Note to the impatient: this is a long post and it only gets to free software ecosystem dynamics towards the end. The short version is that we need to empower software companies to participate in the GNU/Linux ecosystem, and not fear them. Rather than undermining their power, we need to balance it through competition.

Church schools in apartheid South Africa needed to find creative ways to teach pupils about the wrongs of that system. They couldn’t actively foment revolt, but they could teach alternative approaches to governance. That’s how, as a kid in South Africa, I spent a lot of time studying the foundations of the United States, a system of governance defined by underdogs who wanted to defend not just against the abuses of the current power, but abuses of power in general.

My favourite insight in that regard comes from James Madison in the Federalist Papers, where he describes the need to understand and harness human nature as a force: to pit ambition against ambition, as it is often described. The relevant text is worth a read if you don’t have time for the whole letter:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

When we debate our goals, principles and practices in the FLOSS community, we devote a great deal of energy to “how things should be”, and to the fact that “men are not angels”. I think the approach of James Madison is highly relevant to those discussions.

The conservation of power

Just as energy, momentum, charge and other physical properties of a system are conserved, so in a sense is power. If your goal is to reduce the power of one agency in government, the most effective strategy is to strengthen the position of another. We know that absolute monarchies are bad: they represent unbalanced power.

Within a system, power will tend to consolidate. We have antitrust agencies specifically to monitor the consolidation of economic power and to do something about it. We setup independent branches of government to ensure that some kinds of power simply cannot be consolidated.

Undermining power in one section of an ecosystem inevitably strengthens the others.

Since we humans tend to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and since power takes a little while to get properly abused, you can often see societies oscillate in the allocation of power. When things seem a little out of control, we give more power to the police and other securocrats. Then, when they become a little thuggish, we squeeze their power through regulation and oversight, and civil liberties gain in power, until the pendulum swings again.

The necessity of concentrated power

Any power can be abused. I had a very wise headmaster at that same school who used to say that the only power worth having was power that was worth abusing. This was not a call to the abuse of power, you understand, merely a reflection on the fact that power comes with the real responsibility of restraint.

So, if power can be abused, why do we tolerate it at all? Why not dissolve authority down to the individual? Because the absence of power leads to chaos, which ironically is an easy place to establish despotic authority. Power isn’t seized – it’s given. We give people power over us. And in a state of chaos, all it takes is a few people to gain some power and they have a big advantage over everyone else. That’s why early leaders in new ecosystems tend to become unbeatable very quickly.

Also, power clears the path for action. In a world with no power, little gets done at all. We are better off with large companies that have the power to organise themselves around a goal than trying to achieve the same goal with a collection of individuals; try making a Boeing from an equivalent group of artisans, and you’ll see what I mean. Artisans form guilds and companies to increase their reach and impact. Individual volunteers join professional institutions to get more effective: consider the impact of handing out food yourself, versus helping sustain a network of soup kitchens, even in the purely non-profit world. Having some clout on your side is nothing to sniff at, even if you have purely philanthropic goals.

Power and innovation

If you have all the power already, there’s no spur to innovate. So kingdoms stagnate, eventually.

But power makes space for good things, too. It’s the powerful (and rich) who fund the arts in most societies. Innovation needs breathing space; companies with economic power can incubate new ideas to the point where they become productive.

Too much competition can thus limit innovation: look how difficult it has been for the Windows-based PC manufacturers, who live in a brutally competitive world and have little margin, to innovate. They are trapped between a highly efficient parts supply ecosystem, which feeds them all the same stuff at the same price, and a consumer market that requires them all to provide PC’s which run the same stuff the same way. As a result, they have little power, little margin, little innovation.

The trick is not to fear power itself, but instead, to shape, balance and channel it. You don’t want to aim for the absence of power, you want the Goldilocks effect of having “just enough”. And that was James Madison’s genius.

Verticals, competition and the balance of power

Of course, competition between rivals is the balance of power in business. We resent monopolies because they are either abusing their power, or stagnating.

In economics, we talk about “verticals” as the set of supply dependencies needed for a particular good. So, to make an aircraft, you need various things like engines and alloys, and those suppliers all feed the same pool of aircraft manufacturers.

In order to have a healthy ecosystem, you need a balance of power both between suppliers at the same level of the stack, and vertically, between the providers of parts and providers of the finished product. That’s because innovation needs both competition AND margin to stimulate and nurture it.

In the PC case, the low margins in the PC sector helped reinforce the Windows monopoly. Not only was there no competition for Microsoft, there was no ability for a supplier further down the chain to innovate around them. The only player in that ecosystem that had the margin to innovate was Microsoft, and since they faced no competition, there was little stimulus to embrace their own R&D, no matter how much they spent on it.

Power in the FLOSS ecosystem: upstreams and distributions

So, where do we stand in the free software and open source ecosystem?

The lines between upstreams and distributions aren’t perfectly clear, of course. Simplistic versions of that picture are often used to prove points, but in fact, all the distributions are also in some sense upstreams, and even derivative distributions end up being leaders of those they derive from in some pieces or markets. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth looking at the balance of power between upstream projects and distributions, as it is today and as it could be.

Also, I think it’s worth looking at related parties, companies and institutions which work a lot with FLOSS but have orthogonal interests.

If one uses margin, or profit, as an indicator of power, it’s clear that the distributions today are in a far stronger position than most individual projects or upstreams. The vast majority of software-related revenue in the FLOSS ecosystem goes to distributions.

Within that segment, Red Hat claims 80% market share of paid Linux, a number that is probably accurate. Novell, the de facto #2, is in the midst of some transition, but indicators are that it continues to weaken. Oracle’s entry into the RHEL market has had at best marginal impact on RHEL economics (the substantial price rises in RHEL 6 are a fairly clear signal of the degree to which Red Hat believes it faces real competition). The existence of “unpaid RHEL” in the form of CentOS, as well as OEL, essentially strengthens the position of RHEL itself. Ubuntu and Debian have large combined levels of adoption, but low revenue.

So clearly, there is work to do just to balance power in the distribution market. And it will take work – historically, platforms tend to monopolies, and in the absence of a definitive countervailing force that establishes strength outside the RHEL gravity well, that’s what we’ll have. But that’s not the most interesting piece. What’s more interesting is the dynamic between distributions and upstreams.

Today, most upstreams are weak. They have little institutional strength. It’s generally difficult to negotiate and do business with an upstream. In many cases, that’s by design – the teams behind a project are simply not interested, or they are explicitly non-profit, as in the case of the FSF, which makes them good leaders of specific values, but difficult to engage with commercially.

As a result, those who need to do business with open source go to distributions, even in cases where they really want to be focused on a particular component. This greatly amplifies the power of the distributions: they essentially are the commercial vehicles for ALL of open source. The weakness of individual upstreams turns into greater strength for distributions.

You can imagine that distributions like it that way, and it would be surprising to see a distribution, or company that backs a distribution, arguing for stronger upstreams. But that’s exactly the position I take: FLOSS needs stronger upstreams, and as a consequence, weaker distributions.

