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Ubuntu should reconsider

Unfortunately, Ubuntu is becoming more and more of a disappointment lately. First they start shipping non-free software by default, then the edgy upgrade turns into a disaster and now I read about plans for including more non-free software and a 3D desktop by default in feisty (the next Ubuntu after edgy). To be honest, ever since I've seen the Feisty Fawn announcement I've been wondering what does the focus on "multimedia enablement and desktop effects" imply, the basic suspicion being will it include more non-free software by default?

Now it appears that it will, and as far as I am concerned, and I believe I am not alone with these concerns, there are some problems with that. First, it's the problem of principle which is broken with any inclusion of non-free software. An acceptable compromise, even to many Free Software purists, was to at least not have any non-free software installed by default and required for normal operations afterwards, so we could choose for ourselves. But when we get non-free software installed by default the only way to keep this out of the system is to determine which packages exactly are non-free and then remove them, but in principle by downloading the default iso we've already contributed to the numbers which support these non-free components, something Free Software purists do not appreciate.

Also, by including proprietary video card drivers in Ubuntu for these desktop effects Ubuntu as the leading GNU/Linux distribution is telling video card manufacturers that the GNU/Linux community can live with their drivers being proprietary meaning so much less pressure on them releasing those drivers as Free Software. This has been rightly pointed out here. What an extremely important point being missed by Ubuntu here!

But the problem is not just of this nature. There is a solid practical concern to be raised about enabling a 3D desktop by default. Not everyone has video cards which support or work well with 3D desktop systems. For example, I am currently running a PC with only integrated onboard savage chip which currently does not support 3D desktop and is quite sluggish even with normal X compositing manager. By forcing a 3D desktop by default, a lot of others with similar setups will run into quite an unpleasant experience upon installing feisty and will probably try to find ways to immediately disable this three dimensional unpleasentry just to have a normal desktop performance, which is a hassle imposed without much justification.

And if the sole goal of enabling 3D desktop by default is to attract people from OS X and Windows (and I can't imagine what else would be a reason) then I think Ubuntu people are missing a point by a huge margin. In many ways Ubuntu and many other GNU/Linux distributions are already much more attractive and technically powerful than Windows, and yet we don't see Microsoft's market share percentages fall so fast. We should have gotten this by now. No matter how many technical improvements and eye candy on top of that we add, it wont be enough. We need to change our strategy, and making an operating system with 3D desktop effects by default is not that.

The key to bending Microsoft's domination, as was already pointed out so many times, is in selling PCs with GNU/Linux pre-installed, and not just to make GNU/Linux as an OS in itself more powerful and good looking. Instead of spending efforts into putting proprietary software into Ubuntu and enabling 3D desktop by default, Ubuntu Foundation and Canonical should work on pushing GNU/Linux sold on as many PCs as possible. Why not work more with System 76? Why not make some big deals with them and invest some money and effort in pushing Ubuntu PC sales up? If you really want to have masses switch to Ubuntu GNU/Linux desktop, you wont do it with a 3D desktop, but by pre-installing Ubuntu on as many PCs people buy as possible.

I think Ubuntu should reconsider their ways or otherwise alternatives like a 100% Free Software gNewSense (despite the weird name) and yes even Fedora Core will become more and more attractive and the current popularity of Ubuntu will be marked as its peak, before it consolidates and starts falling back.

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic

Comments

Indeed Ubuntu are slipping.

Indeed Ubuntu are slipping. There was such a good feel about Dapper when it came out, but with Edgy and the propersitions for Feisty things are going down hill fast. I would love Ubuntu to be able to go all the fancy multimedia things, but only if it had ment they had made their own Free nVidia driver, that they had Free codecs etc. And on the point on 3D desktop effects, they shouldn't be enabled by default, or it should be a choice in the install or something, since Ubuntu shouldn't shun older or more underpowered machines.

Nice article. However, I

Nice article. However, I dare to disagree in one point. I don't think that choosing to put more fancy effects in Feisty will result in a drop of interest in Ubuntu. The opposite is true in my opinion. Whether we want it or not, lots of people are choosing Ubuntu (and Linux in gerenal, but mostly Ubuntu) because it's cool. Very few choose it because it's (entirely) free as in freedom (and it's not already, to be exact). People just (think they) need free as in beer. They do not think long term and do not understand the RMS-way of seeing freedom. Ubuntu s cool and they will go for it, even more if it has really cool and fancy desktop effects by default.

