Banshee and Ubuntu

[ If you haven’t heard of this debate yet, you probably want to read Vincent Untz’s and Mark Shuttleworth’s blog posts. ]

Last year, I gave a talk at FOSDEM about Debian and Ubuntu (slides of a slightly updated version). One of my points was that Debian has better values, being a volunteer-driven project where decisions are taken in the open.

In contrast, Ubuntu is a project managed and controlled by Canonical, and recent history has shown that Canonical had no problem imposing some decisions to the developers community: first with the inclusion of UbuntuOne, then the switch from Google to Yahoo! to Google as the default search engine, both to increase revenue streams.

So one should not be surprised by the Banshee story. I find Mark’s justification quite difficult to buy, and similar to Apple’s model where 30% of the revenues from the App Store go to Apple, and 70% to the seller of the application.

For those wondering how much work was done by Canonical directly on the Banshee package: the banshee package in Ubuntu natty is based on the package currently in Debian experimental. The package is mainly maintained in Debian by an Ubuntu developer not paid by Canonical AFAIK, Chow Loong Jin. There are some differences between the Debian package and the Ubuntu package, which are fairly limited (full diff here) and mainly about enabling UbuntuOne and disabling the other music stores. That patch itself apparently was provided by Jo Shields, who doesn’t seem to be a canonical employee. (Feel free to correct me)

I think that one of the conclusions to draw from this story is that we now have several proofs that Ubuntu isn’t a volunteer-driven project, and that volunteer contributors should really decide whether they are OK with working for free for Canonical, or if their free time would be better spent on other projects where they actually have a chance to influence decisions. From the Debian POV, I’m still convinced that we should take the feedback that we receive from Ubuntu in consideration to improve our Debian packages (by looking at patches made by Ubuntu, or at bugs reported in Launchpad). But my motivation for contributing to Ubuntu directly has just diminished a bit more (not that it was very high before).