Stronger upstreams will result in more innovation in FLOSS than stronger distributions. Essentially, like Microsoft, a distribution receives cash for the whole platform and allocates it to specific areas of R&D. That means the number of good ideas that receive funding in our ecosystem, today, is dependent on the insights of a very few companies. Just as Microsoft invested a lot in R&D and yet seemed to fall behind, upstream innovation will be strangled if it’s totally dependent on cash flow via distributions.

It’s not just innovation that suffers because we don’t have more power, or economic leverage, in the hands of upstreams. It’s also the myriad of things beyond code itself. When you have a company behind a project, they tend to take care of a lot more than just the code: QA, documentation, testing, promotion. It’s easy, as a developer, to undervalue those things, or to see them as competing for resources with the “real work” of code. But that competition is necessary, and they make a great contribution to the dynamism of the final product.

Consider the upstream projects which have been very successful over the long term. Qt and MySQL, for example, both had companies behind them that maintained strong leverage over the product. That leverage was often unpopular, but the result was products available to all of us under a free license that continued to grow in stature, quality and capability despite the ups and downs of the broader market, and without being too dependent on the roving spotlight of “coolness”, which tends to move quickly from project to project.

There are of course successful upstream projects which do not have such companies. The best example is probably the Linux kernel itself. However, those projects fall into a rather unusual category: they are critical to some large number of companies that make money in non-software ways, and those companies are thus forced to engage with the project and contribute. In the case of the kernel, hardware companies directly and indirectly underwrite the vast majority of the boring but critical work that, in other projects, would be covered by the sponsoring institution. And despite that, there are many gaps in the kernel. You don’t have to dig very hard to find comments from key participants bemoaning the lack of testing and documentation. Nevertheless, it gets by quite well under the circumstances.

But most ecosystems will have very few projects that are at such a confluence. Most upstream projects are the work of a few people, the “coolness” spotlight shines on them briefly if at all. They need either long term generosity from core contributors, or an institution to house and care for them, if they want to go the distance. The former rarely works for more than a few years.

Projects which depend on indirect interests, such as those sponsored by hardware companies, have another problem. Their sponsoring institutions are generally not passionate about software. They don’t really need or want to produce GREAT software. And if you look at the projects which get a lot of such contributions, that becomes very obvious. Compare and contrast the quality of apps from companies which deeply care about software from those which come from hardware companies, and you see what I mean.

We FLOSS folk like to tell ourselves that the Windows hegemony was purely a result of the manipulations of its sponsor, and the FLOSS as we do it today is capable of doing much more if it only had a fair chance. I don’t think, having watched the success of iOS and Android as new ecosystems, that we can justify that position any longer. I think we have to be willing to think hard about what we are willing to change if we want to have the chance of building an ecosystem as strong, but around GNU/Linux. Since that’s my goal, I’m thinking very hard about that, and creatively. I think it’s possible, but not without challenging some sacred cows and figuring out what values we want to preserve and which we can remould.

Power is worth having in your ecosystem, despite its occasional abuse

There’s no doubt that power created will be abused. That’s true of a lot of important rights and powers. For example, we know that free speech is often abused, but we nevertheless value it highly in many societies that are also big contributors to FLOSS. You probably know the expression, “I disagree with what you are saying entirely, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Similarly, in our ecosystem, power will be abused. But it’s still worth helping institutions acquire it, even those we dislike or distrust, or those we compete with. At Canonical, we’ve directly and indirectly helped lots of institutions that you could describe that way – Oracle, Novell, Red Hat, Intel and many others. The kneejerk reaction is usually “no way”, but upon deeper thought, we figured that it is better to have an ecosystem of stronger players, considering the scale of the battle with the non-FLOSS world.

I often find people saying “I would help an institution if I thought I could trust it”. And I think that’s a red herring, because just as power will be abused, trust will be abused too. If you believe that this is a battle of ecosystems and platforms, you want to have as many powerful competitors in your ecosystem as possible, even though you probably cannot trust any of them in the very long term. It’s the competition between them that really creates long term stability, to come back to the thinking of James Madison. It’s pitting ambition against ambition, not finding angels, which makes that ecosystem a winner. If you care about databases, don’t try to weaken MySQL, because you need it strong when you need it. Rather figure out how to strengthen PostGRES alongside it.

How Canonical fits in

Canonical is in an interesting position with regard to all of this. As a distribution, we could stay silent on the issue, and reasonably expect to grow in power over time, on the same basis that Red Hat has. And there are many voices in Canonical that say exactly that: don’t rock the boat, essentially.

However, perhaps unlike other Linux distributions, Canonical very much wants to see end users running free software, and not just IT professionals. That raises the bar dramatically in terms of the quality of the individual pieces. It means that it’s not good enough for us to work in an ecosystem which produces prototype or rough cut products, which we then aggregate and polish at the distribution level. Unlike those who have gone before, we don’t want to be the sole guarantor of quality in our ecosystem, because that will not scale.

For that reason, looking at the longer term, it’s very important to me that we figure out how to give more power to upstreams, so that they in turn can invest in producing components or works which have the completeness and quality that end-users expect. I enjoy working with strong commercial institutions in the open source ecosystem – while they always represent some competitive tension, they also represent the opportunity to help our ecosystem scale and out-compete the proprietary world. So I’d like to find ways to strengthen the companies that have products under free software, and encourage more that have proprietary projects to make them available under free licenses, even if that’s not the only way they publish them.

If you’ve read this far, you probably have a good idea where I’m going with this. But I have a few more steps before actually getting there. More soon.

Till then, I’m interested in how people think we can empower upstream projects to be stronger institutionally.

There are a couple of things that are obvious and yet don’t work. For example, lots of upstreams think they should form a non-profit institution to house their work. The track record of those is poor: they get setup, and they fail as soon as they have to file their annual paperwork, leaving folks like the SFLC to clean up the mess. Not cool. At the end of the day, such new institutions add paperwork without adding funding or other sources of energy. They don’t broaden out the project the same way a company writing documentation and selling services usually does. On the other hand, non-profits like the FSF which have critical mass are very important, though, which is why on occasion we’ve been happy to contribute to them in various ways.

Also, I’m interested in how we can reshape our attitudes to power. Today, the tenor of discussion in most FLOSS debates is simplistic: we fear power, and we attempt to squash it always, celebrating the individual. But that misses the point that we are merely strengthening the power elsewhere; in distributions, in other ecosystems. We need a richer language for describing “the Goldilocks power” balance, and how we can move beyond FUD.

So, what do you think we could do to create more Mozilla’s, more MySQL’s, more Qt’s and more OpenStacks?

I’ll summarise interesting comments and threads in the next post.

143 Responses to “On balancing economic power in the FLOSS ecosystem”

  1. Fewt Says:

    @Mark – You said “On another note, you talk about artisan distributions as a healthy thing. From almost every perspective other than the learning process of the developers and the opportunity to do rapid prototyping and innovation, such distros are neither economically sustaining nor constructive. They make a fragmented Linux landscape worse, they do relatively little in the way of security updates and they struggle to get beyond their core big idea. ”

    If you were concerned about “fragmenting” the Linux landscape, and thought that artisian distributions were neither economically sustaining, nor constructive, why in the world would you have forked Debian to create Ubuntu which in it’s first few years was also considered an artisan distribution?

