Martin Albisetti's blog

20Oct/1218

Losing perspective

12.10 is out, how awesome is that? Go ahead and get it if you haven't yet. I've upgraded all my computers months ago and they've been stable and receiving polish and new features almost every day since, how awesome is that? It has tons of new features that put closed-source competitors to shame, how incredibly awesome is that!? It looks nicer, it works faster on my slower machines and a lot of the small bugs in 12.04 have magically gone away, awe-some.

Then, as if things couldn't seem better in a project nearing it's 10th year of attempting to take over the world in a lot of very literal ways, Mark spontaneously decides to take on more financial risk by further opening up the current skunkworks projects Canonical works on and what happens? A lot of crap gets thrown his way. How insane is that?

I can understand competitors taking the opportunity of spinning this as a bad thing, highlighting the fact that there are such projects at all, and how X or Y project is 100% open and pure (although, maybe not as successful). Then there's the usual Ubuntu trolls, folks who are bitter about Ubuntu being successful in the format that it adopted, blending commercial and community development in a unique way that requires a constant balancing act. They were betting on Ubuntu failing and they hate that it hasn't, they hate that for a huge number of people "Linux" actually means "Ubuntu". They also hate that there are millions of people who don't even know (or care) what Linux is, and happily use Ubuntu. That's fine, this is how life works, let them be bitter.
But I cannot understand strong, long-time Ubuntu members and contributors bashing Mark, Canonical or Ubuntu. It feels very disconnected from reality.
I can understand Unity sucked, everybody hated it and it made everything slow. It doesn't any more. In fact, it's crazy fast, crazy stable and it sets us apart from everybody else by a very long stretch. In some areas we leap-frogged a worthy competitor like Apple, and in many cases even forgot about Windows, our bug #1. This happened with many things, compiz, pulseaudio, empathy, you name it. Those sucked too, but ultimately rocked. For us, and for the rest of the open source ecosystem.

And yes, now you can purchase things from the Dash. It'll offer up items even though you maybe weren't looking to buy something, just opening your email. But it helps the project, it helps fund the very same things that make Ubuntu different from everyone else because we get to invest an enormous amount of money in user testing, design, custom engineering and closing deals with OEMs so Ubuntu ends up in the hands of millions of new users every year. I have an unfair advantage over most of you since I've worked at Canonical for over 4 years now and have seen a lot of what it costs in terms of actual dollars. It's not that hard to imagine, though, flying hundreds of people across the globe every 6 months to get together, work and make it feel more like a community, by any simple math it is hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is a lot of money. And when you complain about a feature which you can ultimately disable bothers you and should be removed (or disabled by default, cutting off the actual chance that it'll generate any significant revenue), also take a minute to think that you're saying to Mark he should take that money out of his own pocket instead just so you can feel more comfortable with yourself. I can empathise with people immediately thinking of all the terrible examples of OEMs bundling adware with their computers that annoy people to no end, just to squeeze out every single penny out of each user to bump up their stock. But this is not the same, Mark's been crystal clear that there is a lot being developed to make this a fantastic experience, I have inside knowledge to vouch for that. It is also all free software, it has been for almost 10 years, consistently, and has shown no signs of changing that. In fact, I started writing this because Canonical is trying to make the few bits that aren't fully permeable to the community more open. How fucking awesome is that?

I think it's time to stop, breathe and gain some perspective again.

Comments (18) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Nice article! I’d add that a lot of Ubuntu haters I’ve seen are those who are more in favor of a distribution that doesn’t take explicit action to make things easy. It’s not that they try to make things hard, they’re just not committed with usability as their priority – which is not bad in a general context, as this is not always what Linux users search for; For example, ArchLinux is very focused at having an amazing architecture and everything as bleeding-edge as possible, and it’s still one of my two favorite distributions, but let’s face it, it’s just a pain to install and configure -.

    Having said that, what I feel from Ubuntu is that it’s a distribution that tries to get out of the way from the user, it tries to make the user not remember there’s an operating system or programs running so that the user can concentrate on her tasks. And by this, Ubuntu usually makes people feel awesome, powerful, because they get things done fast and easy. And this is, for me, the true meaning of a great product.

    There are, however, other pretty good desktop distributions that try to accomplish this as well, like Fedora and Linux Mint. My opinion is, though, that they’re just not as well integrated and consistent as Ubuntu.

  2. Here, here. It amazes me the flack that Ubuntu cops constantly with complete ignorance of its successes. Finally something that shows how linux can appeal to the masses, and there’s all these people that want to tear it down and go back to square 1. I only hope that your view is, by a long way, the majority view.

