhat is trying to be as fair as possible to FOSS by contributing as much as it can to the kernel, xorg and GNOME. We should by all means praise them for that.

    Ubuntu is different. From the very beginning its stated goal was to make Linux a complete replacement of Windows for an average user. And Ubuntu has been very successful at that. I have personally seen people using Ubuntu on a daily basis without dual booting or virtualizing Windows, non-geeks. This is an other but also very important way of contributing to FOSS. To achieve this goal Ubuntu perhaps needs to concentrate more on solving Ubuntu specific tasks rather than fixing upstream. I find it perfectly acceptable and would like to thank Ubuntu for that.

    Novel is yet another case. I haven’t followed them closely so can’t say much, but the numbers speak for themselves. So, many thanks to Novel, as well.

    I don’t want to play a peacemaker, but seriously folks, let’s be more attentive to all the ways we contribute and improve on that instead of pointing fingers at each other.

    Thank you.

  153. রিং(ring) Says:

    It’s the second article that I have read from your blog. Nice Article. I am a volunteer member of Ubuntu Bangladesh Community and now consulting and guiding private enterpreneurs in Bangladesh to run their whole IT systems with Ubuntu as if no tension of virus and unwanted security leakages.

    From this article I get help to made up my mind more broad and tribalism free.

    Thanks to you.

  154. Ubuntuの創立者、Ubuntuコミュニティに潜む部族主義について語る | 目指せ!!サーバマスター Says:

    […] CanonicalのMark Shuttleworth氏が自身のブログにて、フリーソフトウェアコミュニティ内に燻ぶる不和について触れている(本家/.記事)。 […]

  155. ed Says:

    What was the percentage of gnome users before Ubuntu, what is that percentage now?
    Since Ubuntu is by far the most used Linux desktop distro it’s not hard to see the connection. That contribution is by far more important than how many code is contributed.

  156. دعوای آزاد « مهی بلاگ Says:

    […] […]

  157. Paul Smyth Says:

    Well said Sergeant, very well said indeed.

  158. Gert Strine Says:

    @ Paul Smyth +1
    @ Mark Shuttleworth
    Who cares if users have to chase ui buttons around the desktop, I’m just so grateful for your putting your money where your mouth is; as are the around 100 people who we’ve got up and running on older hardware…maybe not quite as snappily as on the Puppy, but surely with a deal more security under Canonical’s package management paradigm. As a result, 6 of these Ubuntu linux desktop novices have begun contributing to the Puppy and one is already chewing Gnome code.
    There’s just so much that’s intertwined in reciprocity and we all lose out if people don’t accept every kind of gift as generously as they give what they themselves are best at.

  159. nadeem Says:

    really a good points from the heart, the most important thing is ubuntu always getting better and we can see how its different and unique

  160. Joshua Gay Says:


    I appreciate this article. It reminds me of RMS’s essay “Why open source misses the point of free software,” in which he writes:

    “Radical groups in the 1960s had a reputation for factionalism: some organizations split because of disagreements on details of strategy, and the two daughter groups treated each other as enemies despite having similar basic goals and values. The right wing made much of this and used it to criticize the entire left.

    “Some try to disparage the free software movement by comparing our disagreement with open source to the disagreements of those radical groups. They have it backwards. We disagree with the open source camp on the basic goals and values, but their views and ours lead in many cases to the same practical behavior—such as developing free software.

    “As a result, people from the free software movement and the open source camp often work together on practical projects such as software development. It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often motivate different people to participate in the same projects. Nonetheless, there are situations where these fundamentally different views lead to very different actions.”

    I do hope that by discouraging tribalism this will not discourage others inside and outside community from raising important issues within or between organizations and projects while also feeling like you are a part of them. In fact, I don’t think that is your intent at all in this article — I think you’ve done a good job of being clear about exactly what kind of “offensive nonsense” you are hoping to discourage.

    Apropos to this idea of promoting discussions and dialogues in a healthy way, I liked the way you responded to @Bruce Perens comments. In particular, it reminds me of when, later in this same article by RMS, he encourages more discussions about freedom instead of less. He writes,

    “A certain amount of the “keep quiet” approach to business can be useful for the community, but it is dangerous if it becomes so common that the love of freedom comes to seem like an eccentricity.

