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Respect is a Bi-Directional Proposition

Jono has written a very good post on his blog about respect in the community. I agree with the importance of respect in a community. It was also important to clarify that having different opinions or perspectives are not a sign of disrespect and are very important in a community even if consent cannot always be found. That is life, but not issuing different perspectives will disadvantage a community.

However, respect is a two-directional proposition. It is difficult to maintain respect, if every time there is a disagreement and passion creates tension, it is the fault of the community. In particular the vast differences in power create different points of breaking points and hence it sometimes may be far too easy to make comparisons on an equal level, or use objective tests to try to rationalise or use relativism. Pontifications of cult leaders rarely lead to respect, more often it is rather dissension or fear that are the result. This post is not supposed to in any way contradict the points Jono made in his blog post, but rather add another perspective to it.

Jono writes that everybody should treat others like you wish to be treated, with respect and dignity. I totally agree. However, when I read on Mark Shuttleworth's blog post that he talks about a crowd that he calls Leet who propose that ‘Linux is supposed to be hard so it’s exclusive’ is just the dumbest thing that a smart person could say. and Just roll your eyeballs at the 1337 crowd, roll up your sleeves, find something interesting to improve, and join in. To the extent that you can master a piece, you will get what you want. than I am not sure if the Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life treats others as he wants to be treated (assuming he does not want others roll their eyesballs at him when they have a different opinion). It is also very problematic for someone who has far more power to make decisions to call us elites in the first place. If these characterisations are a violation of the Ubuntu Code of Conduct may be in the discretion of the reader, however, I am offended by such statements, and they certainly do not increase my respect. They rather create division than that they in any way solve the issues or invite the idea of a possible path. It may be interpreted as "It is my way or the highway".

Now let's dissect what the issue on hand is. Mark sees a unique opportunity to do something great. That is absolutely fantastic. However, not every vision turns out to be great. I wish Mark that he is right, and that Unity is another breakthrough for Open Source, but I am sorry to say, I am not convinced. Not only that, but I have more immediate problems to deal with. I have build my business on the concept of Open Source, and I have to be able to somehow rely on that the tools I am using today will still work for me tomorrow. This does not mean, I want Linux to be so hard that it is exclusive. I have done "Linux from scratch" before, and I can do that any time I want that. However, it is not very efficient for a business to follow such a path. I need to provide a gain for my clients who pay me, building my own Linux version does not contribute as much to this as it would cost.

However, I cannot do my work on a mobile device. While it is very interesting what can be done with those devices, they can very easily become fads or commodities. It is nice to be able to touch the "like" button directly, but I cannot write software with a touch screen, nor can I build a testing system or a continuous integration server. Hence, I believe the concerns that people have that Unity might be a simplification for the masses that use their devices as toys but not as serious tools of business is not so far fetched, nor does it has to do with any form of elitism. In fact, stripping away important functionality, is the act of division, not pointing out that we need both... the casual user, as well as the power user to be able to satisfy their needs.

Another issue is the way Mir has been introduced. A lot of people have been planning for some time now the transition to Wayland. This alone creates worries for lots of users that are dependent on their environments to earn money. Therefore, the total surprise out of left field almost in the style of a "Blitzkrieg" (this is not an ideological comparison, but the expression of the total surprise that fundamentally changes reality!) is not strategically the best way to earn trust and respect from a community that also has to derive plans to deal with changes. Changes are not bad, innovation requires changes, but they still need to be planned for.

I do not have all the insights in the issues of Mir vs. Wayland. However, it is concerning to read What is not fine is causing a major disruption in the free software ecosystem by giving false technical arguments and doing bold statements about software Canonical does not contribute to. This is not acceptable. This was very frustrating and destroyed lots of trust I had in Canonical. in a blog post written by the KWin developer Martin Gräßlin. I cannot evaluate if Canonical's arguments against Wayland are false or not. However, if they are, and statements have been made knowing they would be false, then in my book, this behaviour is not compatible with the Ubuntu Code of Conduct. If those statements have been made due to ignorance, they are highly negligent and due not help to earn trust and respect either. So, whoever was responsible for those statements for Canonical, has created the unenviable situation that they better be true, or serious damage will persists.

Considerable damage has unfortunately already been caused due to the uncertainty that has been caused by this. The Kubuntu community is seriously in doubt that Kubuntu will be a viable flavour in the Ubuntu environment when Mir has been introduced, or at least Mir is the only option on the Ubuntu stack. The other flavours have at this time no idea if their desktops will still be viable, nor do they have any plans to deal with the disruption. I have no inside if Canonical's aim was to disrupt the community in such a way that Unity is the only possible alternative, however, if this was the goal, the strategy may very well prove successful - only the future will tell.