    I’m genuinely curious, because your own distribution is evidence contrary to your stated opinion.

  2. stapel Says:

    @Fewt – I don’t think Ubuntu can be considered to have ever been an artisan distribution. It always had the backing of a company (canonical) with the resources to pay people to support it at least for the foreseeable future. Actually Ubuntu is making a good case for Mark’s argument. I don’t think Ubuntu would have been as successful if it did not have the backing of a company. There are probably many Debian artisan derivatives but none has enjoyed the same success as Ubuntu.

  3. Fewt Says:

    @stapel – Except that artisan doesn’t mean free. The argument you make that Ubuntu would not have been as successful if it did not have corporate backing is equivalent of arguing that Debian would not be successful if it did not have corporate backing. Debian does not have corporate backing and it is quite successful. Further, it was claimed that these forks (err artisan distributions) are not constructive, that is counter to Ubuntu’s success as it started as a fork (err artisan distribution). The statement Mark makes implies that there is no value in forking, or remixing Linux distributions other than for learning, and prototyping (which includes innovating) which is sort of funny since that’s exactly what Mark (and team) did in 2004 ( 😉

  4. mark Says:


    Forking and making an interesting new distribution is a wonderful thing to do. Lots of good things have come from people doing that. I was addressing a *different* point, which was the suggestion that making custom distributions is a nice business model for lots of small companies. I.e. the suggestion that it’s a good thing that small businesses all around the world can make custom distros for projects like the Munich migration.

    And that’s where I think there’s a real problem. All of those custom distributions are neither intellectually interesting (they don’t add any new technology, unlike things like rPath which added very interesting new tools like Conary) nor are they commercially viable (they all end up trying to solve similar problems in different ways, they make developers lives hard, and they usually fail to provide any realistic stream of security updates).

    The best analogy was Plone. Plone was a nice CMS that let you get *something* up and running quickly, but it was then a lot of work to evolve. So there were TONS of little companies making a good living off Plone, and they had no incentive to make the core more maintainable or extensible, because their business model depended on that being difficult and necessary for their customers. For a while it worked, but then customers got tired of having to overpay for basic improvements, and newer tools took off.

    Yes, Ubuntu is divergence from Debian (though we work hard to manage that divergence for the benefit of both sides). But consider the way Ubuntu is different to Canonical making custom Debian derivatives for each of its customers. Ubuntu is different from 50 shallow derivatives for different companies. It’s something that lots of others can use (like Mint, for example).

  5. Cloud & Virtualization Stacks: Users Fear Lock-In, Ecosystem Fears Lock-Out… | Rational Survivability Says:

    […] On balancing economic power in the FLOSS ecosystem ( […]

  6. unwesen Says:


    “Users could vote implicitly by installing and using software, or explicitly by assigning points to projects or bugs. Everyone would get some number of points, and then through contributions you could earn more, or maybe through a market place by purchasing points. The money from this system could then help fund the ecosystem.”

    As much as I agree with the sentiment in principle, this sort of direct feedback loop inevitable creates a situation where software with more exposure gets more exposure, and software with less exposure stays there. In other word, the head content gets more cemented in its position, while the tail gets longer and flatter.

    This is exactly the sort of situation Mark wants to avoid, as far as I interpret it; the consolidation of power.

    I don’t think that users influencing the way upstreams are rated and/or reimbursed is wrong per se, but this direct feedback mechanism is quite broken, unfortunately. As far as I am concerned, that’s an unsolved problem at this moment.

  7. Fewt Says:

    @Mark – Fair enough, thanks for clarifying. I don’t agree that they aren’t intellectually interesting though. I do agree that they aren’t typically commercially viable, and (as a maintainer of such a creature) I also agree that they can be very hard to maintain without a large enough team behind them. In my mind one of the keys to success is maturity of process, and procedure, and a focus on testing on the front end rather than trying to make it fit later which is what I have sometimes seen.

    There are many instances of custom distributions introducing new technologies, though most are made to simplify and wouldn’t be considered core. Mint, Fuduntu, Jolicloud, and Bodhi are the first examples that come to mind.

    These custom distributions are all based on a parent like Debian, Fedora, or Ubuntu which have one or more pieces of custom software that doesn’t exist upstream for any given reason.

    Mint offers their own menu applet, a custom update tool and a lot more. We offer Jupiter, and a few other small innovations to simplify the desktop experience and help rapidly work around problems. Jolicloud has a complete user interface, and Bodhi is innovating with .bod.

    There are a lot of cases were custom “distributions” are just new themes, and a new package set, etc but those should be classified as respins not remixes or forks.

    I don’t think that in any of these cases this fragmentation is harmful since the source is always available, and working close to the source allows more people to find and fix bugs that distribution builders upstream may never otherwise see and fix.

  8. Lanoxx Says:

    1. Upstream projects need to care more about standards and end user usability. For example there are still few projects which support the config spec (XDG_DATA_HOME, etc.) espcially GNU, XORG, SSH, libpurple seem to ignore it.

    2. Upstream projects need to invest a bit more in a good website to market them selves, and explain users what there programs are all about.

    3. Make it (even more) easy to participate for individuals. Even today it still takes a lot of experience to compile popular programs such as Xorg, Wayland, or the Gnome suite.

    4. Upstream projects should make more use of common software engineering principles and document their software better.

  9. Marco Says:

    To strenghten upstream, we need to better fund upstream, am I right.

    What are the options:

    1. Donations – not working in reality. Who ever donated 300 bucks for an office suite or graphic software. Shame on us.

    2. Sponsorship – doesn’t seem to work for enduser projects.

    3. Entrepreneurial business models – Mozilla is a good example for that. The build a product, with a revenue stream inside (Google-searches). They question is, what possibilities are there for building revenue streams? Could you bundle Gimp with some certain piece of hardware. In which way could you add value to the customer – yes customer, not user?

  10. 451 CAOS Theory » 451 CAOS Links 2011.06.07 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth published a long and interesting essay on balancing economic power in the FLOSS […]

  11. Andrew Says:

    Very interesting post Mark.

    Power should be understood, as best as is possible at any point in time, in order that it can be balanced. Power is influence – the ability to produce effects on the actions, behavior, etc. of others. While funding is a compelling and unquestionably effective way to achieve this, it is not the only way. In the FOSS ecosystem, funding exists alongside other mechanisms of influence such as working code, contribution history, trust, number of users, etc.

    GNOME and KDE have traded power/influence over the years and, to your point on the balance-of-powers, a more powerful KDE has almost always resulted in a better GNOME and vice-versa. I can’t imagine a case where GNOME being made worse-off made KDE better.

    The merits of the balance-of-powers in advancing the productive output of the FOSS – productive output here measured both by the solutions produced AND the adoption of those solution by their intended audience – will necessarily depend on a very clear understanding of power and how it works within the FOSS ecosystem. Some companies wandering into the FOSS space from the proprietary space, wherein power is almost entirely measured by capital, inevitably struggle with this transition.

