End of My Ubuntu Fling

English: Foto of Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10

Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Been off work at my day job this week, in part to catch up on various writing projects (including updating Notes). Things were going pretty well until this morning, when ITWorld sent me their daily newsletter with the subject line “Trouble in Kubuntu-land.” The newsletter linked to this story by Swapnil Bhartiya. The Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) had apparently decided that one of its members, Jonathan Riddell, had said or done something so unspeakable and untoward toward other Council members that he was asked to “step down” as (a?) leader of the Kubuntu Project. There are two weird things about this pronouncement:

  • Riddell’s only “leadership position” within Kubuntu is as a member of Kubuntu Council (KC, the organizational equivalent of the Ubuntu Community Council)
  • The Kubuntu Council (incidentally, elected by the community) was never consulted or notified that its representative was crossing any line in the sand

A fight over transparency

As best as anyone can tell, this fight is rooted in Riddell’s attempt to find out what happens to voluntary contributions made when people download an Ubuntu release from Ubuntu.com. The short answer appears that it mostly goes to support travel by developers to conferences and trade shows. Riddell wonders if Kubuntu and the other official flavors of Ubuntu get any portion of those proceeds.

Tuesday, the Kubuntu Council had a meeting over IRC to discuss the Ubuntu Community Council’s demand. You can find the entire discussion here. Michael Hall from the UCC attended to answer questions about the UCC action. KC members kept asking Hall variations on the same theme: What did Riddell do or say that merited this discipline? Hall’s fairly consistent answer: There are private emails that one or more UCC members received that have not been made public. You should ask them; they must be really bad.

To an observer like me, it looks like Riddell is either innocent of the charges against him, or he’s an exceptionally deft sociopath, who only reserves anti-social behavior for private communication. I haven’t gone through all of the publicly available documentation of the dispute. From what I’ve read, there’s been no trolling, or other unethical, unreasonable behavior on display. I’m open to being corrected. Click the links to find the complete archive of the discussion on the Ubuntu Community Council mailing list, and the (relatively brief) collection of communications between the UCC and KC posted by Scott Kitterman.

My history with (K)Ubuntu

Forgive this personal aside. Almost from the first day I worked with Linux, and especially since Corel Linux (my first distro) died, I used to say that the folks who could put a decent installer and update system on Debian Linux would win the consumer desktop OS wars once and for all. When Mark Shuttleworth and his band of Ubuntu developers succeeded in doing that, I was excited.

I had long committed myself to openSUSE and the KDE desktop (Ubuntu ran GNOME as its default), so I didn’t immediately jump away from that commitment. I did, however, put an early version of Ubuntu on the first laptop I ever owned. I learned a bit about GNOME that way. For everyday use, I stuck with openSUSE. After awhile, I stopped upgrading Ubuntu and moved away from it entirely.

Jump to 2013, and Shuttleworth announces Canonical’s plan to build software for phones and tablets, followed quickly by the (in)famous Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo crowdfunding effort. The vision sounded terrific to me, and I even pledged the campaign to get one of those beauties that were never to be. Some folks (looking at you, Larry Cafiero) warned me that I might be heartbroken, but I pressed on anyway. I even got a contract to write a book about Ubuntu Touch. That project was put on hold a year or so ago, but you can still see the cover on Goodreads!.

I threw myself into the project with glee and perseverance, getting an Ubuntu account, signing up for the Documentation team, downloading the Software Development Kit. I even started a Notes from the Ubuntuverse blog on my author site. That didn’t last long.

First sign of trouble

Still one of the most popular posts on this blog is my response to Canonical’s reassignment of Jonathan Riddell away from Kubuntu in 2012. It came at a time when pundits were thinking the KDE desktop project was dying, and Riddell’s reassignment (and the presumed end of Kubuntu) was supposed to be a key blow. Another company, Blue Systems, decided to financially sponsor continued Kubuntu development, and Riddell continued to offer his time.

In retrospect, you have to wonder if this business is a second round of punishing Kubuntu and its most public face.

In 2013, Benjamin Kerensa withdrew from Ubuntu development to make his primary contributions to Mozilla. Perhaps it was uniquely appropriate then that the Kubuntu Council approved his membership in their community in the other main order of business Tuesday.

What’s next?

The Kubuntu Council urged the UCC to reconsider its sanctions against Riddell. If Ubuntu (and Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life Mark Shuttleworth) doesn’t back off, there’s a real possibility that Kubuntu may leave the *Buntu plantation for greener pastures (like Debian). I’d support that.

Today, Ubuntu phones are available in Europe and China. If the phone is ever released in North America, I may be asked to restart my book project. Depending on what reality presents at that time, I may agree to do that, but unquestionably with much diminished enthusiasm.

In the meantime, I’m throwing myself wholeheartedly back into participation in the openSUSE community, not just as an observer and user.

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