Ubuntu Linux is an example of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and the Linux community which has congregated around the distribution sponsored by Mark Shuttleworth’s Canonical company has made enormous strides in improving the user experience. With Launchpad and the Debian package management system, Ubuntu has one of the best software development environments around. It is a shame therefore to see all this energy wasted on fasionable design statements (the latest aurbergine and naartjie look) while productivity and improvement in the problem-solving capabilities of the community have all taken a back seat. (How does dumping legacy support for Python 2.5 and 2.6 improve productivity?)
Here are few suggestions and thoughts on how we can take Ubuntu to the next level.
- First there is the problem of communication within the community. Relying on forums, mailing lists and general sites to fix problems is becoming increasingly difficult the more the community expands. In other words, a lot of the improvements in the code base are simply getting lost in the woodwork. Knowledge is therefore getting mislaid, buried under heaps of extraneous data and the result we see in regressions and the opposite of evolution.
I have often compared the great project which is the Internet to Franz Kafka’s short story, The Great Wall of China. In Kafka’s story, entire generations grow up beside the wall, forgetting in the process exactly which dynasty is responsible for the planning and the exact reason why so many people are spending time building the wall, brick by brick.
How we talk back to ourselves as a community is incredibily important — unfortunately a lot of the feedback seems to get the standard Linux snobbery, which translates into, if you want a better, more tailored OS, look elsewhere in the Linux world.
Ubuntu may have the better metaphor, precisely because it involves community and common goals around humanity, but does it have the most turned on community in terms of development? Lets’ not loose the plot as we move forward into eye-candy discussions about the next wallpaper or window button.
A system of tagging solutions in a way that important code is not lost to the community as a whole could do wonders to our progress.
How can we as a community make real sense of the chaos which is mad tux?
All too often, we embrace the new, while forgetting about projects which feed the community which in turn drives progress but without much energy from Ubuntu users going back. When was the last time you contributed to Mozilla for instance? Can we really complain when most of the Ubuntu OS is really a congregation of upstream software packaged for our platform? Shouldn’t Ubuntu be the force for progress in Linux instead of the other way around?
Where are the secondary sites tackling evolution of particular parts of the OS in a way which expresses our collective humanity and aspirations for FOSS? Are there no solutions tackling specific hardware for instance that need specialist sites geared towards Ubuntu on a particular platform?
Again, the problem of getting the kind of next generation software which only comes with considerable investment of time and energy.
Are we developing efficient methods of rewarding the very people capable of producing truly amazing software? I can think of several solutions such as the Ransom Model and other fair exchange models. An Ubuntu Hour as a complimentary currency unit?
Here is a vision I have for the next generation FOSS environment — It is a world in which the community literally creates Ubuntu on a per user basis, via online software factories, with software which produces the kind of software we need and so on. Machines which build machines, In this world, users draw up the specifications for the exact kind of application they need, and by simply placing these specs in the system, the ubuntu tux factory produces the code and the result is Ubuntu.
Ubuntu may have moved its design aeasthetic to the next level, but conceptually, the OS if very much in the last century. How do we generate true progress without making demands on the machines which are being manufactured, the standards which come into play in designing CPUs and graphics cards?
It is surely time that Ubuntu started looking at the problems associated with open hardware and the computer industry in the same way the big guns, Microsoft and Apple have dictated progress in this field. Ubuntu users are beginning to represent a sizable portion of the economy surrounding hardware, it is time we got the kind of attention we deserved.
I therefore look forward to the day when I can buy hardware that is Ubuntu ready, which carries the kind of blessing from the community, (so what if Ubuntu isn’t a massive corporation?) attention by manufactureres, which is more than simply a repackaging of the OS onto hardware. Ubuntu hardware should surely carry a different outlook, it should be built with human beings in mind, it should be appropriate, eco-friendly, and, to use Ivan Illich’s phrase, a tool for conviviality.
David Robert Lewis,
Woodstock, Cape Town,
Sunday, May 16 2 PM