I’ve had this knocking about for a while in various forms. Following TheOpenSourcerer‘s post, I figured I’d get it in while he’s getting the flack.
About a year ago, I remember there being some rejoicing at the prospect of Canonical open-sourcing Launchpad, their bug/issue/ticket tracking web application. I also remember being a mite confused by it. Canonical is the company behind Ubuntu Linux, the popular open source operating system. Surely they, of all people, had opened the source from the start? What does it say when the company most loudly and successfully pushing open source as an efficient means of software development to your average computer user, develops its in-house software behind closed doors? And, accepting that, why is opening the source means for rejoicing? It is surely the belated Right Thing To Do. If anything, the response should have been along the lines of “Why so long?”
More recently, I decided that a hodge-podge of scripts to keep my files in sync between PCs wasn’t a good idea, not least because it didn’t actually work, and since my home PC and my laptop were both Ubuntu, and Ubuntu One seemed easy enough to install, that’d do the trick. So I installed it and started using it. Then I decided to get my work PC in on the game. And find this message:
Requirements: Because we want to give everyone using Ubuntu One the very best experience, we require that you run Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) or higher.
Which is something I don’t think I’ve come across before – a Free Software company producing software and inventing restrictions. Why shouldn’t Ubuntu One work on my Debian desktop?
This incompatibility for the sake of it is something I remember from Windows, and it’s not a good memory. I know it’s possible to write a client for it – the client is at least open source – but the message that I am required to use Ubuntu to use it? What good does that do anyone?
Most recently came the news that on the netbook edition Canonical have decided to drop OpenOffice.org (which *is* undeniably bloated) and use Google docs in its place. Google Docs is completely proprietary. It’s about as closed source as software can get, since you can’t even study its behavior, only those interfaces you’re permitted with it.
Why wasn’t AbiWord used, with it’s online service, for example? Or a pared down OpenOffice, perhaps? Canonical has shown in the past that it has the developer hours to make fantastic, awesome, changes to software. Why not do that now?
Ubuntu is the most popular desktop Linux distro. I’m sure there are ways of counting such that Fedora wins, but if something’s packaged for Linux, it’s available in a Ubuntu-pointed deb. And so it occupies a unique position for free software – it’s an opportunity to be a fantastic demonstration of what is possible with free software. It is possible to make commercial progress without restricting user freedom, and it is possible to make a wonderfully usable operating system under these conditions.
Except Ubuntu’s not demonstrating that. It’s showing that using a billionaire benefactor and a bunch of closed source software we can turn a free operating system into a mostly-freeish wonderful one.
And I’d rather like Canonical to stop doing that, and get back to making free software look good.