    “That dangerous situation is exactly what we have. Most people involved with free software, especially its distributors, say little about freedom—usually because they seek to be “more acceptable to business.” Nearly all GNU/Linux operating system distributions add proprietary packages to the basic free system, and they invite users to consider this an advantage rather than a flaw.

    “Proprietary add-on software and partially nonfree GNU/Linux distributions find fertile ground because most of our community does not insist on freedom with its software. This is no coincidence. Most GNU/Linux users were introduced to the system through “open source” discussion, which doesn’t say that freedom is a goal. The practices that don’t uphold freedom and the words that don’t talk about freedom go hand in hand, each promoting the other. To overcome this tendency, we need more, not less, talk about freedom.”

  161. salemboot Says:

    Canonical’s Contributions:
    1. Gathering
    2. Organization
    3. Direction
    Thank you.

    A mind trying to go left and right at the same time goes nowhere.

  162. dew Says:

    Mark, a very fine article :) Kuddos!

    This Ubuntu and developer thing has been popping up for a very long time. The question that always came to my mind is, “Is Linux only for developers?” If the answer is yes, then sure, Canonical should do nothing else but dvelve deeper in the kernel community and other developer communities”….. But if Linux as a distribution has to be used in every household, then it has to be polished and made usable. Most of the customers of a O.S (and not the kernel) are the ones who dont know what a kernel is. A good car sure is good because the engine is fantastic.. but it cannot be usable if you ask the driver to put the engine on a chair and make it run somehow. A good car is a complete, ready to use, beautifully designed, fantastically packed and an intuitive piece! Would an IPhone have been an IPhone only because their kernel is fantastic? In that case, should not the N900 running Linux, have been the top selling phone. N900 is good, but not good enough to beat the rest. Though it does boast of a powerful kernel and other powerful software. Ubuntu does not boast of ONE particular software. Ubuntu boasts as a DISTO. It boasts of its USABILITY. And it constantly tries to be better. Can anyone sane-fully argue that it cannot see what Ubuntu is becoming? All this word battle is leading no where..time will prove what it has to.. so please just keep an eye on Ubuntu.. try the current Ubuntu and you will want to try the next one..and you will want to be proud of not Ubuntu but Linux. If you indeed are a true Linux lover, you will have your neck high and you will be proud in arguing that you should use Linux and not Windows. You wont argue that Linux is good only because it is for the intelligent and because you have the power to do everything with it.. you will argue, Linux (aka Ubuntu) is more usable than any other O.S that there is around. Can you do this and this in Windows x/y/z or whatever other OS :) ? Do you get this speed with your favorite non Linux O.S? When your arguments will be so powerful that it wont be words but shall be described by an action “Boot your Linux OS and let any naive user use it and let that someone do their work without bothering about the O.S”..Thats the point any Linux based distro should strive to get to…such a distro is a true evangelist of Linux. And Ubuntu is on its path – a true Linux evangelist distro that will change the mindset of users all over the world. Every Ubuntu distro, whether someone accepts or not, is getting better. (though I feel that even people who do not accept that Ubuntu is getting better, can actually see it, but its difficult to accept something as good once you have “decided” that its not supposed to be good.. why? “because others feel so.. or yeah.. because they are not gnome developers..excuse me what is gnome? or because they are not kernel developers..excuse me..”kernel? i want an O.S.. what is a kernel? “..) Can anyone reason that Ubuntu is not usable? Its painful that Linux lovers themselves want to malign a beautiful Linux distro rather than working as a community and be proud of the collaboration.

    Of all this open source battle, what I have never understood is people trying to “philanthropise” Open Source work. The open source contributions by companies are not because they are philanthropic.. its because they benefit from it. Redhat, for instance is doing a magnificent job of contributing to the kernel space, related to servers, security, storage. How much ARM work do they do? Why don’t they? Will it not benefit the ARM community? Can the ARM community Pooh them and say that they are selfish and rankle? Its silly to expect them to do so. Redhat does not work in the ARM space. But can we say they are not doing a magnificent job? Well we cant.. they are doing a fantastic job indeed. Many kernel contributors are making the kernel space as strong as it is right now. But every contributor has his/her motive. The motive of Canonical is to make it USABLE..and Canonical is doing a marvelous job at that :) Engineers are supposed to show reason! Reason out why Ubuntu is not good. How Canonical does it, is Canonical’s problem. Be proud of Ubuntu for what it is. One would expect a logical person, to not display emotions and be biased and irrationally belittle something good!

