Commercialized Linux – The Great Divide

I have been quite absent from Unixmen for almost 2 weeks now. I do apologize, but have been very busy with other work tasks and projects.
I actually started this article during my absence, but there was a reason it has taken me so long to finish. Read on and see why.

There’s an ugly side to Linux. Or to be more specific, Ubuntu Linux. It has suffered from the evil grips of what I describe as ‘Commercialism’.

For the past few weeks, on behalf of Unixmen I have been in negotiations with Canonical for an interview from someone regarding the final stages of development of Ubuntu 12.04 ‘Precise Pangolin’. I was initially hopeful for an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu and  Canonical. But I also understood that getting an interview with Mark would be highly unlikely. So I sent off the email requesting an interview. I awaited the reply in anticipation. Sure enough, I did get a reply from one of Mark’s secretaries. I was informed that my request would be forwarded to Mark Shuttleworth. 2 days later I received another reply from a different person saying that Mark could not be interviewed at present but my email would be forwarded on to someone who can organize someone else to be interviewed. Confused? So was I.

I patiently awaited the next email, curious as to who would be answering my questions. Sadly, that was about as far as I could get to getting an interview with anyone at Canonical. I have sent and received a few emails since, speaking to someone who expressed their disappointment with some of my work. Or something I wrote about that could possibly be seen as tarnishing the professional image of Canonical and Ubuntu. And although it was never specifically mentioned, I suspect this is the reason that an interview will not be given and I have received no further emails from this person or anyone at Canonical since!

Funny, Canonical seems to want to maintain a professional image, yet the correspondence I have received them has been nothing short of a little bit childish. Throughout, I have personally remained composed, polite and professional. It seems Canonical has suffered from the same communication problems as most other large businesses and corporations suffer from. I don’t know whether it is a communication problem throughout Canonical or something personal with a very small selection of staff. Either way, I don’t think this sort of ‘community brush-off’ is good for Linux and its very enthusiastic community members. I mean, sure these companies support Linux both financially and through providing the required infrastructure for things to move along and progress. But without us, the community and user-base, there would be nothing for them to support in the first place. It is such a shame that the difference between Canonical and the Ubuntu Community is such a great divide.

This article is not a rant or complaint against Canonical and/or Ubuntu, but I am rather bringing forward the issue and raising the question of whether Canonical is suffering from ‘Commercialism’. It’s just not the way Linux was conceived and not the way that the Linux eco-system and community of developers, enthusiasts and users co-operate and unite.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic and whether you’ve had any similar experience when corresponding with the companies behind Linux. Let us know.

  • JustinLynnReid

    This is probably my own experience, but I went through a similar sort of situation when trying to get involved in Ubuntu development a while back. The organization of the wikis was overwhelming and when I tried to enter into an IRC room with some of the community members, I didn’t receive any real guidance to where I should go given my interests. I keep hearing about how Linux is created by volunteers who have certain experiences, but how am I supposed to apply the coding skills that I know to an OS I use every day when I’m sidelined because I’m a “noob”? Even Linus Torvalds himself was a noob at one point. Rants aside, this article doesn’t surprise me and even the Fedora community doesn’t have the same feel like the Ubuntu community sometimes has.

  • tracyanne

    quote:: speaking to someone who expressed their disappointment with some of my
    work. Or something I wrote about that could possibly be seen as
    tarnishing the professional image of Canonical ::quote

    Unless you are an employee of Canonical, nothing you have to say about Ubuntu or Canonical can tarnish the image of the organisation.

    The person who expressed those thoughts, however, has. Or, at least, assuming there is an image left to tarnish, probably has.

  • Chipz

    Sounds like whiny baby talk.  Write a software patch or offer to assist in organizing their community documentation and see how quickly they get back to you.  Software companies don’t usually hire dozens of public image employees unless they’ve become very commercial or are enterprise software, how you could take the lack of public relations to indicate commercialism is crazy.

