Sam Varghese is a columnist for the iTWire website who likes Ubuntu and apparently has great respect for Mark Shuttleworth. He writes opinion pieces that I often disagree with but he most certainly is entitled to his opinion. He has now, on three separate occasions this year, written pieces which are harshly critical of Ubuntu's detractors. If you dare say anything negative about his favorite Linux distribution you will be in Mr. Varghese's cross hairs. For example, he took a broad swipe at anyone who didn't like the changes in Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) in a piece entitled Ubuntu users, Shuttleworth doesn't owe you anything. Anyone who so much as questioned the change of the position of Windows buttons is guilty of a fatal flaw common to Linux users.
Linux users possess one awful characteristic in spades - a sense of entitlement.Mr Varghese seems to think that Mark Shuttleworth is this benevolent philanthropist who is giving us, the Linux community, something wonderful for free and takes nothing from us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Ubuntu code comes from Debian, which in turn comes from the labors of dedicated members of the Linux community. In effect, for those of us who have contributed code to Linux projects that, in turn, end up in Ubuntu, Mr. Shuttleworth has taken our labor. Granted, as members of the Free and Open Source (FOSS) community we gave it willingly. However, to claim that Mr. Shuttleworth and Canonical owe nothing to the community upon which they built their business is simply not the case.
Nothing else can account for the way in which a number of users have tried to force their will on the Ubuntu chief, Mark Shuttleworth, and get him to reverse the decision.
In addition, Ubuntu likes to tout the community nature of their project. The fact that Ubuntu has a large user community and generally interacts well with it says something very positive about Canonical. However, if you accept volunteer labor from that community and state that you want input from that community, as Ubuntu clearly does, you have to accept the fact that some decisions will not go down well with everyone in that community and you are likely to get some negative feedback. Canonical does not censor that feedback and, one would hope, they solicit it because community feedback helps them produce a better product. Mr. Varghese doesn't see criticism that way and instead launches on three page vitriolic attacks on the community members who dare question the wisdom of the almighty Shuttleworth.
In his pieces opposing Ubuntu's critics Mr. Varghese has been adept at spinning and outright misrepresenting the words of those he disagrees with. For example, in a February 15th piece titled I'm not driven by Microsoft hatred: Shuttleworth, Mr. Varghese so misrepresented Alan Lord's comments in The Open Sourcerer blog that Mr. Lord felt compelled to write this response, concluding with the words "Sam, your article paints me with a brush which I do not believe to be fair or accurate." Don't worry, Alan, you're hardly alone in being misrepresented by Mr. Varghese.
Indeed, in a piece published today Sam Varghese spends three pages explaining The main problem with Linux: ignorant users. However, he doesn't talk about users in general. The three pages are dedicated to attacking someone Mr. Varghese seems to see as the epitome of the ignorant user: yours truly. Oh, I've been pounced on by people who disagreed with me before. It's part of the territory when you write honest but sometimes unpopular opinions. Mr. Varghese, of all people, should know this. However, in iTWire today he treats us to a three page diatribe which does nothing but mischaracterize my words and misrepresents my opinions.
My great sin, according to Mr. Varghese:
Yesterday, I discovered one more GNU/Linux user who appears to think that Canonical does owe its users something - reliability - and is prepared to vent about it in public.Actually, he's right to a point. If an operating system isn't reliable then what good is it? He goes on:
One would be inclined to expect better from Caitlyn Martin, who claims to have used GNU/Linux from 1998 onwards, and also advertises herself as a technical consultant with a background in several tech-related areas. But, sadly, such does not turn out to be the case.Let's get the facts right, shall we? Actually, my bio says I've used Linux from 1995 onwards. I've worked with Linux professionally since 1998. My background includes a period in 2005 consulting for Red Hat. I have also volunteered my time and efforts packaging software for VectorLinux and helping to maintain their repository, for which I received warm thanks from their excellent development team but nothing more. As a result I do have some insight as to what it takes to develop a Linux distribution.
Mr. Varghese goes on:
Under the heading "Ubuntu is a poor standard bearer for Linux" Martin vents on a blog provided by the publisher O'Reilly, with her starting point being that she could not hot-plug a printer and get it recognised by her netbook which runs Karmic Koala, or version 9.10 of Ubuntu.This is a string of purely false statements, the first, sadly, of many in Mr. Varghese's piece. I did refer to a regression in either udev or devicekit which caused my HP LaserJet 1020 printer to fail to work if it was on prior to booting. In other words, the failure is in cold-plugging, not hot-plugging as Mr. Varghese states. I should add that this regression impacts all printers which use foo2zjs, a driver for printers that use the Zenographics ZjStream wire protocol, which includes models by HP, Konica and Minolta.
Martin wants to apparently stay on the cutting edge by constantly updating her distro but also wants everything to continue to work. She wants the same functionality that a long-term support version of Ubuntu offers to continue into the bleeding-edge releases which occur between LTS releases.
This printer worked fine under Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04 LTS) but failed after I upgraded to Karmic Koala (9.10). You will note that these releases are not six months apart but rather 18 months apart. I specifically do NOT recommend upgrading every six months but rather when necessary either because of a lack of support for new hardware or because a release is going out of support. To claim that I want to upgrade every six months is utterly inconsistent with both what I wrote and what I've done with my own systems.
