Ubuntu always gets a lot of coverage in blogs, and the recent
controvesy realisation that it isn't a 100% community-made distribution has triggered yet another round of this.
A lot of the controvesy, coverage, and attention can be laid at the feet of Canonical themselves; I think it is fair to say that the visibility, hype, advertising, and the goal of trying to be all things to all men means that even relatively trivial issues can easily get blown out of proportion, and to a certain extent this is a self-inflicted. Live by the
sword media & etc ...
I think it is fair to say that Ubuntu has attracted a huge swathe of non-technical users. They want something "easy", "free", and "sexy", but more than that they want to use their computer, not develop the operating system.
When a particular bug report, with 400+ comments, hits the press we're primarily seeing a marketing-fail rather than technical-fail. The realisation that yes bugs are reported, but no the community (of users) doesn't get input into every single thing is as it should be. If you look back over "controvesy" in the past you'll see comments from the non-technical users which are tantamoint to blackmail:
This should be fixed ... or I'm gonna .. install .. gentoo. yeah. really.
(Similarly you see many comments of the form "I agree", "oh noes", or "Please revert ASAP", rather than technical arguments.)
This non-technical nature of the userbase is also readily apparent if you browse through the answers to problems posted in forums for example "Delete this file, I don't know why it works but it fixes it for me!!2!". (I've seen some truly horrific advice upon Ubuntu forums, even so far as chmodding various parts of the system to allow users to write binaries to /bin.)
Similarly you'll see that the launchpad is full of generic linux misunderstandings and bugs that aren't "real". The unfortunate fact is that the Ubuntu bug tracker is a wasteland in many places:
- Lots and lots and lots of users reporting bugs.
- Those bugs being ignored for huge periods of time
- Except for "Hey is this still present in $pending-release?"
- The issue isn't that Ubuntu developers don't care, the issue is one of manpower.
The tight timescale of releases combined with the sheer number of incoming bug reports means that often issues are overlooked. (For example one bug that bit a colleague is #402188 - on the one hand it is a trivial bug, on the other hand its readily apparent to users. If something like that can be missed it makes you wonder ..?) ObRandom: Ubuntu has 100 bugs open against its Vim package, some of which have been marked as NEW since 2009 (ie. untouched, ignored). By contrast the Debian vim package has way fewer bugs. I'm sure there are packages where the situation is reversed but I think is not an unusual comparison.
Finally in addition to sheer numbers of bugs, and tight timescales, it has to be noted that the relative number of developers to users is miniscule, and this in turn has lead to some interesting solutions. The Ubuntu PPA system (personal package archive) should be a good thing. It should allow people to submit new packages for testing, for bugfixes, and for more visibility. Instead downloading a PPA file is no different than going to download.com and downloading a random binary - sure it might be legit, but there's no oversight, no quality control, and most likely no future updates.
Ubuntu as a distribution is interesting, and I'm not trying to be overly critical - A year or two ago had somebody thrown money at me I might have been inclined to accept it.
I think most of the perceived problems stem from a single common source, which is largely the issue of scale. (e.g. bug reports to bug handlers. developer numbers to user numbers.)
There are many good things to be said about Ubuntu (& Canonical) in addition to the negative ones that we see in the press or that I've perceived and mentioned above. The truth is it works for a lot of people, and the growing pains will continue until it either dies or both its audience and itself matures.
Either way I don't hate Ubuntu, in the same way that I don't hate Microsoft, Oracle, Fedora, Gentoo, or other mass-entities. There are pros and cons to be made for most of them, (and of course Debian itself is no different).
However I will say that every time I see people write "If you want a sexy/shiny/easy to use Linux desktop then install Ubuntu" I glance over at my Debian Lenny desktop, marvel at how sexy, shiny and easy to use it is, and get a little bit disappointed at our own marketing failure(s).
ObFilm: Day of the Woman
Tags: debian, ubuntu