    Thanks a lot Mark, for giving us such a wonderful distro and putting your money in it..! It needs a lot of courage to do something different :) Sincerely hope that Ubuntu is seen in every household!

  163. mark Says:


    Well said: “There’s just so much that’s intertwined in reciprocity and we all lose out if people don’t accept every kind of gift as generously as they give what they themselves are best at.”

  164. Apolitically Incorrect » Open Source Culture Clash Says:

    […] really big problem, actually; and the whole situation is significantly more complicated than Mark Shuttleworth’s response would have you […]

  165. pbis Blog » Blog Archive » An alle Fanbois dieser Welt Says:

    […] diesen Blogeintrag von Mark Shuttleworth zum Thema “Tribalism”. Und dann haltet mal eine Woche die Klappe und dann lest den Artikel noch einmal und vielleicht […]

  166. R-A-M-B-L-I-N-(apostrophe) « Larry the Free Software Guy Says:

    […] everything that comes before, including Mark Shuttleworth’s ad hominem responses to both Greg and me, and we can get on with life in the happy, healthy FOSS […]

  167. Jonas Says:

    “Tribalism and sexism”, from the mouth who repeatedly speaks about women as foreign from our tribe.

  168. Johannes Says:

    Hi Mark!

    “And finally, the “ratio” of contributions is very narrowly defined: the survey tracks “commits to projects on GNOME hosted infrastructure”, which neatly excludes all the projects we underwrite that happen not to be there, but have been very helpful in making a GNOME desktop the world’s most popular Linux desktop. We’ve tried submitting our work through the GNOME processes, but been blocked by people who say that “they may want to follow a different design”. In the past, code talked, now apparently it doesn’t. Anyhow, my view is that it’s hard to take numbers to heart when the numbers systematically exclude all the things you work hard at.”

    While I completely agree that this survey isn’t very meaningfull and I really appreciate a lot of work that Canonical has done on various FOSS software you are still oversimplifying some things:

    1. What things do you mean exactly when talking about projects that are not hosted on GNOME infrastructure “but have been very helpful in making a GNOME desktop the world’s most popular Linux desktop”? Essentially all parts of the GNOME desktop are hosted on GNOME infrastructure. I don’t see anything that is shipped in default GNOME that Canonical contributed which is not hosted on By “default” I mean a GNOME release and not what Ubuntu or other distributions ship on top of it.

    2. As you followed the discussion you should be aware of that only for a very small part of the contributions weren’t accepted because of design. The far larger part was not accepted because of technical limitation (libindicator*) or because they weren’t yet in a state to be a useful addition to GNOME at that time (zeitgeist).

    In general the GNOME community would often like to be involved in a development before it is brought in as a complete product because that would enable everybody to fix points were things might not fit for different reasons. Sometimes Canonical development feels a bit like behind closed doors even though the repositories might be public.

    Last but not least it would also be easier when Canonical would step up to maintain upstream components instead of shipping their own branding as you do now for the sound theme. 99% of a sound theme are not required for branding while you are of course free to have some special Ubuntu sounds (like the login sound).

    Still, I think things are not as bad as it is shown everywhere currently and Canonical has also supported GNOME in various way by helping on hackfests and bringing in new ideas! Thanks!


    P.S. There is also this copyright-assignment thing which is not specific to Canonical but would make life easier when avoided.

  169. Frank Forrester Says:

    as posted on a recent irc chat;