BTW, I don't think Canonical is going to drop its strategy of reaching more and more hardware resellers and convincing them to offer Ubuntu pre-installed. One has little to do with the other. The desktop 3D is the developers' effort, the marketing is the effort of the sales guys.

And no, I don't think having a 3D desktop by default (and by force) is a good thing.

michuk wrote: I don't

michuk wrote:

I don't think that choosing to put more fancy effects in Feisty will result in a drop of interest in Ubuntu. The opposite is true in my opinion. Whether we want it or not, lots of people are choosing Ubuntu (and Linux in gerenal, but mostly Ubuntu) because it's cool.

I can agree with that. I didn't quite say that making Ubuntu desktop more fancier will be what will drive people away, but the cost at which they put those effects in. If these extra eye candy doesn't work out well for a lot of people, for example, no matter how fancy, they wont like a distro pushing it to them.

michuk wrote:

Very few choose it because it's (entirely) free as in freedom (and it's not already, to be exact).

Something tells me you're underestimating the number here. Sure, very few are so bent at the FSF view as gNewSense guys maybe, but I think there is a much greater number of people who appreciates the full freeness anyway. It is easier to deal with Free Software than proprietary software. How many times did we hear about difficulties with nvidia and ATI proprietary drivers whereas free drivers just work, and that's just one example. There's more to freedom than freedom. Eye Freedom implies other things, among which are things people want.

This freenes was part of the Ubuntu winning combination, and now it's lost.

auto detection

I'm fairly certain that they wouldn't do something as foolish as forcing desktop effects. It'd be disabled if the video card wasn't supported.

I do agree that it's becoming just another Linspire (what a terrible name) though.

Some more article on that

Some more article on that subject:
- http://community.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/11/10/168227&tid=53
- http://www.advogato.org/person/Burgundavia/diary.html?start=111
- http://community.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/11/13/2112259&from=rss

Also, I noticed the thread on Ubuntu Forums with a poll about the free drivers issue:

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=297392

and a wiki page explaining the current & future approach to the non-free drivers issue:

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/BinaryDriverEducation

Most of their arguments seem reasonable. They seem to care about software freedom (including drivers) and understand that what they do is controversial. Still, as far as they don't force the users to install non-free drivers (a question in the installer is enough), I don't see anything wrong with making it dead-easy to use them (if the user decides to do so).

 

... to the users actually. At least imo.

Seems to me that by focusing on the flashiness of the desktop they make the user experience for the novice much more palatable and through association are able to help the community, or whatever closed source vendors are here-in connected, closer to the ability to bring high-end graphics to the platform .. this by extension makes it easier to program games for the platform or port existing titles. It's a domino effect.

In case someone missed it games are a big reason why so many of the current generation stick to windows. I work with a couple guys (and know several more) who loathe windows with a passion, but when they want to blow something up (in a gaming world) they go to windows to do it.

So personally, I think going the way of 'glitz' is a good move. We gotta remember the whole Linux world is about freedom of choice. So if it doesn't work for you you're free to choose something different.

I agree games can be a

I agree games can be a driving force, and the gaming scene on GNU/Linux is getting better and better. There are also an increasing number of 3D cards which will work with free drivers (although also with a little proprietary firmware "blob" as I found out today).

But when it comes to including nvidia and ATI proprietary drivers in Ubuntu *by default* we are potentially loosening the pressure on those companies to release those as free. Not only that free drivers provide freedom and are legally more fit for GNU/Linux, but it is then better possible to improve them (when the source is open and community can edit it). So we need them to free it.

If they have to offer it as an easy install from their repos, ok, but available by default? Not even Windows has that kind of out of the box 3D support (you need to install drivers yourself). Why should we compromise our strategy to have it then?

You Might Be Right

Libervisco, you might be right, unfortunately, and that's a shame because I have thrown all my chips behind Ubuntu and Canonical as a company. In fact, I'm about to quit my day job and I could almost wish they would hire me at Canonical.

