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).

63 thoughts on “Banshee and Ubuntu

  1. @nnonix

    The wikipedia link you cite to claim Ubuntu as an operating system was very muddled in its text and in one part said it was a distribution of an operating system and in another, mistakenly, claimed it to be an operating system in its own right. I’ve corrected the errors. MarkG was completely accurate in his posting in this regard

  2. @David
    Oh nag. I’ll call Linux “GNU/Linux” when you start calling GCC “Linux/GCC” for the exact same reasons. I mean really, where would GCC be without Linux? Blah blah blah. Let’s not go there.

    In truth, I believe you damaged that article in at least one regard. While I won’t argue with the addition of GNU almost everywhere else, the “generic name” remains LINUX. You know this, even if you hate it.

    I don’t know about you or anyone else but the Operating System running on my laptop is Ubuntu (a GNU/Linux distribution).

  3. @nonix

    The Free Software Foundation has an excellent explanation of why the generic name is GNU/Linux not merely Linux which is specific to the kernel on its own We could have called the operating system simply GNU but out of respect for Mr Torvalds and his (and all the others who have worked on the Linux kernel) work we seek to give due standing to that too. GNU is the major part of a GNU/Linux operating system so it is deserving of the order being GNU/Linux rather than Linux/GNU…that way of stating it simply tries to be fair and considerate to all concerned. Surely giving due recognition to them both ensures the continuance of support for both and thus the future of all distributions of same including Ubuntu.

    The GCC was ported to several platforms before Mr Torvalds came onto the scene (from 1984 onwards) and thus it is not restricted to being run with the Linux kernel, though that would likely be the most common implementation. As the GCC has a number of possible targets (both native and cross targets see for details) there is no logical reason to call it GCC/Linux. As you can see GCC would survive perfectly well without Linux and had Linux not come along it was planned to use other kernels that were either available at the time or in the planning stages. The FSF doesn’t seek to downgrade the work done by Mr Torvalds or any others who have worked on Linux (the kernel) but there is no reason to think that an alternative (the last link I gave shows you that there are quite a few possible alternatives) would not now be in place had it not been for Linux. There is no way to know what effect that would have had on the growth of usage of the GCC and the GNU project.

    I’ll put your last statement right for you…I don’t know about anybody else but the software system running on nonix’s laptop is Ubuntu (a GNU/Linux distribution.) I couldn’t resist…

    My personal view would be that Ubuntu and its supporters do themselves a disservice by claiming there products to be operating systems given that making a distribution is no small task and calling their products as they really are highlights the work done to enhance and distribute the GNU/Linux operating system. What is so wrong with highlighting that work rather than claiming to be something it isn’t?

  4. @David
    I’m sorry man. I try to give the FSF & GNU due credit but I’m in the “Linux uses GNU utils and libraries” camp (as it was described by GNU back in ’94) rather than the “GNU uses the Linux kernel” camp (such as it has been described since the “oh shit, this thing is taking off, our kernel blows, we better jump on this train” moment).

  5. I didn’t say Debian wasn’t mentioned “somewhere” on the Ubuntu “site”.. it would be hard not too, just that it’s buried, at least to most first time users.

    Ubuntu *contains* an OS but isn’t an OS in its own right.

    So they shouldn’t claim it is…

    I quote:
    “Ubuntu is a secure, intuitive operating system that powers desktops, servers, netbooks and laptops.”


    Ubuntu CONTAINS a secure, intuitive operating system AND powers desktops, servers, netbooks and laptops.

  6. I’m “on the fence” as far as the GNU/Linux naming convention thing goes, I can see GNU and others deserve credit but think the name could easily get out of hand if we started calling it GNU/X/Gnome/KDE/Samba/Linux/ect.
    But can see no harm in giving credit to the “main” contributors to the OS part of Ubuntu and other distros on their respective homepages.

  7. @MarkG

    With regard to naming getting out of hand…my own view is not really …the operating system is only GNU and Linux while the rest are enhancements and additions as is, for example, (in the sense of it being part of many distributions) Open/Libre Office and we wouldn’t class that as part of the operating system either. Again, this is not to downplay the superb efforts of the many people who create such software nor the work done in making any distribution (just so we make that clear to anyone else reading this Mark…I realise that you know it very well already.)

    The view of the FSF is a little different from my personal view and so I don’t misrepresent them I’ll give you the link to that, official, view

    As to your last point personally I again concur with you (my opinions not that of the FSF); I’d rather like to see a clear list of all the contributors that form part of each distribution and that this be prominent within the distribution both on the websites and somewhere in the system itself…an “about” link with that information would do the trick but isn’t the only way to do it.

    BTW @MarkG and @ nnonix

    Even if we don’t always see eye to eye it is a pleasure to have such a civil and respectful discussion with you both. Sadly when I raise such points on Ubuntu related sites I’m generally met with a vastly different and rather shameful response that does no credit whatever to the distribution concerned.

  8. I can’t believe people are going on about what constitutes an “Operating System”.

    It’s 2011.

    Users (ie a pretty significant category of people the Ubuntu website is aimed at) expect much more from an OS than a kernel and toolchain.

    Users understand Windows to be an OS. Ubuntu is trying to compete with them and is right to promote itself as an OS.

    The OS/distribution terms may provide useful distinctions in some situations but I can’t much value in using a term unfamiliar to many looking for an alternative to Windows.

    No doubt some might take my viewpoint as ‘dumbing down’. I’d view usage of the term “distribution” instead of ‘OS’ on the main Ubuntu web pages as a pointless barrier to entry.

  9. @Paul McGarry

    What you see as a barrier to entry I see as honouring those whose work is made use of. For me it is a parallel to the actions taken over Banshee in that it shows disrespect for the rest of the software ecosystem. No matter the date these are current and pertinent issues.

    If the nature of a distribution is well explained (surely not beyond the capabilities of Canonical) why need it be an issue, apparently, so deadly to adoption of their product?

    IMHO Giving due credit might go some way towards lessening the very low level of positive feeling towards Canonical and its products that is all too apparent in many other parts of the wider GNU/Linux world….not giving due credit greatly reinforces such views.

  10. @David (FSF Supporter)
    I’ll agree that the other contributors I listed are “enhancements”… but at least in the case of X and Samba pretty significant ones… but I get your point (GNU/Linux can be used without them).

    @Paul McGarry
    Canonical simply claim “Ubuntu” to be something it’s not, and give little to no credit to those that developed the OS they claim Ubuntu to be.

    Windows doesn’t come bundled with other peoples work except for a few codecs etc., and the owners of the codec patents wouldn’t be able to claim *them* as an OS just because they tend to come bundled with Windows.

    But this was never really about what constitutes an OS, I was simply pointing out Canonical/Ubuntu are in no hurry to give credit where it’s due but are quick to claim others work as their own… to the extent that finding the words “Linux”, “GNU”, and “Debian” on the Ubuntu website takes some work.

  11. It’s arduous to seek out educated folks on this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

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