    I sense in this blog posting a suggestion of potentially more effective ways for FOSS ecosystems to take advantage of funding/capital. I also wonder if you might also share some insights into ways for companies to more effectively incorporate existing FOSS mechanisms of influence as they wonder into the FOSS space. The desired result, I assume, is a new synergy not previously expressed. I’m certainly looking forward to your follow up post!

  12. Jean Jordaan Says:

    I agree that our thinking tends to the simplistic. We abhor corporations but glamourise startups that aspire to be bought out by those corporations. We trust in a fatherly Google to foster new blood in GSOC that we can’t afford to do. How many startups have lastingly pushed the balance of power toward the FOSS community, and how many end up bolstering the corporates that buy them out? How much of their innovation goes upstream, and how much stays serverside, never distributed and so not obliged to be shared, and not able to be adopted and evolved?

  13. Jef Spaleta Says:


    It’s far from clear that non-artisan distributions who do have a commercial backer are any more commercially viable than artisan distributions. How many linux distributions backed by a for-profit entity have shown they can be commercially viable? We’ve seen many many such linux distributions come and go over the years. How long could linspire could have operated if they had access to the investor capital that Shuttleworth is pouring into Canonical year after year? How long could caldera could have operated with that sort of capital? Having a for-profit entity managing a distribution and having investors willing to sink money into that for-profit entity over a decade timescale before seeing a return on investment does not guarantee commercial success for that entity nor does it guarantee a sustainable project. It did not guarantee it for all those for-profit entities that came before Canonical and it does not guarantee it now.

    Ultimately, no matter what organizational model is chosen for any project..for any entity… sustainability really comes down to how well the management team understands the chosen model and how well they execute their management plan. It’s just as hard to build a successful for-profit business as it is to manage a successful non-profit corporation. If you don’t have the right people with the right skills in the right roles your entity with flounder…without there being an obvious lack of vision, passion, or trust. You can have all of those things, and still be bad a executing a management plan.


  14. sham Says:

    I think the best way is to sell a computer that tights together hardware and software. Like Apple does and then invest in the upstream projects that can’t find a way to make revenues by their own.
    You include the cost inside the hardware you sell.

    But you don’t have to sell a computer with linux like Dell or Asus do. They just ship a computer with windows or if you want, as an alternative, with linux…that is presented like a cheap and poor alternative.

    You have to sell a cool computer with a new brand, that is not just a new logo. Something that shows quality and it’s worth its cost. Not something that is proposed like: it lets you save $50.

  15. For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall Says:

    @Bradley and @Mark:

    I think both of you should find a nice patio somewhere, sit down, and just have a beer together. Let the conversation go where it will. I read both of your blogs regularly and I think an exchange of ideas between you guys would be of benefit to everyone.

  16. Johnsie Says:

    Unity Rocks. Thanks Mark and all the other developers 🙂

  17. sieciobywatel Says:

    Let me share some my observation from the point of not active contributor (yet) but silent supporter and fan of FLOSS.

    For few months, apart from learning CS and HCI, I teach two kids how to safely and creatively use the Internet and computers. Recently we’ve installed the newest Ubuntu for older of them – he’s 12 now. We met some rough edges (I was only providing some guidance, the lad did most of the job himself), but he’s geeky sort and didn’t like tinkering. Anyway, his first is reaction with Unity was like: Whooah, I didn’t know that Linux is THAT much better than Windows. It’s so cool.
    A week later, when I asked his two year younger brothers if he would like to try Linux too (he still has much less confidence with computers) he met my question with huge, round, sparkling eyes and murmured: I didn’t know I can have this too!
    I do respect longtime linux users and their criticism of latest changes. But to be honest, these kids are speeding to become the future, when all those whitebeards in their 30-thies or late 20-thies tend to become fossil sooner they realize.

    With 1-2% of desktop market share (further divided by few environments) and more savvy users Linux has freedom to experiment with UI that other OSes can exercise. This weakness is the greatest strength, you can do the same as Apple did before MacOSX 10. I can’t believe how conservative part of linux community is when it comes to UI innovations. New dock here shadows there, new theme there and better multi-screen support are not real innovations. They are improvement of the same 20 year old windows that you can switch between, minimize, resize etc, etc. It’s not better with internal kernel design: huge monolithic kernel that no one can fully understand. And I can’t just plug my smartphone or laptop to use my favorite apps and customization in secure (both ways) fashion, levering it’s hardware with desktop or server power.
    I am not sure if commercial distributions can find courage to surprise their users, especially if it comes at expense of legacy compatibility. This point of view I found missing in Mark’s excellent otherwise post.
    It will be impossible to boost Linux adoption on desktops without competitive stack of applications that desktop or workstation users need. While browsers, email clients and multimedia players do meet expectations IMHO, office suite and GIMP just doesn’t compare with their proprietary competitor. I say this as users of both LO and GIMP. But let’s face facts, LibreOffice is comparable to MS Office 2000 at most with its functionality and interface. That is to suite that is 10 year old. Gimp or Inkscape are unusable to any even semi-professional publishing without working CMYK colorspace and ability to create ps or pdfs suitable for high quality printing. Nor is it user friendly for someone willing to just make some basic retouche of their holiday photos.
    I really doubt that without strong, polished and complete average-user application stack Ubuntu (or Linux in general) can win much more desktop adoption.

    Micropayments. What FLOSS or CC community needs is literally one-click donation system. It doesn’t need to be much, even 50c for person can sum up nicely when millions keep donating it.

  18. zelrik Says:

    The problem with opensource is that as soon as it’s released, the value drops. The trick is to treat the users as investors and not as consumers, you need to get their financial support before you release the software. Bounties (I have yet to see a company that gives that idea a serious try) and donations (a lot of projects work with that) are two concepts I am thinking about.

  19. Eduard Grebe Says:

    I have one more (slightly tendential) point to make: However upstreams are funded, unless distributions can find a substantial audience, there will not be enough revenue to go around. This is especially the case with desktop environments like GNOME and Unity, who depend on reaching consumers for even the possibility of a viable business model to exist. At the moment, the technologies are being evolved very quickly (e.g. GNOME Shell), but the products have little chance of serious adoption. Why? Because the number of people who would consider downloading and installing an operating system is minuscule.

    So, what I am really curious to hear is whether Mark believes that evolving Unity to the point where it is the most interesting and dependable desktop UI would be enough to reach the “next 200 million users”? I very much doubt this is the case. Canonical does not have the capability to bring compelling computing products to market à la Apple nor the market power to get OEMs interested beyond a few (rather pathetic) experiments like the Dell pre-installs and perhaps an Eee PC model. Compounding all of this is the shift away from the desktop as the core of people’s computing lives. Soon, what will matter most is who has your data and can provide you with easy access to it. If your mail, contacts, music and documents sit on Google or Apple’s servers, what chance does a small company like Canonical have to grab your attention?

    This may sound overly negative, but I really believe totally new thinking is required if the brilliant work done by Canonical and non-Canonical developers on Ubuntu and its upstreams is to have a significant impact on the computing landscape.

  20. foo Says:

    The last thing we need is more of MySQL/Mozilla/Qt. Interesting post nonetheless.

  21. someone Says:

    Stronger upstreams *definitely* does not mean weaker distributions. In fact it means the complete opposite.