  3. Very well explained! People take it for granted that Ubuntu is free of charge, forgetting that it wouldn’t exist without Mark’s “fit of generosity”.

  4. I fail to see how opening is taking a financial risk. If we take for example the shopping lens feature. Had it be opened right from the start ( ie discussed at UDS ), some people would have not liked it ( because there is ground to not like it ). But most of the feedback would have been done sooner, in a calmer way, and this would have resulted in less negative press, and people much happier.

    Sure, the whole Ubuntu cost money. But there is enough voices ( me the first ) asking for account publication so people can see how much this cost. Mozilla does it, Red hat does it ( likely for legal reason ). Without this, people will still think “Canonical do not need more money, there is Mark to put more money”.

    And in fact, I think most people do not disagree with the opening of the current work. Just that the fact that this is presented as closing the work, because Mark always say everything is open, so the whole announce “we will select people to have a early access” is seen as a regression.

    IMHO, Jono is much better to present what happen that Mark. He was the one who fixed the shopping lens goof, he is the one who will fix this one. So someone should really try to explain to Mark that he should be careful with what he say and do, even if he is trying to do the right thing. Being helpful doesn’t prevent errors.

  5. “In fact, it’s crazy fast”

    I just read this (German) review:
    http://www.golem.de/news/test-ubuntu-12-10-quantal-quetzal-ist-noch-ziemlich-langsam-1210-95171.html
    The headline translates to “Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal is still quite slow”

    And Phoronix reports Unity performance regressions with every release. And this blog posting reports slow startup speed (only KDE is slower):
    https://e17releasemanager.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/2012-desktop-shootout/

  6. I’m certainly not a hater, I’ve been on Ubuntu for about 4 years, and upgraded my main machine yesterday to 12.10 … with the usual suspects of update problems, especially around Unity and graphic drivers.

    A lot of these things come down to the hardware you’re on, and while Ubuntu/Linux have increasingly good support, there’s always those glitches that happen, always some piece of hardware on my machine that disappears with the upgrades. I spent 4 hours yesterday just to try to make my machine boot into a GUI, and if I wasn’t a geek I would be long gone back to Windows.

    But enough about that. Let’s talk about the real reason I feel Ubuntu is less and less for me; Unity. Faster and faster, you say? Actually, my machine can’t run it at all, so your fast is my non-starter. I’m now in Classic Gnome instead. I tried to use Unity for over a year, and though it has some good things about it, it also is very alien to developers like me who hate mixing launch bars with active bars; I truly despise that when I have more than one window of a program open, I have to do the whole zoom-out and choose the right one dance. I *want* to see what I’ve got. I also would like to move things around. I like to configure stuff, but with Unity we were given *less* options as opposed to the traditionally geeky Linuxy more.

    And I think that in a nutshell is what makes some people – especially on the development side of things – reject the ubuntu way; it’s now less about choices, and more about autonomy and arbitrary peripheral decisions we can’t tweak. Doesn’t matter that Unity is fast when it it doesn’t allow me to do what I want to do.

    I do suspect that 12.10 will be my last Ubuntu, and the sole reason for that is Unity, and very little politics, Canonical business models or open-source equmen. Unity, which hinders what I originally came to Linux to do.

  7. I suspect some people are confused in that they understood that things previously done in public will now be done in private, when the reality is, things that have always been done in private will now be shared with some community members.

    In some cases, this is honest confusion because they assume Canonical never did anything in private. In some cases, it’s willing, because it’s people that simply, should know better.

  8. Well said, Alsina. :-)

    Regarding Unity, I’m really sad that people like Johannsen (above) end up leaving Ubuntu because of getting angry at Unity. They have this right, we can’t stop them from doing so. But, from a different point of view, Unity is a killer desktop environment for non-power-users, as its main focus is usability – and it accomplishes this, in my opinion -. Also, power users can install other desktop environments pretty easily, as they already know how to use the command line and most of the programs included in the distribution. There’s a bunch of instruction about this on the net, for times of need.

    So I’d really like to encourage Unity haters to stay; Ubuntu doesn’t force you to use Unity, guys, you can have your desktop as you like, the point is that it’s just not always the first thing to be done. You can keep it geek. :-)

  9. Michael, Red Hat as a public US company is required to open their books so that investors know how the company is really doing financially. Mozilla, as a non-profit, has a similar requirement so that that those who want to give charitably know where their money is going.