    01:45:37 AM) CiphersSon: and paula dotcom I been listening for a good time now I just stay off the radar the best I can
    (01:46:04 AM) CiphersSon: yea me to there real I think …buch of people who like tech ect ect
    (01:46:20 AM) CiphersSon: im a irc lingerER lol
    (01:47:08 AM) CiphersSon: I use to hang out with the linux outlaws but they just got so biased I said fuck it
    (01:48:16 AM) Infolookup2: ok
    (01:48:33 AM) Infolookup2: I support linux basix cause its good guys good info
    (01:48:34 AM) CiphersSon: it unrealastic to be biased that much and too I think it polarizes a community that never wanted to garner such stereotypes … but there cool folks don’t get me wrong
    (01:48:38 AM) CiphersSon: yea
    (01:48:42 AM) CiphersSon: I here you
    (01:49:03 AM) CiphersSon: I like the … air … of
    (01:49:20 AM) CiphersSon: your wellcome here… join us ..spirt
    (01:49:23 AM) CiphersSon: dig?
    (01:51:24 AM) Infolookup2: yep
    (01:52:27 AM) CiphersSon: I just think the true spirt of linux is shearing and learning form the noob to the leet but when a group starts to become a tribalism isolationist its counter productive
    (01:52:29 AM) CiphersSon:
    (01:53:18 AM) CiphersSon: as you can tell im a proponent of full disclosure lol

  170. Manchegox | Blog | El bueno, el feo y el malo Says:

    […] que se convirtió en un MOTU ). Y aunque podría ser difícil de seguir, a veces, Mark Shuttleworth recuerda y anima a sus colaboradores que se adhieren a estos principios, incluso en tiempos […]

  171. Jiri Lebl Says:

    Well tribalism is also: “whatever we do is right.” That’s the positive, not offensive, side of tribalism. And it generally only harms the “tribalist” himself. I remember at Eazel how convinced we were that whatever we were doing was automatically the correct way to do it purely because we were doing it. Ahhh … where’s Eazel? You see many companies die on just that notion.

    The thing to do is not to dismiss criticism outright because of it being offensive. But look for the underlying reasons for the criticism. There’s a bit of truth in everything. It simply is true that Canonical does not employ as many core GNOME developers as Red Hat. That’s a fact. What’s left to decide is if it is in Canonical’s / Ubuntu’s interest to do so? But also: Would Canonical be an even better citizen of the community if they did employ more core developers on projects that are central to Ubuntu?

    I have no strong opinion either way, but my only concern here, Mark, is that your response simply ignores criticism as offensive or negative. I think the correct response should be “we’ll think about if there is anything to learn from this …” rather than: “those nasty comments are just nasty and everything we do is all puppies, ponies and rainbows …”

  172. uruwaton Says:

    ‘racism and sexism’ none of these .. its technical where did ubuntu got their pieces of code?

  173. Total Linux | Blog | Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu and Tribalism Says:

    […] Tribalism is when one group of people start to think people from another group are “wrong by […]

  174. alvadoraemon Says:

    Sorry Mark, but tribalism is too strong in the Ubuntu side.

    I’m a long time user of Linux, from the late 90’s. I installed many distros, starting with Mandrake/Mandriva and Debian. Today my computer has K-ubuntu installed – I like the new KDE -, while I use Debian and OpenSuSe in my daily job – and MS Windows too -.

    Today I can say that Ubuntu has the highest level of fanboyism and tribalism of the Linux world, even higher than the GNOME/KDE folks; Ubuntu fans usually thinks that Ubuntu equals Linux, and it’s very easy to find generic Linux tutorials and howtos behind the brand “Ubuntu tutorial” and “Ubuntu howto” – 10 points to your marketing efforts, Mark -. But Linux universe is not Ubuntu, Linux is greater than Ubuntu and includes it.

    In the blog of Sense Hofstede – – I found an interesting discussion; I wrote my opinion about the “alienation” of the mainstream projects in your main page – an informed guy “corrected” me about Debian presence in Ubuntu’s main page -. There is no Linux or GNOME mentions at Ubuntu’s “Main Entrance”, and it’s too egocentric Mark; Ubuntu fanboys follow this egocentrism like an act of faith.

    Sense wrote that Ubuntu devs should contribute more to the mainstream project – I agree -; their efforts were centered 99’9%in the Ubuntu universe 99’9%, while their GNOME patches and commits are too “ubuntu-centric” many times. some GNOME people suffer the NIH syndrome and have a high level of banboyism too, but there are – many – other reasonable people in the GNOME community.

    But as a simple “user” of the codebase you can’t impose your design criteria in the mainstream; so Ubuntu devs must involve deeper in the mainstream development before trying to impose things, like the usability improvements.