  22. Ubunite | Blog | Who We Follow: Ubunite's RSS Digest June 8, 2011 Says:

    […] NestorJono Bacon: Better Community With Better Technology June 6, 2011 (jono)On balancing economic power in the FLOSS ecosystem June 6, 2011 markPuddletag (Audio Tag Editor) Gets Improved Mass-Tagging, Export Artwork To File […]

  23. Rubén Romero Says:

    Well, for one you can help us create a “Varnish Software”, perhaps. Let me explain.

    Mark, First off I really like the point you make here, which is basically bringing a market-driven approach to the way software is developed, be it open source or not. So what does a market-driven project look like? Well, it could easily be described as a project creating a product that meets demand. So you could say that it is demand-driven.

    The problem with many projects in the FLOSS world are afraid of acknowledging the need for sustainability: People create software. And people have a mortgages, significant others, next of kin, kids, dogs. And they all need a roof and food daily! As in everything in life you create something and you get something, and suddenly we have a deliberative democratic, capitalistic society (at least in some places). So if you want to create software for a living you need to get paid for your work and if you want to create free and open source software you need to be creative in the way you get paid. Once you achieve this, you achieve sustainability for your project and yourself.

    Varnish Cache started as a programming engagement for 6 years ago for a media company in Norway. It was open sourced right away and it has gained customers ranging from moms&pops webshops to giants like Twitter, Facebook and the New York Times. What most users of the software do not know can be summarized int three points:
    1. It is, and has always been, a commercial open source project with backing from a company (formerly Redpill-Linpro and now Varnish Software).
    2. We have a demand-driven, non-aggressive business model: If you want a feature we can develop it for you. If you want support we will give it to you for up to 24/7/365. Our most important asset is our expertise in the code, years of experience using the software, training and helping countless numbers of website admins to tune the software for their needs.
    3. The Varnish Chief Architect is one of the main contributors to the FreeBSD kernel (Poul-Henning Kamp). This means that we value code quality and performance very high. So its amazing speed and performance are no coincidence as we have had the time and expertise to code (besides PHK we have Krstian Lyngstøl of Compiz fame), maintain, fix bugs and have proper release and support cycles (Tollef Fog Heeen is our release manager).

    So what is the best way for Ubuntu (and Canonical) to let a company like ours grow? Well, I have another list:
    * Help us distribute the software to as many users as possible
    * Attract Ubuntu power users to our software so we can make it better (fixing bugs or receiving code)
    * Help each other develop our market by providing a stable enterprise platform to customers (we support Varnish Cache on LTS releases only)

    I guess there are many other ways, but these are the ones that came to my mind now. keep up the good work!

  24. jaromil Says:

    thanks for your reply Mark.

    let me articulate your points:

    > So, from my perspective, the model we adopted with Ubuntu is simply accelerating the normal economic trend,
    > and therefor not a distortion.

    yet, if we see economy in relation to space, from a territorial perspective so to say, what you call acceleration is a saturation of markets on global scale that results in killing diversity.
    Admittedly, it leads to quality faster (for the little needed anyway), but at what price? who is paying that price?

    > Ubuntu may or may not survive, but Android is already in a very defensible
    > position and unlikely to change its model. And there’s nothing philanthropic about Android 🙂

    true, Android might end up building an open market place, contrary to what Iphone does.

    I understand Ubuntu is going towards a similar direction and I was even reading software-center code these days to understand in detail what are the possibilities.

    These are interesting directions; still not daring to experiment further and not enough to make it sustainable for upstream developers, yet i consider them good and honest attempts.

    > On another note, you talk about artisan distributions as a healthy thing. From almost every perspective other than
    > the learning process of the developers and the opportunity to do rapid prototyping and innovation, such distros are
    > neither economically sustaining nor constructive.

    this is a wrong assumption IMHO.
    just consider the issue of local labor, a crucial economic aspect to explain why global markets have failed to provide the world with wealthy economies. local services, ad-hoc development and in-house knowledge cannot be considered quantitatively: to the contrary, they are qualitatively different and their outcome shouldn’t just be measured on the scale efficiency, but also on resiliency.

    obviously relying on community efforts like Debian is an enormous increase in productivity from which Ubuntu itself, as well artisans, can benefit (FWIW i’m moving to Debian as well), but the level on which Ubuntu is operating is a layer above and competes directly with specialization, capitalizing on what is needed for local efforts to survive.

    but then i should also mention that Ubuntu gives something back to local and diverse communities that Debian doesn’t: launchpad, something I find very useful myself.

    > They make a fragmented Linux landscape worse, they do relatively little in the way of security updates and they
    > struggle to get beyond their core big idea.

    again, it depends. there are some good reasons nowadays to think that going slow is better than going fast…


  25. jaromil Says:

    As a contribution to the discussion, here i’ve taken the time to explain a point of view on software development inspired to “Permaculture” in a recent lecture at Tech. Univ. in Delft.

    Hopefully a bit of a hippie approach won’t hurt this discussion :^)
    to be regarded mostly as inspirational here.

    At last, as much as i was disturbed by your “philanthropic venture” about 6 years ago when Ubuntu started, i’m now grateful for your stance “FLOSS needs stronger upstreams, and as a consequence, weaker distributions”.

  26. Jasna Says:

    @ Mr Shuttleworth

    You should write a book, no, several books 🙂 it would be a shame that such long posts would stay on this blog….

    About question considering Mozilla’s et al., (which I think it wasn’t directly pointed on them, but open source generally, hope didn’t get it wrong)

    Honestly I think you are trying very hard to get more windows users on the open source side, which is good on one side, and on the other you might get contra effect

    I don’t know if Canonical is doing a market research via questionnaire, but a good one, psychology based…. if not, you might consider doing that research among windows and open source users (example – their habits, what is important for them etc.)….

    I know it will take time, (personal experience, cause I’m doing a research about discipline in high schools for my master thesis, and it’s not easy, don’t know If I’ll get the answer on that…. but maybe I’ll open a door just a little bit)….

    The point is, maybe Canonical could get more precise answers with that kind of a research, on main points/questions to consider whether something is important to develop/not to develop, rush/not to rush with something…..



  27. mark Says:


    Stronger upstreams mean a strong FLOSS story, which is a win for distributions too. That’s why I’m in favour of it. However, it would also mean that upstreams could more often negotiate directly with customers and have their own share of the revenue pipe, which currently goes mostly to the distributions (and most of all to Red Hat). I think that’s healthy and good, but it’s obvious why some distributions often take a stance which weakens the upstreams, because it makes them the sole arbiters of quality, assurance and services.

  28. kikl Says:

    Money, money, money…

    Find ways to make upstream projects whether they are open source or not profitable. Create venues for making money. Money is power. Money means independence and freedom. The software centre is a very good start. But, I think you have to think harder in that direction. How can Ubuntu help make open source projects profitable!?

    Ubuntu’s major asset for upstream is its large user base. Upstreams need to advertise their product to users; they need to find out the user needs in order to improve their products – market research – they need user feedback in order to clear out bugs, finally they have to be able to sell the product or services. This process must be as easy as using an i-phone for upstream projects. Lot’s of geeks love their software but don’t care about the business aspect. Lend them a hand and make it as easy as possible to deliver in this area.

