Canonical Contribution Chronicles

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Sep 23, 2008 GMT
Rikki Kite

Last week we ran a news brief, Kroah-Hartman Attacks Canonical, about Greg Kroah-Hartman's keynote at the Linux Plumbers Conference. Greg posted his keynote online and wrote: "Here's the slides and text of my talk (well, the text is what I intended to say, the actual words that came out probably sounded a bit different.)"

Readers on our site defended Canonical's contribution, saying things such as:

"I personally think that Canonical contributed enormously by nearly doubling Linux desktop install base."

"I would have to agree that just Ubuntu's user base to Linux is a huge deal."

"If you do have a problem or a question, the solution is almost always easily found using Google and the Ubuntu forums. You don't see too many 'RTFM' responses like with other distros. So I'd say that Ubuntu has contributed a lot in terms on documentation and ease of use."

"This is my two cents worth, the way I see it is that sure Canonical may not have contributed as much as Novell, IBM, Sun or whoever the pundits will put up there in bright lights. I feel confident that this will change progressively and at the end of the day the GNU/Linux user base will increase due to Ubuntu."

"Patches to the kernel shouldn't be the only measure of a company's contributions to the Linux community."

And there were folks who aren't as pleased with Canonical contributions:

"Canonical has been feeding off of the linux community for years, and has gotten way, way more press than it ever deserves."

Over on OStatic, Kristin Shoemaker provided a nice analogy in her post called The Open Source Contributions of Six Blind Men and an Elephant. She points out that Greg approaches the idea of "contribution" from a kernel developer perspective. Kristin says, "He was delivering an address at a conference geared to a particular audience – people who work on the core of the Linux system. In this light, his arguments appear completely valid." She adds, "Constructive criticism is difficult. It is difficult to deliver, and it is even harder to accept. We may not all contribute equally to the same aspects of a project, but there are no contributions without value."

Linux Foundation's Amanda McPherson reluctantly jumped into the debate in her blog called Free Riders, Canonical, and Greg KH. Amanda argues that, yes, Canonical should contribute upstream, but they do make other contributions and shouldn't be singled out as a free rider. "For instance, could Amazon have built their Kindle business without the $1 billion in free software in the Linux kernel?" she says. " I think it’s unfortunate when we get into such public Linux community 'us vs. us' debates."

I asked openSUSE's Community Manager, Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier, his opinion. Zonker said, "I agree that the 'us vs. us' debates aren't optimal, but in any community, members occasionally disagree and I think it's healthy that we have those disagreements publicly from time to time. It's one of the ways that the open source community works things out. It's no different than what goes on behind closed doors in companies all over the world, except that as an open community, people can actually see what we say to one another."

In Amanda's blog, she asks, "What constitutes a contribution?" She says, "They [Canonical] focus on building a usable, more polished, more designed, better branded and better supported Linux distribution for the consumer market. By any one’s measure they have been successful in that endeavor. By my measure that is a very valuable contribution to the greater Linux movement."

Zonker says, "I tend to define contribution pretty loosely, because I think that Linux and FOSS need much more than code to move forward. Contributions can include documentation, promotion, providing support to other users, translations, helping to run booths at shows, helping with the administrative tasks of running a project, and (of course) code."

On his site, Greg responded to comments he's received about his talk. In response to Amanda's blog, he says, "I have given this very same kind of talk to Amazon, a number of months ago, as well as many other companies over the past 1 1/2 years, so it's not like I am ignoring them at all."

But Greg emphasizes that the point of his talk was, "Developers who are not allowed to contribute to Linux should change jobs." He says, "This was a developer conference. I am a developer, talking as myself only, and not as a representative of any company (note the total lack of any corporate branding on my slides), to other developers who I totally respect and want to see be as happy in their day-job as I am in mine."

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