It’s All in the Wording

Posted on 2010/11/08. Filed under: community, Kubuntu, Linux General, Mandriva, openSUSE, Ubuntu |

There is more than one way to look at anything. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and blogs daily. I see it all of the time. Writers taking potshots at things that they don’t like. Currently it is open season on Ubuntu. But it has been a long hunting season. Backlash has been going on for some time.

This headline caught my eye:Ubuntu To Ditch X For Wayland. Note the word ditch. This gives a negative spin on an otherwise positive story. Ubuntu is supporting Wayland which the person writing calls a “more modern alternative” to X and likes the decision. So why write it in a negative light if they are supporting something that is worthy of support?

There have been hundreds of such posts. Ubuntu Ditches GNOME or Ubuntu Dumps GNOME are examples. The theme here is that Canonical or Ubuntu are bad boys. Words like ditch and dump are succinct, but pejorative, implying that Ubuntu and Canonical are disloyal philanderers or worse.

After enough of these headlines, Jono Bacon, Canonical’s Community Manager issued a call for respect. I don’t blame him, but we have to put things in perspective. This has been going on for a long time. If it is not checked then it gets nasty and this is what is happening. You cannot ignore it and expect it to disappear.

I am not using Ubuntu at present, but I have in the past. I like the fact that Canonical is changing things and even rocking the boat a bit. The community needs a shake up every now and again. We are a complacent and isolated lot. But there is more happening here.

The community does not have to agree on everything, but we don’t have to be a beast that devours its young either. We seem to delight in trying the destroy what someone else is building, even if we do not plan on using it. In fact, most of the critics of Canonical and Ubuntu come from outside the community. It is like Republicans trying to change the Democratic party. They can’t, so instead they seek to gain advantage by politically motivated responses.

The way to change something is to join and participate. Otherwise your criticism rings hollow. In the end you do not want to do anything positive at all. Your goal is not to be an agent of change, but to criticise for the sake of criticism. You are like a film critic that goes to movies and never stops to enjoy them. You get your kicks from finding fault.

I don’t think that most people are like that. I think that most Linux users are happy and satisfied. They want to feel part of something that is bigger than they are. They embrace a distribution and its community. That is why Ubuntu has been so immensely successful. Ubuntu is based on a philosophy. With Ubuntu you get a package deal. You get the distribution, community and the ideal. They all work together and I think well. When you dump on Ubuntu you aren’t just criticising the distribution, but people and they can take exception.

I don’t think that Ubuntu is alone in this. Each distribution has its advocates and community whether it is big like Fedora or Debian or small like PCLinuxOS or MEPIS. The way to build up your community and to promote your distribution is to work within and to promote it to others in a positive manner.

Ubuntu has a code of conduct and by and large its members abide by it. I don’t see them trash talking other distributions or raiding the user base of other distros. I see it all of the time in forums and in blogs that users from other distributions love to take shots at Ubuntu, hoping it will improve their chosen distribution. It doesn’t help. It makes you seem small and petty and your community seem to be unfriendly and uninviting.

I do not use Ubuntu for many reasons. None has anything to do with the community, which is not perfect, but it is very good. I stick up for Ubuntu because I respect what they are trying to do. They are trying to change Ubuntu and make it a better experience.

You can ascribe ulterior motives if you want, but what purpose does it achieve? People say that Canonical is taking but not giving back. All I know is that if they stopped developing it, a lot of people would be out of work. So they are giving something to Linux. You just don’t appreciate how much or the nature of it.

Critics say that they are developing in house for themselves. Every distribution does that. Debian is not thinking of Ubuntu or Fedora when they develop. When Mint made its Mint Menu it wasn’t thinking of downstream projects, but they were adding value for their users and promoting their brand. I have used openSuSE, Mandriva and Fedora. They all do it to one degree or another. Nobody criticises Mandriva when they make a new applet that is on their platform alone or when Fedora tries something new that other distros don’t use.

Ubuntu cannot win. If they switch to anything they are criticised. If they add Banshee they will be criticised for adding Mono content. When the switched to Shotwell they were criticised for abandoning Mono based F-spot. When they change their buttons to the left they are criticised for becoming Mac like. If they add windicators then they will be criticised for developing in house. When they created Launchpad people cried out that they were not giving back to Linux, but whe they released it those critics were silent.

There seems to be no satisfying Ubuntu critics. So they should not try. They should stick to their game plan and work within their community to communicate their vision better. They need to concentrate on community building which is a strength. Criticism from the outside should be expected and they need to stop being naive about it.

For the most part, it is just sour grapes, but they need to address it by being proactive, instead of fighting fires afterwards. When Shuttlworth is to announce a big change at UDS then they should be ready with press releases and responses to anticipated criticisms. That should silence much of it. Right now, people are playing on their naivety and they are coming across as unprepared, which only makes it look as if they have not thought things through or are hiding something. I take them at face value, but some people want to find fault and this gives them fuel.

We need to learn to ignore sensationalist headlines or to take people who post them to task. Mostly, we need to learn to build the community at large up. I am supporting Ubuntu, but I am using Fedora 14 at present. (I am trying to experience other distributions by walking a mile in their shoes. After that I will try a different distribution. Kubuntu is my baseline and has been for awhile. But, I am determined to understand the larger community and for that reason I am using a distribution for one month solid.)

A strong Ubuntu is no threat to Fedora. Fedora has a different vision and a different sort of user base. Because Fedora is strong I don’t see Fedora users as promoting division and spreading dissension. That is what having a strong presence and a consistent vision can do. Users do not have the need to bushwhack others and be constantly looking over their shoulder. Fedora users do not need to compare and as a consequence do not feel the need to attack Ubuntu.

I could point fingers where most of this is coming from, but I won’t. Distributions that feel threatened have good reason to feel that way, but Ubuntu is not the threat that they imagine. The threat comes from within. They are not growing because of decisions that they have made (or more importantly not made) and not because of things that others have done. The way to improve the situation is to communicate your vision to others or if they reject it to accept that gracefully and work to ensure your vision persists. The problem as I see it  is in the last part. They cannot accept that others would reject it or can’t be graceful about it, so they lash out. The consequence is that they are harming their community, but don’t realise it.

We can build or we can destroy with words. We can promote unity or division. When we choose to use certain words then we are doing one of these things. I hope that writers will choose words carefully and weigh the consequence of using them. What do you want to achieve and is this the way to do it? Is it helpful or harmful to the goals of Linux at large and my distribution in particular? Finally, is it being done in a respectful manner which reflects positively on me and the community that I represent?

Words, say a lot about you, perhaps more than you intend when you write them.



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