    This would be a win-win situation for ubuntu and upstreams, because – to be clear – the major thing holding back linux is not the design of the desktop. It is the lack of first class applications.

  29. Jef Spaleta Says:


    Okay let’s talk specifics. Let’s talk Banshee as an upstream project which would benefit from a stronger upstream. What specifically would you propose that the Banshee upstream do, in order to be able to have more control over their revenue pipe instead of being at the mercy of distributors who decide to unilaterally take a majority of revenue associated with the use of Banshee as an application? Because right now.. its clear that distributors have an unbalanced amount of power with regard to defining Banshee’s revenue pipe. That’s been demonstrated quite recently in fact. So Mark, what specifically would you suggest the Banshee project do to be balance the unreasonable power that distributions wield in defining the upstream project’s access to revenue?


  30. kore Says:, Marco: You are as wrong about chefs and recipe as you could be. You can easily buy professional cook books with a several hundred dollar price tag, book expensive courses and as a newcomer you are welcome to work hard essentially for free in exchange for being able to learn/steal from masters. Granted it’s more about techniques, management and sometimes even science, but the picture of kind old woman/men teaching following generations how to feed the family has absolutly nothing to do with professional cookery. It’s a proprietary world.

    Back to topic: In usual FOSS environments the non-contributing “end-user” is irrelevant. And she knows it — to prove this point open a random bugtracker. Ironically, to fund and therefore empower upstream this has to change. But it is no decision which could be made from outside a project. All you can do is help. Collect and organize small BitCoin bounties? Why not. Offer fan memberships? Why not. Just make sure it is easy for both sides and you could distribute in all directions. Oh – and that’s not a small thing to do, being some kind of FOSS bank gate would be tough, fairly obvious since Bansheegate.

  31. László Monda Says:


    I have a proposal for a new feature set for Launchpad to provide a way for users to create targeted monetary incentives for developers to fix specific bugs or to implement new features. The model to be proposed works like the online marketplaces designed for freelancers to be employed, but it’s for Free Software and implemented on top of Launchpad.

    This is certainly related to your post as this could have a potential to empower upstreams.



  32. Callum Says:

    On the ethics of the open / closed source business models like MySQL. Is that model good for the open source world (produces great software)? Or does it hide a darker truth, that the only business models in open source are advertising or support (Mozilla or Canonical)? More philosophically though, is open source supported by proprietary a good thing in the long run? This seems to be the model that makes Android, MySQL, and possibly Qt work.

    Secondly, inspired by Eduard Grebe’s comment, is the path to stronger upstreams and a stronger ecosystem simply more users? If GNU/Linux as a whole had 10 times the users, would that automatically strengthen upstreams simply by making the amounts of money involved bigger? It seems like commercially viable open source projects need large user bases. If the whole ecosystem was ten times larger, that might make many more parts commercially viable while today there simply aren’t enough users to generate revenue for those pieces.

    The distribution is in many ways the gatekeeper. Any moves that encourage the gatekeeper to share the revenue pipe upstream will ultimately put more power in the hands of the distro. It seems like the only viable business models in the FLOSS world are advertising or support. It’s hard to be an upstream relying on advertising because the distribution sits between the project and the customer. Support seems therefore to be the only viable model, and it requires a large user base doing something mission critical and willing to pay for support.

    With a big enough FLOSS ecosystem there might be enough money swilling around that some will trickle upstream. But relatively speaking, the distribution is the gateway to the user, and as Google has proven with the web, that is the most profitable spot to be in.

  33. Bradley M. Kuhn Says:

    @Mark, if you believe some non-profits are worthy and others aren’t, please publish your list so we can see what you really think, instead of making vague accusations and making exceptions for only one non-profit. Finally, I also note that your words in the main post above about FSF are not all kind.

  34. mark Says:


    I mention the FSF twice, once to say that non-profits are difficult to engage with commercially (by definition, they are not commercial entities) and again to cite them as an example of non-profit leadership done well.

    Really, your commentary here comes across as painfully self-obsessed and paranoid. I’m not criticising the FSF or you in this case, nor the Conservancy that you run. I’m quite obviously saying that it is a common pattern for free software projects to decide they need a new non-profit, then fail to nurture and nourish it properly. Your efforts to help in that regard are noble, but the need for an institution like your Conservancy directly supports my point that volunteer developer communities themselves are in a bad position to create their own individual strong institutions.

    More importantly, an institution that does not provide the means to support more diverse contributions and maintenance to a codebase does little beyond what’s possible on an artisan basis. You need more if you want to compete. Mozilla, for example, has both a .org and a .com; the same is true of Blender. It’s the commercial vehicles which give me more confidence in the ability of the project to navigate rocky waters over time in partnership with their communities.

  35. Joe Linux Says:


    According to David Siegel, Coanonical’s Desktop Interaction Architect, Unity was originally conceived for small screen devices.

    I just learned today in a Linux Outlaws interview with Scott Lavender, the project leader of the Ubuntu Studio distribution that the Ubuntu Studio team has deemed both Unity and Gnome 3 unsatisfactory for their users’ needs. Ubuntu Studio will be migrating to XFCE as the default desktop.

    Perhaps Mark should consider renaming Unity to Exodus.

  36. stapel Says:

    @Joe – whether you like unity or not is really irrelevant to the subject matter that this blog deals with. I happen to really like unity by the way.

  37. Raymond Says:

    I came across a idea, that every user receive a virtual vote from Canonical before every release, and by that ticket, you could choose your favorite project. And Canonical would change that into real fund distributed from part of Canonical’s benefit(if this exist..I don’t know).

    I’m thinking the relevance between democracy politics and FLOSS, which both of them are based on the idea of free.
    Maybe we could use voting or other rating systems to represent our support or ignorance, like what we do to faithful politicians.

  38. Hendy Irawan Says:

    Excellent philosophy!

  39. Richard Fontana Says:


    You say of non-profit FLOSS organizations: “The track record of those is poor: they get setup, and they fail as soon as they have to file their annual paperwork, leaving folks like the SFLC to clean up the mess. Not cool.”

    This is a serious accusation. Can you provide specific examples of such organizations with poor track records? I’m genuinely curious.

  40. Bradley M. Kuhn Says:

    @Mark, I’m really sorry to see that you’ve moved from debating the issues into making attacks about my personal character. I’m unlikely to come back and respond further after this final comment herein, given the level of rancor that you’ve introduced by making character statements rather than debating the issues. But I have to at least respond to your attacks on my character above.

    First, it’s not self-obsessed for me to engage in a debate, started by *you*, about an issue that has been a major focus of my life’s work for the last 13 years. I’m obviously an expert in the area. By your logic, Linux developers are self-obsessed because they spend the much of their time debating kernel issues on LKML.

    Second, it’s not paranoia: I’m among at least a few people (including Richard Fontana of Red Hat) who noticed the aggressive and broad-sweeping nature of your statement: “the track record of [Free Software non-profits without commercial arms] is poor” and that “they fail as soon as they have to file their annual paperwork”. Still, at this point in the conversation, you’ve only said two organizations without commercial arms are an exception to that “track record”: the two organizations I’m involved with.