  • Jg

    One thing you have to understand about Canonical and the Ubuntu ecosystem is that it tends to attract folks who are dogmatic control freaks. Besides not being able to tolerate any dissent or deviance from the “Ubuntu uber alles” mentality, they also have a (futile) goal of trying to control the entire Linux ecosystem the same way that Apple controls its ecosystem. But everyone knows that Canonical/Ubuntu is just a leech that rides on the coat tails of the real Linux ecosystem, and take all the credit for the work of others (and sometimes even pilfer others’ affiliate money). There are so many better distros out there to write about, so many more deserving entities to give exposure to, and frankly, I expect Canonical to be bankrupt and gone within the next 3 to 5 years. Therefore, the best thing is to forget about Canonical/Ubuntu, and instead write about something more substantial than yesterday’s tired old news. One has to be a complete Linux noob to actually find Canonical/Ubuntu interesting/relevant in 2012.

  • Alberto Garcia

    “There’s an ugly side to Linux. Or to be more specific, Ubuntu Linux. It has suffered from the evil grips of what I describe as ‘Commercialism’.”

    Commercialism – Emphasis on the maximizing of profit.

    You do know that FLOSS can be commercialized, right? I don’t think you understand Free Software. Please see

  • Vagelis Giannadakis

    So, dear author, they refused to talk to you and hence Canonical is bad, right? And this pathetic rant is your way of pressing them to do talk to you? And what if they do? Will they still be bad??

  • Guest

    You can’t correspond solely by email and complain about someone else’s lack of professionalism.  Pick up the dang phone and call the office and you might get a more human response.

  • deep_dish

    He didn’t say “Linux cannot be commercialised”, merely that Canonical have, in his opinion, picked up some bad habits in the process of their commercialisation and that this is not a good thing.

  • deep_dish

    No group of people, anywhere on earth, has as many contrarians and generally snappy people, as Linux users.
    I think it’s because one has to be a contrarian at heart in order to even look for an alternative to the main stream offerings and so there’s a higher than normal percentage of such people anywhere there’s a mention of Linux.

    In response to your article – it’s been quite a shame to see what’s happened to Canonical. Whether this is the effect of Corporatisation, or some deeper psychological process, is another question.

  • Wendell Anderson

    I have been involved in technology  from all levels for twenty five plus years, and more enthusiastically with GNU/Linux since 1995.

    My perspective is that Canonical is attempting to distance itself from the Linux/Ubuntu community, particularly with move to “rename” their kernel and user space software so as to appear more IBM or HP- like  in their “commercial”, enterprise endeavours.

    I sincerely hope these steps do not come back to bite them in the ass.

  • Ken Ash

    excellent article. you hit the nail dam smack on the the head!

  • Anon

    Have you ever tried to get an interview from Microsoft?  I wonder how easy that would be ;)

  • Observer

     Rename the kernel? The name of the kernel is the same as it has always been. It’s the same name that Debian uses. It’s called linux-image.

  • Clarify Ubuntu

    I’m trying to understand the point of this article. Is it trying to say that Canonical has become too commercial because they won’t offer the author an interview? Or that because they are commercial, they didn’t provide an interview?

    If I understand correctly, a non-commercial distribution would have been quicker to provide an interview. right?

  • Sicofante

    “Whether this is the effect of Corporatisation, or some deeper psychological process, is another question.”


    I don’t think “comercialism” or “corporatisation” has too much to do with it (is Canonical a corporation, really? Or just a small limited company in a fiscal paradise?). My impression with Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth is that of a kid with too much money, but enthusiastic about his toy. Not very professional, not very insightful, a bit arrogant, a but ignorant (he thinks he’s a UX guru…), but motivated and with the cash to make it happen.

    That’s not totally bad. He represents leadership in a world (Linuxland) characterized by chaos. That’s probably what has created followers, hence popularity. Most people don’t want to get involved, they just want a well rounded solution and Ubuntu is definitely that. Not perfect, certainly, but good enough.

    Sure, it would be great if the dictator was brilliant and mature, but the same could be said about lots of Linux gurus out there. At least Ubuntu has a direction, a way forward.

    I’m sticking with it, no matter what I think about its leader and its lack of professionalism. I’m one of those who prefers that a company is backing the software I use. No company but Canonical has bet so much money on the Linux desktop.

    The article looks as childish as it says Canonical is: “they don’t want to come back to me, so they’re evil”.

  • LeeC

    yep a lot more correct than not here. first they move buttons to the left side of the title bar and then unity comes along. of course they know that win8 is gonna be running on touchscreens so they wanna “be ready”. the issue here though is do I really want a touchscreen for every day computer work? well, no. for one they cost a frikken fortune. and secondly I’m not big on paw prints all over the screen. and are those huge icons the big “ugly” or what? now ubuntu is joining the ranks of micropuke by doing their own thing and pretty much ignoring the community that got them where they are today.

