September 30, 2005 5:24 AM PDT
Ubuntu carves niche in Linux landscape
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longer life span for support services than today's 18-month duration.
It also brings Ubuntu closer to major commercial Linux products. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server, for example, get major updates about every year and a half so that customers and business partners don't have to constantly adapt. Those versions have a major advantage Ubuntu still lacks: certification for use with server hardware and software from computing powers such as Oracle, SAP, IBM and Dell.
While Ubuntu has helped Debian, it hasn't won universal acclaim in that domain.
One significant objection comes from Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian, chief strategy officer of a start-up called Progeny that is commercializing Debian and organizer of the Debian Common Core Alliance, an effort to make different Debian-based distributions compatible. Ubuntu isn't a DCCA member.
"I'm both positive and negative on Ubuntu," Murdock said. The positive: "It's an excellent distribution, and its success is without question growing the Debian universe." But the negative: "They chose to diverge from Debian rather than to extend the standard Debian core, leading to the inevitable compatibility problems."
Waugh is unimpressed by the DCCA. "Nothing demonstrates it's a compelling answer to the consortia that have failed in the past. We don't think that's going to work," he said.
Murdock, however, said he wishes Ubuntu was helping Debian more directly. "A lot of energy that might otherwise be directed at Debian proper is instead being directed at a Debian derivative, so it's harder to share their work than it otherwise might be," he said.
But Debian has problems as a starting point, Waugh said, because it's so broad and includes so many packages. And, he added, "You can't go walking into a project like Debian that has existed for so long, has its culture, its community and its infrastructure, and say, 'Here's how we're going to do it.'"
O'Grady isn't surprised there's friction as Ubuntu steals the thunder. "Ubuntu is rapidly becoming a more popular name than Debian," he said.
Asked about their motivations for participating in Ubuntu, developers are quick to mention the freedoms that come with open-source software.
"I was drawn to it as a natural step in my increasing commitment to open source, after having been active as a Debian developer for about five years prior. Ubuntu represented a chance to explore many new directions in building an open-source operating system," Ubuntu Chief Technology Officer Matt Zimmerman said.
Adds Waugh, "A lot of people start using this because it's free, as in free beer, then they suddenly realize the reason it works so well is it's free, as in free speech."
There are some lumps, though. "Perhaps the worst of Ubuntu is that we are still a relatively young project, and having moved so quickly to the forefront of Linux, it's been a challenge to stay focused on our vision," Zimmerman said. "There is now a vast user community around Ubuntu, full of energy and excitement about a wide variety of different ideas, while realistically we can only pursue some of these at once."
And Sam Pohlenz, who works on Ubuntu's graphical configuration tools, isn't happy about support for audio and video software whose licensing rules prohibit their use as open-source software.
"One thing that plagues almost all Linux distributions is multimedia support 'out of the box,'" he said. Packages can be installed later, but "these legal issues are a rather large stumbling block for growing distributions such as Ubuntu," Pohlenz said.
Jonathan Riddell got involved when he saw a need to make the KDE user interface an alternative to the default, GNOME. The KDE version is an offshoot of the regular Ubuntu code base but is available separately in a project called Kubuntu.
"Nobody was doing good KDE support for Ubuntu," Riddell said. "Since Ubuntu was obviously going to be an important distribution, I felt it important that KDE should be well-supported on it."
And for now at least, idealism remains a powerful force within the project. When the early organizers were looking for a project name, Shuttleworth suggested Ubuntu.
"He said it's this African word that means 'I am because we are.' It focuses on community. It's all about sharing and consensus," Waugh said. "Everyone in the room was just gobsmacked because it really expressed what we believed as free-software and open-source contributors."
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