    Canonical is and always has been a private company. For the time being, they have the right to keep their financials private and there is likely business advantage to doing so. Canonical has however clearly stated many times that they have yet to make a profit.

  10. Canonical will not gain any sympathy in the business world if they disclose how much money they are losing every year providing all of these services for the Ubuntu ecosystem.

    Nor will they gain much in the free-user world, and certainly not enough to keep them afloat.

  11. Jeremy, I know they have the right to keep that for them and frankly, most company would prefer to not publish anything if they can avoid ( take time/money, and there is less room for negotiation with suppliers and clients when they really know how big you are ). But I also know that Canonical can also publish if they want, this is not forbidden. Having your distro depending on commercial sponsor without transparency can quickly become poisonous if the sponsor do not go well ( same example each time, Mandriva )

    And the part about “Mozilla being a charity so they have to publish” also bring a interesting point, since there is now a donation screen, does someone really disagree that a proper transparent accounting would foster confidence ? Do they really think people will be ok to give money by paypal without feedback ( maybe this is planned so we will see, but in that case, all I can say is that I missed the announce ).

  12. One comment about the last paragraph concerning the affiliate revenue and the need to provide end-user financial support for Ubuntu. The premise of the paragraph is not unsound. However the execution of the implementation is questionable. I do not believe the implementation presented maximizes the affiliate throughput. It needs to be adjusted for query by query control by the users to prevent people from just removing it and reverting back to using a browser for shopping activity.

    Just because the shopping feature is active by default and always on for every query.. it does not mean that its going to generate more affiliate revenue than an alternative implementation of the same feature that lets users see the shopping suggestsion on a query-by-query basis.

    Use cases of interest which I do not believe the current implementation is appropriate and which an alternative implementation which gives on-demand control over “more suggestions”

    (1) People using Ubuntu at work in an office setting:
    Anyone using the Unity desktop in a business environment is going to disable or remove the shopping lens to prevent leaking business information to 3rd parties by default in their dash usage. And once removed, they will use their browser in an on-demand capacity to do shopping instead. This is a potentially large lost affiliate revenue opportunity.

    Cyber Monday is a very important retail event where millions of US citizens do millions of dollars of purchasing from their employers networks. Amazon caters to this activity every year with special promotional sales. This is personal shopping done at work but not on company time. On break-time, or lunch, or just after or before on-the-clock work hours. By building an implementation of the shopping lens that is always keylogging dash inputs and sending it over the network to 3rd parties you’ve made a feature that is entirely business environment unfriendly and will be removed from deployed Unity Desktops in business environments. And thus Canonical reduces the potential to garner affiliate revenue from onlines sales occuring in the workplace (on personal time.) Doesn’t need to be this way.

    (2) Remote workers:
    Remote workers at home, working on company time, have to also be somewhat cautious about leaking business information through keylogging of dash activity. I fully expect people who work from home using corporate provided computing hardware running a Unity desktop to require selective control over what search queries go out on the network to 3rd parties. So a large number of this population of users will also be removing or disabling the shopping lens because of its intrusive “always on” keylogging in its current form. And they will fire up a browser to go shopping instead. Doesn’t have to be this way.

    (3) People on metered broadband.
    How much band do 25 album cover thumbnails use when returning on _each_ query that has no local results? How much band do the Amazon item thumbnails use? For users on metered band, these graphical suggestions on every query could cause problems which would lead them to disable the feature entirely and just use a browser in an on-demand capacity to take control over the network utilization. These are the people who use noscript and similar programs on their web browser to limit things like banner ads and images to optimize their network utility. But they still go shopping. Forcing them to eat potentially hundress or perhaps thousands of unneeded preview thumbnails during a day of Unity desktop use, ensures they’ll remove the shopping lens and just use a browser for on-demand shopping. Doesn’t have to be this way.

    All 3 of these use cases still involve people looking to shop “occassionally” and “selectively” and could make use of a shopping enabled dash as long as the implementation focused on giving the users query by query control over initiating that network search. By doing so Canonical actually increases the utility of the feature and brings up the probability that each such requested shopping suggestions will lead to affiliate revenue.. instead of training these users to disable the feature entirely.