    It *would* be self-obsessed of me to presume that my involvement with an organization magically makes it competent. Of course, I don’t believe that. By contrast, I am in regular communication with my colleagues at all these other non-profits that you’ve attacked. I’m not aware currently of anyone who is behind on their annual paperwork. Are you?

    As it stands, you’ve made a sweeping statement against an entire class of organizations without any evidence to bring forward that supports the claim. You and I both have mentioned a few counter-examples to your own sweeping claim, yet you have not retracted nor supported your original unsupported generalization. Could you please produce that evidence or retract the statement? Where is your evidence that establishes non-profit failure as a “track record” in Free Software?

  41. kikl Says:

    With regard to the personal attacks, hmm I take this as an insult:

    “…so we can see what you really think”

    This is insinuating that Mark is deceiving the public and hiding his true intention. Clearly an insult. This was his reaction:

    “Really, your commentary here comes across as painfully self-obsessed and paranoid. …”

    So you both took a beating, so what? Settle down man and come back to the table.

    “Where is your evidence that establishes non-profit failure as a “track record” in Free Software?”

    What about the PC desktop? That’s a failure isn’t it in terms of market share? MS office, Adobe Photoshop, AutoCAD,… Where are the non-profit alternatives? Am I missing something? Isn’t this a track record?

    Now let’s see, what was the biggest success in the past few years? Android?! Google!? A true winner. Clearly not a non-profit organization.

    I am not saying that there are no good open source alternatives, in fact I am using them. But, in general, I think Mark has a point there. I think open source projects need to make money in order to come out on top.

    But, that’s just me. I am not in the business and you can stone me, if you don’t care for someone to comment on your very emotional dispute. These emotional discussions are unproductive and won’t lead anywhere.

    I wish you guys all the best, lots of success and peace!



  42. Joe Linux Says:

    The good news is that Ron Yorston has brought some normalcy to the Gnome Sell. I wonder if these extensions will work with Exodus (Unity).

  43. Arash Khan Says:

    I’m a bit new to the world of open source, but from what I’ve seen all the money eventually comes from selling to non-technical users. Red Hat, Oracle, IBM etc all make money by offering solid services and software to other industries (ex: Banking) who can’t do it for themselves. And I don’t think there’s any other way.

    However, nobody pays for Eclipse, for instance, and it’s pretty solid (I assume – I use Vim). But these kinds of projects are more “infrastructural” in that they’re built by programmers for programmers. The developers are the users and the users are the developers and since these are the tools needed to do anything, many people contribute and everyone benefits.

    However, open source software meant for the average consumer (say, Gimp) is a bit lacking.

    The important thing to note is that this kind of software targets ordinary people whose needs and capabilities are different than ours. They just want it to work and to get the job done and to that end, they’d be willing to pay for services. And the developers of those projects would be in the best position to provide those services. Dave Neary brought up a great point. The developers of Gimp could, for instance, sell packages of icons or templates that users could use when working on a project. And the profits generated could help bankroll the project further. As several others have pointed out, they could also charge users (individuals or businesses) to implement feature requests. Once developers start thinking about what their users want and need when using their program, they can find creative ways to provide that and bring in some revenue. As an example, they could try the Mozilla approach and build in a Flickr xor PhotoBucket uploader. As this would help in attracting (and keeping) users to those services, it seems likely that the developers could get some money for this.

    Also, the open source community is aware of these circumstances, I’m sure many would be willing to donate money to their favorite projects. There should be an easier and uniform way to do that (perhaps in the Software Center?). Just a couple of dollars from a fraction of end users could go a long way.

    @Mr. Shuttleworth – How’s Ubuntu One doing? Because Ubuntu targets and already has a lot of “human” users, it seems like there would be a good amount of demand for that kind of service. Canonical creates an awesome OS that it gives away for free, but surely it can profit by providing useful services to end users. If Ubuntu One can be made more compelling (feature wise), perhaps more people would start opting for paid accounts? Also – Thank you for Ubuntu!

    @Mr. Kuhn – In one of your posts you said: “For years, FSF employed developers to write the code upon which Mark now builds his business” – how did FSF get the money to do that? I only ask because perhaps other projects could do something similar.

    @Mr. Shuttleworth && Mr. Kuhn – Both of you have made tremendous contributions to our community both as individuals and through the organizations you’re part of. But it’s painful to watch what’s happening here. Both camps bring a lot to the table. Ubuntu is obviously closer and more visible to the user, but the work done by the FSF and similar entities are by no stretch of the imagination any less vital (where would we be without GCC, GNU, Perl or for that matter RMS?). I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like both of you have valid points within your own sphere, but, as your spheres (consumer oriented, “polished” software vs programmer oriented “infrastructure”) are pretty different, it may be difficult to understand the others’ view. It would be a shame if we end up with a schism within our community.

    … Something about the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts.

  44. Stephan Goosen Says:

    First off, I just want to thank Mark for a very thought provoking post. After thinking about it for some time, I came up with the following thoughts:

    When I install a linux distribution, I’m choosing several sub-systems that each impact the way I interact with my computer (whether I know it or not). I, for example, use Kubuntu. That means, I’m at once a member of the KDE community, and a member of the Ubuntu community. But it doesn’t stop there. Being part of KDE means I’m mostly using Qt, and being part of Ubuntu means that I’m installing .deb files instead of .rpm. Being part of KDE means I’m using Kontact (which probably won’t sync with my Android phone), and being part of (K)Ubuntu I also have PulseAudio running on my system (which may not play nice with WINE).

    Now, when choosing a distribution, a user actually chooses a Desktop Environment. The DE provides what he needs most whether it is certain features, or stability, or performance. But, for most people, this is actually a very small part of the equation. Because, when you choose a distribution you are inevitably utilizing a whole host of other systems. The problem is, when I need some guidance or something goes wrong, I don’t know who to ask.

    Say I want to know how to change my screen resolution: Can I ask on any KDE forum, or is it different from distro to distro? Of course, if I specify my distro in a google search by typing “DistroX change resolution”, I don’t have to worry about what sub-systems my distribution is using. But if my distribution is not very popular, the search might not yield any fruitful results. So, most people stick with the more popular distributions because that guarantees (to some degree) that they’ll be able to find help, packages, documentation, etc. for that release.

    On the documentation side of things, I thought, what if we create a central wiki between all distributions and desktop environments. That way, users won’t have to wonder where to go when they want to know how to do something like change the resolution. Currently, I think Wikipedia is a great example. If I want to know any random fact, whether its the population of Greece, or the earth’s diameter or the chemical reaction that makes milk go bad, I know I can just go to Wikipedia and the answer will be there.

    I think this will empower a lot of the smaller distributions as it will greatly lessen the burden of documentation. Now, when OpenSuse guys document how to change the desktop resolution on OpenSuse KDE, other guys like Chakra can simply say “We also use KDE, and the method of doing it on our Distro is the same” and then tag the information as being applicable to Chakra as well. And when Ubuntu guys document on installing .deb files, the Kubuntu guys can just it as “also applicable to Kubuntu”. Furthermore, it will greatly help users of less popular distributions if they know they can just go to instead of hunting all over the web for relevant information.