    For Example, there is an annoying bug in Nautilus/gvfs with WebDAV remote resources; you can list the resources, you can navigate through the folders structure, but you can’t copy an entire folder in one step -???-. In my former job we needed to access WebDAV folders from an Alfresco server, and our users needed to publish and recover entire folders of documents, so we changed workstations to KDE. GNOME boys response was that this behaviour is not defined in the specifications of WebDAV, but it’s a matter of common sense in a file manager :-).

    This bug is alive in Ubuntu bug list, but there is no solution for it – I tried the new 10.04 LTS and the bug was there again -; it’s a perfect candidate to a mainstream patch, but there is none out there. Ubuntu devs could be more involved in the GNOME community by solving bugs like this one, but they spent too much efforts in the “cosmetic” side – icons left or right, indicators here or there,… -.

    Ubuntu devs have many ways to participate in mainstream. There is a way.

    P.D. : sorry for my english :-P.

  175. Lysistrata Says:

    The approach from Mark regarding e.g. vs tribalism, release time lines, reminds me very much of bio-cybernetic*) thinking, which isn’t new, but still seems to be visionary when following the debates.
    My understanding is, Mark views the big picture, recognizes patterns and attempts to organize it in a framework which is able to boost the viability of FOSS via true network engagement.

    Complexity of any kind needs to be addressed by e.g. cooperation, collaboration, context, relation, not by e.g. thinking in categories, stereotyping, inside-the-box thinking.

    Of course we’re all parts of nature itself which doesn’t exclude failures, but at the same time includes the advantage of learning and developing. I’d say we don’t have any other option than developing our minds.

    *)Over ten years ago my tutor was Frederic Vester, unfortunately his book ‘The Art of Network Thinking’ wasn’t released in English, but here is a short review.

  176. Michael Shigorin Says:

    “If we want to avoid human nature’s worst consequences, we have to work actively against them.” — well nice words but so far you seem to continnue Gates’ and Ballmer’s “best effort” on making technology *seem* simpler, *become* more convoluted, and to dumb down those who are invited (or pushed) to use it.

    The lack of [willingness for] user education is one of things that always made me feel bad about Ubuntu tribe, starting right with its SABDFL.

    PS: yes, we’ve chatted for a few months back in 2005 and my conclusions still hold true for me — “nice words” but then something quite different being done.

  177. Sven Helmberger Says:

    Calling Microsoft evil is no more tribalism then it is tribalism if the police questions all known burglars on a new burglar series.

    It might be a bit short-sighted to single out Microsoft and not apply the same standard to Apple, Adobe and all other producers of proprietary software, but it’s far from being the xenophobic gut response you make it out to be.

  178. martin Says:

    Hey Mark, please don’t spread lies: Ubuntu ISN’T FREE SOFTWARE, it’s ‘gratis’ or as in your words “delivered freely”, but by no chance free software.
    It’s very sad to see such expressions from someone like you who knows very well the game you’re in… clearly your businessman-alien came out your chest here, lol

    Seriously: please stop confusing people, mess things up and cover the field with mud in favor of your business. Once again: UBUNTU ISN’T FREE SOFTWARE. Only those distros stated as that by the Free Software Foundation are free; you know that, and such you’re responsable of your words: please stop lying in favor your personal business.

    You can call Ubuntu OpenSource and that would be great, but stop offending a philosophical idea to save your business.

    You said it: “the Internet doesn’t forget”. Stop lieing before people (like me) stop believeing in you.

  179. Free vs. Proprietary Software | Thomas' Blog Says:

    […] recently signed the Ubuntu Code of Conduct on Launchpad and read an amazing post on the SABDFL’s blog which has made me rethink my stance on Microsoft. After all, they are a company. And companies need […]

  180. Dejan Lekic Says:

    Mr Shuttleworth, here is an idea for you – how about Canonical starts contributing upstream, and helps those projects who helped you (Canonical) to make millions?
    When Canonical starts doing so the “tribalism” as you call it will most likely *disappear*.

    Your article is, no offense, *pathetic*, as you (Canonical) are one huge “Ubuntu tribe”.

  181. El MEU perquè de tot plegat – Receptes Gnu/Linux per a no experts Says:

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  182. mark Says:


    With respect, we do contribute enormously, and those contributions are immediately evident to anybody who spends any time working with Ubuntu, or using it, or participating in the project. You are entitled to your own opinion, but I would urge you to spend some time digging into the work that gets done in putting Ubuntu together and then decide for yourself.