    It’s not a difficult adjustment to make in the implementation to satisify these use cases. Have the more suggestions area unpopulated when a dash search is engaged. Have the “More Suggestions” heading clickable so that users can initiate shopping suggestions on demand. In fact you can make it subtly pulse/glow(for a limited number of queries) to suggest to new users that its a clickable to encourage them to click and see what it brings up and give them a since of feature discovery. Hey tie it into the accomplishment trophy breadcrumbs too (I asked for More Suggestions Trophy). But the key is to make sure the user has control of when that external search is actually fired off.. on a query by query basis..,one simple click away from any dash query. Such an implementation can live across all desktop use-cases without being problematic and will in practise lead to more positive experiences and a higher rate of affiliate dollars. It will reduce the need for people to disable the feature because it won’t be getting in their way.

    -jef

  13. Micheal,
    Speaking of Mozilla as a comparison to Canonical…..
    It’s also important to point out that Canonical could have been structured just as Mozilla is structured if Shuttleworth had wanted to. Mozilla is a non-profit with a for-profit subsidiary. It’s non-profit org, and its public good mission provides direct oversight and ultimate authority over the for-profit activities. It’s a very interesting model, especially considering Mozilla’s chosen mission as champion of the open web.

    I can only imagine what present day Ubuntu would look like if Shuttleworth had chosen such a layered structure…which necessarily put the public good mission of the Ubuntu project as direct oversight and constraint over the for-profit Canonical subsidiary.. instead of vice-versa. It’s actually not too late. Shuttleworth could choose to restructure Canonical and mimic the Mozilla org and Mozilla corp relationship and redraw the lines of conflict between business and community interest differently. Non-profit, what all the transparency that requires legally, providing oversight over legitimate for-profit activities. It’s actually the model that makes the most sense to me for the public good mission of what Ubuntu as a project was spun up to achieve.

    That being said, I look forward to installing Firefox OS onto my smartphone.

  14. @diogo : I don’t think you understand the implication of what I’m saying. Unity has a big usability problem; it’s not usable to many people because it doesn’t allow some flexibility you get in pretty much all its competing managers. In fact, it doesn’t take much to make it usable to developers with lots of browser windows open, however any understanding to this effect has been *ahem* rather poor.

    @all : that Canonical is a for-profit company is only a problem to proprietary stuff, not to the business model as such. Yes, the open-source community is used to more open structures, but I personally don’t have a problem with it, as I care more about the progress of OS/Linux in general over Ubuntu, and welcome any contribution whether people make money on it or not.

  15. Recent phoronix reviews states that Unity is becoming slower with each release (including the 12.10 one), not faster as you claim. In fact, with ubuntu dropping Unity 2d while relaying on LLVMpipe for hardware that doesn’t support 3d acceleration, it triggers heavy CPU usage making the user experience painfully slow. Yes, you can argue that this should only happen with old hardware but still, even with modern hardware Unity is suffering from several regressions in some fronts ( general desktop performance, increased power consumption, slower boot times, etc). Again check some of the lastest phoronix Ubuntu reviews and some user reviews reporting the same.

    Regards!.

  16. @Alexander Johannesen

    Better to be clear an explicit. Which flexibility you get in other competing managers which is not available in Unity and if such a flexibility is present is not available, how many people actually bother about it? I am a power user and also maintain codebase, but I hardly change anything in stock Unity or even wallpapers as I don’t tweak just for the sake of tweaking

  17. @manish : Oh, a simple one first; window icons on the left, without a way to tweak then back to the right-hand side without the use of third-party software, or knowing the intestines of gnome-editor.

    A more common one; I have at the time of writing three Chrome windows open, with 12, 1 and 9 tabs in each window respectively. I also have two Firefox windows open, each with several tabs. How can I click the UI so that the right window comes up? I can’t; I have to click the Chrome icon again to have Unity zoom out, and from where I can select the window I need. That’s three clicks more than normal, a tedious task as I do this *all* the time, *all* day long. (Not to mention that as I’m getting older it’s increasingly hard to see in the previews what window they are supposed to be; I have no way to set the size, or ordering or anything) I suspect that now that I’m back to having a normal task-bar, I save around 20 minutes per day, plus whatever mental grace I gain from actually being in control.

    A third problem is that I don’t often know the name of the program I want to use. What was it again? j7? d5? b2f? No, it was k3b. Dicking around like this is the epitome of a usability issue. It may work fine for you, and perhaps fine for the people who made it, but for me these were all big steps backwards *away* from Unity.

    And that’s just the thing; you didn’t make Unity for me, and that’s fine, I’ve enjoyed the ride thus far, and now it’s time to find another distribution. And we both should be *fine* with this. If you’re not, then you actually have a usability problem that you need to acknowledge.


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