THERE appears to be a good deal of talk surrounding Canonical plans for an Appcentre that would double as an Appstore. Yes, that’s right, it would seem the clamour from the commercial side of the developer community, those who do things in real-world terms that involve money, is rising.
Nelson Mandela’s principle number 1 which has driven development until now, could end-up being sidelined in the process. Instead of freeing us, Ubuntu could end up putting users in jail — Will Ubuntu become a Robben Island of free software? Will free and open access in an unrestricted and unrestrained fashion be discontinued, in favour of Alcatraz? The new super-Appcentre being touted by developers might just destroy Ubuntu and FOSS as we know it, as if Canonical dumps Synaptic in favour of an Apple-inspired Appstore.
Developers argue that in order to survive, and since Ubuntu is making inroads into commercial territory, commercialisation should be top of the agenda. Besides, it would be kind of cool to be able to get some of the more commercial software like Adobe Photoshop, running on Ubuntu. In February 2008 Canonical announced that it was making Parallels Workstation for Linux available to users via the operating system’s built-in software update tool, using a feature called the Ubuntu Partner Repository.
Commercial applications that run well on Ubuntu might not be such a bad thing, but the manner in which commercialisation occurs could quickly lead to tension between those who believe strongly in the Ubuntu philosophy ( free software and file sharing as a way of life), and those who just want to make a quick buck.
Will Ubuntu prevail by creating a win-win situation with a parallel development path that protects freedom and allows for peaceful co-existence, or are there going to be winners and losers? At the outset, one should add the Canonical plans are tentative at best and will probably not see the light of day until after Karmic is released.
There are also a number of problems with marketing commercial software in a Linux environment. While sites like Click ‘n Run (CNR) have been delivering commercial Linux software for years, there is very little support for this kind of thing in Ubuntu which has traditionally been a free and open-source platform. Commercial software support for Ubuntu has therefore been atrocious. Appstore might remedy this problem while adding proverbial value to the overall community but only if it is done in an open and broadminded manner which does not compromise the ethical principles upon which the distribution is based.
If plans leaked by Ubuntu summit developers are to be believed, combining everything into a giant Appcentre that locks users down into an economic model determined solely by Canonical could be a recipe for disaster. Besides, there are other models such as the Ransom model which reward developers while keeping a community focus, in the process offering alternatives to outright commercialisation and the allure of proprietary software.
Exactly how does Canonical intend releasing the new Appcentre and Appstore combo in a non-proprietary way that will not see all the source code being locked up in patent law? If the company goes about this the wrong way, essentially sneaking everything into one mighty application called Greed, the exercise could end up alienating a sizeable part of the community who would simply vote with their feet and migrate. Any one or more of the free Linux distributions out there such as Linux Mint or gNewSense would be more than happy to receive disgruntled newcomers.
One can only hope that Canonical doesn’t make the mistake of adopting the Apple solution across the board. It is all very well to offer opportunities for developers to receive money in exchange for services with a new application called Appstore, but there is a huge code base that is strictly FOSS and which exists under the GPL and which needs to be protected, despite whatever one thinks of Ubuntu and Canonical. Locking away apt-get in some form of proprietary bundle for example, would really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
The sale of licensed software on the Ubuntu platform is thus bound to open a can of worms — will developers end up getting tied-up in licensing issues? Will users find themselves hamstrung by EULAs and contract law? How will commercial licenses be enforced and why would anybody support a company that does this secretively or which, turns us ordinary users into criminals? Could the sharing of software become illegal?
The blueprints for the Appcentre, apparently go back as far as 2005 and judging by the state of the debate surrounding the current UDS, it would appear there are strong moves afoot to rethink Ubuntu package management which currently includes Synaptic, Add/Remove, Update Manager and gDebi, in order to create the new super Appcentre, which if it is not managed properly could end up looking like Alcatraz.
One can only hope that we see parallel development continuing in a free and unrestricted environment in which both economic paths (capitalist and non-capitalist) are able to co-exist and that Canonical comes to its senses. Sure, let the commercial vendors do their thing, but not if it is going to compromise FOSS and the GPL or those users who have chosen Ubuntu because they choose an ethical lifestyle, or who have made a conscious choice to either share or not have commercial software on their systems.
So a big NO to the unified Appcentre and a big YES to the inclusion of some kind of Appstore as a choice that exists side-by-side Aptitude and Synaptic. Let the capitalists sell their wares, but not by putting up fences and corralling us all into one system that favours the commercial closed source model above all others.