    And it would also open A LOT of possibilities. For example, applications could be written to directly interact with the website. Pressing F1 in KWord could show me all the information on the website about KWord filtering out everything that’s not relevant to Kubuntu.

  45. Clint Byrum Says:

    To those who would criticize MySQL for any reason, I ask you for an example of server software that is more ubiquitous in a single industry than MySQL has been in the web world.

    Through it all, they’ve maintained a dual FOSS license and extremely high quality in their FOSS releases. They made money from the licensing *and* from selling support and services. MySQL perhaps more than anything though, remained strong, and was swallowed by an incredibly strong corporation, because they consolidated the licensing power.

    MariaDB has not “saved” MySQL, as it doesn’t need saving. MySQL 5.5 is one of the best releases of MySQL yet. 5.6, due to GA soon, will be even better, and is the first one brought to us entirely by Sun and Oracle. In a way, MariaDB pits MontyProgram’s ambition against Oracle’s ambition. They’re standing up and saying “you don’t get all of the power, Sun/Oracle”. Percona is also producing a derivative of the FOSS release of MySQL that further keeps the power balance in check. By doing so, they have now challenged Oracle to make a move that might weaken the FOSS community.

    If Oracle were to do anything to harm the Open Source version of MySQL or its community, such a move would make Percona and MontyProgram instantly more powerful. Oracle needs their version of MySQL to stay healthy, so that they can make sure it keeps moving in a direction which does not threaten their main revenue stream, Oracle DB. Their ideal world has people using Oracle DB for what its good for, and paying Oracle a lot of money. I don’t think they care who people pay for MySQL, as long as when it comes time to grow beyond MySQL, people do it with Oracle. This is only possible because MySQL was a single commercial product which happened to gain its dominant position through FOSS licensing.

    So to those who would say “please not another MySQL” or “Oracle is killing MySQL”, I would say “please give us another MySQL! and who will be its champion?”

  46. luistm Says:

    Hi! Canonical needs to provide an email, something like! Why? How can i have everything on ubuntu one, including contacts, if i can’t send an email to them!

  47. Gabriel Burt Says:


    You say “it’s very important to me that we figure out how to give more power to upstreams, so that they in turn can invest in producing components or works which have the completeness and quality that end-users expect.”

    I find the language of “giving power” confusing; I assume you don’t mean Canonical et al should cede power to upstreams, but rather that upstreams should find and assert power themselves.

    What sources of power are you proposing upstreams tap into and assert? Trademarks, copyright, PR? Isn’t upstream power antithetical to software freedom?

    To make this discussion more concrete, what power would you be happy for Banshee/GNOME to wield over Canonical so that we could get more than a 25% cut of revenue generated by our software?


  48. Joe Linux Says:


    I was going to subscribe monetarily to Ubuntu One, but it was very slow. I did not know if the paid subscribers would get faster speeds.

  49. Mal Says:

    Dear Mark,

    I think Unity has massive potential, but there are (for me) fundamental issues; users moved from a familiar environment – familiar because most major desktops have a similar,what – arguably – has become an “intuitive” interface, to a very different experience.

    For example one may say that nobody uses the Minimise and Maximise buttons, (In G3 they are completely removed) but I do, often with multiple instances of the same program – e.g.. Firefox. Thank you for retaining them.
    Minimising windows is conceptually different now. To some, this may seem a minor change, for me, it’s not!
    Rather than simply rubbish things – not my way – I would like to offer a possible solution (Perhaps an impossible solution?). When you minimise multiple windows a “bottom panel” is automatically created and “auto hidden”, showing all your “minimised” windows. A “mouse over” the bottom of the screen would bring this panel up. Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

    I’m not saying Unity is a bad user experience, but for me personally, I find hard to migrate and – for the moment – I’m much less productive than before.

    It’s fine by me if you want to provide a totally new and revolutionary user experience, but if you just drop me in a new radically different environment, I, like many, are tempted to write negative reviews – this is not productive and as stated, not my way. Unity is far too brilliant a concept to die, due to lack of explanation. Instead, tell me what has changed, where are the old things? If they have been moved – where to? Where are the new? how do do things better/quicker than before?
    A guided tour, or interactive introduction to the new interface.

    Simply informing the user what has changed, is OK but it needs another step IMHO. It’s sign that maybe there is a misunderstanding of what a “user experience” is. If those dedicated (and very much appreciated) developers think people can migrate from Gnome2 to Unity with ease – I feel they have misjudged things a little, or perhaps a lot?

    When you learn to use a new computer, there are many approaches:

    Use your previous knowledge – it helps, but, who does have knowledge for a new and revolutionary product?

    Click all the buttons and keys, hoping you do not mess things up irreparably, until something works.
    Ask around, fortunately with Unity we have a fantastic community.
    But, is it the blind leading the blind?
    Read documentation. Well, I am still looking. Something condensed like a “before and after cheat Sheet”

    Unity is an obstacle to my productivity at the moment, not because it is bad, but because the transition from G2-to-U is so radically different and for me not intuitive.

    I hope future releases will consider the non technical issues surrounding Unity.

    I am not sure this is completely on topic but UBUNTU and all it;s derivatives is free and open source.

    My sincere thanks for all the work you, your colleagues and the community have put into this fantastic distro.

    Mal (Australia)

  50. Arash Says:

    I’m a bit new to the world of open source, but from what I’ve seen all the money eventually comes from selling to non-technical users. Red Hat, Oracle, IBM etc all make money by offering solid services and software to other industries like the finance industry, who can’t do it for themselves. And I don’t think there’s any other way.

    However, nobody pays for Eclipse, for instance, and I’m guessing it’s pretty solid. But these kinds of projects are more “infrastructural” in that they’re built by programmers for programmers. The developers are the users and the users are developers. And since these are the tools needed to do anything, and are the sort of thing programmers tweak anyways, many people contribute and everyone benefits.

    However, open source software meant for the average consumer is a bit lacking.

    The important thing to note is that this kind of software targets ordinary people whose needs and capabilities are different than ours. They just want it to work and to get the job done and to that end, they’d be willing to pay for services. And the developers of those projects would be in the best position to provide those services. Dave Neary brought up a great point. The developers of Gimp could, for instance, sell packages of icons or templates that users could use when working on a project. And the profits generated could help bankroll the project further. As several others have pointed out, they could also charge individuals or businesses to implement feature requests. Once developers start thinking about what their users want and need when using their program, they can find creative ways to provide that and bring in some revenue. As an example, they could try the Mozilla approach and build in an uploader for a commercial photo hosting site. As this would help in attracting and keeping users to those services, it seems likely that the developers could get some money for this.

    Also, the open source community is aware of these circumstances, I’m sure many would be willing to donate money to their favorite projects. There should be an easier and uniform way to do that: perhaps in the Software Center? Just a couple of dollars from a fraction of end users could go a long way.

    @Mr. Shuttleworth, How’s Ubuntu One doing? Because Ubuntu targets and already has a lot of “human” users, it seems like there would be a good amount of demand for that kind of service. Are a reasonable number of users opting for paid accounts? Also – Thank you for Ubuntu!