Due to this uncertainty, it is impossible for me to base my future business solely on the Ubutu stack as I have done for several years now. The predictability is gone. Trust and Respect have to be slowly earned again if this is even possible. It might very well be that the Rubicon is already crossed and the point of no return has been past. Due to this dilemma that was created totally out of my control, I have to make alternative arrangements that will guarantee business continuity for my business. Planning for two more and more diverging software stacks means considerable additional amount of work for a small business as mine. Hence, sooner rather than later, the decision must be made for one direction. And since the Ubuntu leadership lately insists that Open Source is about scratching one's own itch, I will have to learn to forget loyalty or even the sense of community and make this decision solely on the basis of what is best for my own business and my clients. This does not mean that I will harbour ill will or negative feelings against Canonical or the Ubuntu community should the decision require somewhat a departure, but certainly the passion I once felt for Ubuntu is gone. And if Ubuntu is supposed to be "Linux for Human Beings", I have to say, hey.. I am a human being.. why did you exclude me? You know what... that is life.

In any case... this is a perspective that I have not seen discussed so far. And if some members of the Ubuntu community have started to get into areas we all do not like to see in our discussion, I have to say that, while I do not condone such, I do understand it. Unequal power creates different dynamics. Losing respect and trust into something that was very important to someone creates very raw and very intense emotions. These are often not very easy to contain. That does not excuse such behaviour, but it should help to understand that it is important that in order to mitigate or minimise the occurrences of unpleasant situation, it requires that the community also receives respect. This does not mean that every decision must require consent. That would be unmanageable. However, the community must also be allowed to have the time to understand and make plans when fundamental changes are made. If this requirement derails Mark's vision of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a free and open platform that is THE LEADER across both consumer and enterprise computing than it might be the time to consider if this vision is achievable with a strong contributing community, or if the model of Apple is more sufficient for such a goal. At some point, it may be necessary to decide that a community based distro cannot achieve this, or cannot achieve this in the time frame that is envisioned by the self-appointed leader of this community. In this case, the only way to retain trust and respect, is to make this decision in a way that everybody can still scratch their itches. Sometimes it might be better to agree to fork and allow all to win, then to push a situation where there are winners and losers.

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Comments

Thanks for the thoughtful post, txwikinger.

A few points I just wanted to respond with:

1. I see my blog post as being entirely applicable to Canonical staff members too; they are community members too. I updated it to reflect this.

2. I think you might be reading a little too much into Mark's 'l33t' point. The crux of his view, and I share it, is that there are *some* folks in the Open Source community who are resistant to change primarily because they only want their distribution to serve their specific needs, which are technical in nature, and are resistent to making their distribution simpler and more accessible to less technical people. Now, I see nothing wrong with people wanting a more technically orientated distro (and there are many wonderful options out there), but many of these commentators often refer to making a distro more accessible as "dumbing down". This is a pure definition of elitism. In my mind we should welcome all manner of users to Ubuntu, but we have to build the out of the box experience to be as accessible to as many folks as possible, many of whom are less technical, but then provide the ability to hot-rod that system to be useful to our more technical users too.

Hey Jono. Having met a very large amount of people in the Ubuntu and Debian communities, I have to say that it's been incredibly rare that I've come across the type of people you describe in point 2. Maybe 3 or so in total. I think they're such a small minority that they're not even worth mentioning. The very, very large majority of people working in the communities want to make things easier for users. Just because they're work doesn't follow your short-term goals doesn't make them some kind of elitist snob, follow your own advice and try to be nice!

Jonathan, I believe I am being nice, and being respectful in my comment.

I think we see things a little differently. While fewer in the core Ubuntu community, in the wider Ubuntu enthusiast and general Open Source community I have seen more elitism than I would like to see. Now, to be clear I am not equating people who prefer a more technical OS as elitist...I am equating those who consider the simplification of an OS to be "dumbing down".

Thanks for your kind word, Jono.

Regarding point 2, the reason why I am talking about it is that as Jonathan Carter in the other comment, I do not believe that such a crowd exist or if they are, that they are sufficient in numbers to make any kind of inpact. Most people are very interested to make Linux easier for all users. However, this includes themselves. It cannot mean with detriment for themselves or less ability to make their living. Your comment reflect that you do not disagree with this.

Raising the point of a phatom elite crowd by Mark, however, creates a different problem. People generally do not want to be called outsiders. So categorising them into such a phatom crowd because they have different short-term goals vilifies them and hence makes people think twice if they even want to offer their different opinion. In effect, unwittingly or intentionally, it is a rethoric to stifle diversity of opinion, That is the reason why it needed to be pointed out

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