  • yanni

    well if they grant you an interview. perhaps they can grant me one too. after all i love linux and i work out of my mom’s basement. am i interview worthy?

  • Chrisjones

    Unfortunately, when you live in Australia (as I do) that is not really a viable option. Email is the most efficient and cost effective method of communication and correspondence.

  • Michael Zucchi

    SIP makes internatonal phone calls cheaper than local ones (mobile anyway), so cost is not the problem.

    It’s the timezones – you either have to work funny hours, or simply not deal with the rest of the world ear to ear.

  • Michael Zucchi

    Linux is a massive commercial operation – redhat, canonocal, ibm, linux foundation, etc; they are all in it for the money.  It’s been completely commercialised for well over a decade now.

    And I’m not sure why bouncing around a couple of ‘administrative officers’ is confusing, I would have thought it was par for the course

    Still, it does canonical no favours to pick and choose only those who will be unobjectively[sic] nice to them either and they deserve any bad rap as a result.

  • Destfinal

    There is a point with Vagelis. I have not read Chris before; but in this article I can not see any valid reasons why Canonical has been (or getting) commercialized (but whether commercialism is acceptable, good or bad is a different issue) apart from the fact that they refused the interview, through I agree with Chris that the reason for refusal is childish. Chris seems to have used this article mainly to take his piss off (sorry for the language).

    On the other hand, my fellow Guest has mentioned that Chris should have called Canonical. What’s wrong with email? Why should it not be given as the same respect as a phone call? In what way is that inferior? What if they refused even over the phone? Would you accept Chris’ accusations or suggest Chris to visit Canonical to beg for an interview? All it needs is to express your interest in a genuine way.

  • aikiwolfie

    Canonical didn’t give you the time of day. So clearly they are evil. And what’s all this about commercialism being the ugly side of Linux? How exactly do you think Linux got to where it is today? Do you think it’s all down to bedroom programmers hacking away at their codes in their spare time? Or was it maybe that commercial organisations saw the potential and put some resources into it? Canonical, Intel, Google, Oracle, AMD, Nvidia etc are all businesses. Major projects like Xorg, Samba or the Linux kernel it’s self are all sponsored big big industry players.

    The GNU project, the fruits of which makes up quite a bit of most Linux distros, advocates for Free Libre software. Not open source software. GNU are entirely okay with people or businesses making money out of software or the service of writing software.

    So you didn’t get an interview with Canonical. Stop crying already.

  • jgm

     Yes, it is bad when Linux people (Linux being a community effort) refuse to talk to other people or members of the community. You can’t have community-driven efforts without communication.

  • jgm

     You’re worthy enough to contribute to the Linux kernel, so why not? In the world of Linux (and the hacking community in general) people are judged by their abilities, not their name, their place of origin, a degree on a wall, their bank account, etc. Heck, for a period of time Richard Stallman was living out of his office!

  • jgm

     They’re referring to it now in press materials as the Ubuntu kernel rather than the Linux kernel. Shuttleworth also infamously referred to Debian recently as “part of the Ubuntu ecosystem” rather than the other way around.

  • jgm

     The article looks as childish as it says Canonical is: “they don’t want to come back to me, so they’re evil”.

    You don’t consider ignoring someone or refusing to answer questions from the community (you know, the ones who actually code the software Canonical sells) improper behavior?

  • jgm

    > Or was it maybe that commercial organisations saw the potential and put
    >resources into it? Canonical, Intel, Google, Oracle, AMD, Nvidia
    etc are all
    >businesses. Major projects like Xorg, Samba or the Linux
    kernel it’s self are all
    >sponsored big big industry players.

    All of those things existed before big corporate players. Big corporate players didn’t see the “potential”; they saw the actual results and then began chipping in. If you read the latest Linux Foundation report on the kernel you’ll see that a large chunk of its contributions really do come from “bedroom programmers hacking away at their code in their spare time”.

  • Sicofante

    Sure. How does it relate to the case in hand? This is a journalist J asking for an interview and company C not obliging. End of story. That doesn’t make company C evil or bad or whatever. Happens every day to thousands of journalists that don’t go back crying to their blog “they don’t love me”.