His next point, that I want six month standard releases to have the same stability as LTS releases is also inconsistent with what I wrote. What I did say was that Ubuntu sells itself as "Linux for human beings" and Canonical press releases tout each and every release as stable and an improvement over all that has come before. In my second piece (which Mr. Varghese terms a "rant") I stated:
There are a number of ways that the issues I raise can be tackled. One would be a simple marketing change: tout LTS as the stable "Linux for human beings" and the six month releases as cutting edge. In other words, Canonical can change the expectations of the user community without substantially changing the product and then meet those expectations.In other words, I am not demanding or even asking for a change in the Ubuntu product. What I am asking is that Canonical live up to the promises it makes to the community and to the wider computer using public. What I am asking for is no more than truth in advertising. I did offer up improved QA on the six month releases as an alternative solution if Canonical should wish to make that choice.
Mr. Varghese continues:
Her main grouse appears to be the fact that Ubuntu is now recognised as being more or less synonymous with Linux; other distributions, she claims, are better. Have the good folk at Canonical done something wrong by marketing their product well? Is it anybody's fault that Ubuntu head honcho Mark Shuttleworth appears to have a few spare coppers that he wants to spend on developing and marketing a GNU/Linux distribution?For crying out loud, when did I ever say any such thing? It is neither in either of my articles nor in my responses to the comments. My complaint isn't good marketing. It's misleading marketing that gives false expectations to newcomers to Linux. When a newcomer to Linux is promised a simple, problem free computing experience and fails to get anything remotely close to it they walk away with a decidedly negative opinion of Linux as a whole, not just Ubuntu. This wouldn't be the case if Ubuntu hadn't become all but synonymous with Linux to the general public. That was the point of my original article.
The follow-up piece, the one Mr. Varghese calls a "rant", was my admission that I didn't express my ideas as clearly as I should have done in the first piece. It wasn't a rant and it did make clear that I think that Canonical and Ubuntu do some things incredibly well, such as getting systems preloaded with Linux into the marketplace. I also commended Ubuntu engineers for making certain those systems work flawlessly, as was the case with my HP Mini 110 netbook, delivered with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS installed. Further, I acknowledged that is easier to do with a limited hardware set than with a general distribution. Of course, Mr. Varghese ignored this part of the article because it didn't fit in with his desire to paint me as an "ignorant user" who has a "sense of entitlement."
Mr. Varghese asks:
Or does it irk her that, horror of horrors, the man is actually trying to make money off Linux?Say what? I thought I was the person who insisted that having corporate or institutional backing for a Linux distribution is a positive thing as it insures the continuity of the product.
Of course, Mr. Varghese was just warming up:
There are so many contradictions in her rant that anyone who takes her seriously would have to be smoking some rather strong stuff. For instance, at one point she writes: "There has been a lot of discussion about why Ubuntu consistently fails to deliver a stable, reliable product."What contradiction? The initial release of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS was buggy and had significant problems. Even some of the most strident defenders of Ubuntu who responded to my pieces admitted that much. However, much unlike subsequent releases, Ubuntu fixed 8.04. I quoted and linked articles by the likes of Andrew Wyatt, Chris Smart (from Linux Magazine, no less), Carla Schroder and Akkana Peck that demonstrated an interminable series of regressions and severe problems with every release since 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). Are those who take me seriously "smoking strong stuff" or is Mr. Varghese suffering from a basic lack of reading comprehension?
But the very next line reads: "Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron) was, in fact, very stable and reliable after the first maintenance release (8.04.1) so I have no doubt that Canonical can produce a quality product."
Mr. Varghese also conveniently forgets that my main complaint is not that Ubuntu has bugs. Every Linux distribution has bugs. Every operating system release of any sort has bugs. What really irks me about Ubuntu is they have more serious regressions and bugs that affect more users than are typically found in a Linux distribution. Even that wouldn't bother me if they managed expectations for their cutting edge releases the way that Fedora does. No, what really bothers me, and what I expounded on at length, is the fact that Ubuntu chooses not to fix those bugs during a release cycle while claiming that each release has 18 months of support. If you don't fix problems are you really offering support?
From here Mr. Varghese devolved into calling me "stupid", "ignorant", a "spinmeister", someone who doesn't read what she writes, and on and on. Indeed, in the entire three page attack Mr. Varghese doesn't once refute anything I've written with facts to the contrary, nor does he provide any evidence whatsoever which indicates that I've written anything which isn't completely accurate.
Mr. Varghese, I wrote my own piece back in November stating what I believe is the number one problem with the Linux community. What I didn't do was engage in ad hominem attacks on specific people or misrepresent what they wrote. I did expect better from a Linux columnist from a well regarded website. I see I was wrong to do so.
Mr. Varghese is correct in one of his criticisms leveled at me: there is nothing new in my articles about Ubuntu published this week. I am reporting a continuation of the same old problems with Ubuntu that have been detailed by writers who are far more prominent than I am over the last three years. All I am doing is pointing out that nothing has changed. Indeed, by failing to fix bugs and answer complaints Canonical and Ubuntu are showing a disdain for their user community that I expect from some proprietary software companies, especially Microsoft. The fact is that I hold Canonical in higher regard than that and I, and many, many others in the Linux community, expect more from a Linux distribution. I see nothing wrong in that.
As I stated at the outset, I do think the Linux community is entitled to some things considering that a significant percentage of us have given back to that community. Canonical and Ubuntu have benefited directly from community efforts in the same way most every other Linux distribution has. As such they do have a degree of accountability to that community, even those of us who have not made direct contributions to Ubuntu.