But anyway, I just checked the stats at distrowatch.com and indeed I see Ubuntu slipping fast with OpenSuse moving up. Of course, that could very well be Microsoft and Novell playing games with the stats in order to increase mindshare for the Microvell deal, but I don't know if they would stoop so low. It might be that mindshare is trying to latch on to something besides Ubuntu because of the reasons you state. Why that wouldn't also go way of Fedora might be because Fedora tends to ride a little bit too beta and lacks as much developer mindshare.

For me, I don't like 3D support because I like to max out my system with lots of open windows, web server, 2 database servers, etc. I'm a developer, what can I say? I also don't need the eye candy. I've turned it on once, looked at it, said, woo hoo, showed a few people and bragged about how cool Linux is, and then quickly turned it off to speed up my PC.

I too also don't like the idea of proprietary video drivers in my Linux because it sends the wrong message to the vendors that they can keep on playing that game. Why proprietary video drivers? I mean, isn't selling the hardware just enough? Why do these vendors want to limit their market even more by turning off the open source community? I mean, marketshare is marketshare, nomatter where you get it. And by turning the drivers into open source and free, just what cashflow are they losing by that? I mean, you still need the videocard. Also, by opensourcing the video drivers, would that not keep them more secure and provide more feedback for improvements? Would it not also provide a set of free programmers to recommend tweaks? It would. So why these video card vendors like to play this kind of game is a new one on me. Seems like a win-win for everyone if they quit being proprietary. (That is, unless ol' Bill Gates is feeding them money to do so.)

Perhaps what the opensourcers need to do is invent their own flaming hot videocard, start their own company or companies, and push it pretty hard to shutout the market?

So I hope Ubuntu listens. Not that I'm criticizing them too harshly, but my community vote on this issue would be a no for included 3D effects by default and no for proprietary videocard drivers by default. Ubuntu: stay cool, man, I'm counting on you guys!

open graphics project

supermike wrote:

Perhaps what the opensourcers need to do is invent their own flaming hot videocard, start their own company or companies, and push it pretty hard to shutout the market?

Perhaps they're already doing so?

Yes, the Open Graphics

Yes, the Open Graphics Project (OGP) is one attempt at producing an independent (of ATI and Nvidia) graphics card with free drivers.

It's quite a hard job to do though and it will probably take a lot of time before we can buy it and use it. The window of opportunity is still open for ATI or Nvidia (who does it first has the first mover advantage) and they should by all means use it.

I'm still mostly an Ubuntu user though simply because it works best for me. Luckily I can still easily remove the non-free stuff I don't absolutely need, but I'm not sure how will it go with feisty.

Here's a newb perspective

 

As a newbie who's not yet moved away from his Win system, and the owner of a nVidia card.. here's my thought- I started looking for an alternative OS because I wanted to support free & open OS and software. I also have years of entanglement with MS-dependent sw and local purchase hw so I know that I'm going to be making concessions in the near future. The reason I got the nVidia card was that it was the most cost effective local-purchase choice to get a dual monitor card. I was happy to get the 3-d stuff because I could now run a bunch of games that I couldn't previously, but it wasn't my main motivator. I'm typing this right now via a live cd eval version of Ubuntu, and I like it enough that it is likely to be my final choice. I'm going to be trying gNewSense next though because I want to support the free concept and I think it will make that statement, but I still need the nVidia support and how easy it is to do that will sway my decision.

So, imo I think that supporting but not installing by default is the way to go. In fact, I'd like to see the support built-in and publicized, but the install as extra (easy) steps, with a generic blurb about why it wasn't the default. Heck, I'd even like to see an option that lets me click & send an email to the mfr urging them (as a product user) to support free drivers. Maybe this last tactic has been discussed, but it's something I would certainly do as a new user. And, I'm not yet ready to upgrade/change my hardware.. just my OS.

A glimpse into my head, for what it's worth.

not sure you understand

I may be misinterpreting your post, but I think you don't get what the nonfree drivers do. With the free drivers, you can still run text and 2D graphics fine. For many cards, the only way to get decent 3D support right now is through nonfree drivers.

Actually, for older R200

Actually, for older R200 ATI cards and some newer there is a decent 3D support. Even though the binary blob is required for it, my Radeon 9600XT works great with free drivers.

My point is that the situation is not *that* bad with free drivers. They're coming along nicely and it would be a shame not to fully continue to support them (by displacing them with nonfree).

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