Monday, October 21, 2013

A champion instead of a leader.

I am one of those who actively supported Canonical in the past. Mark Shuttleworth succeed in linking his success to our success in Ubuntu's early years. I believe that customers/users are smart. Ubuntu became, still is, the number one distribution for good reasons.

In his journey toward success, Mark played hard, too hard sometimes. Not many put attention on it because the results were spectacular. Some did. KDE did and we suffered attacks for not following the trend. What some didn't understand back then is that there was a price to pay for Canonical's success. Mark made that price unaffordable for KDE. We have being around for over 15 years also for good reasons. We survived the early attacks to Qt, Nokia's disaster...  and obviously we were confident we would survive the explosion of Ubuntu and Mark's particular way of understanding leadership. We had our own roadmap. We still do and put quiet some effort on explaining it.

But we as a community were not blind or insensitive to what Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical were doing. The fact that Kubuntu is the number one distro among KDE developers and that Mark has been in several Akademy is just a reflection of the way most people in KDE appreciated what he represented. Canonical's effort, Ubuntu success, has been good for all of us, including KDE. I have no doubt about it. There were more things we shared than those that separated us. I still think this is the case nowadays.

I use an Android based phone. I am becoming more and more concerned about the embedded space. Linux based devices are becoming more and more popular but our freedom has not increased significantly. We need a strong action towards freedom, focusing not just in software but also in data and services. At this point I think that the problem has been identified. Now it is more about taking action. This is why in KDE we have been working on it for some time. And this is why, once more, KDE and Ubuntu might share a vision. We have another opportunity to work together to achieve it.

The situation today is different from the one in which Mark's leadership was born though. Today he has a history that can be evaluated and the battle ahead of us in the embedded space has very little to do with the desktop one. Mark's action will need to leave a greater room for other players, for other opinions, for other technologies. He cannot expect to be followed this time just because his vision is shared, just because his success is good for all of us. He still don't seem to understand that, for many, it is very important how success is reached.

But to me there is something else he needs to demostrate. Mark needs to create a profitable project, compatible with the Free Software spirit, so he can sustain his effort long enough, unlike he did in the past. The battle we need to fight in the embedded world will be long and expensive. Mark has demonstrated he is not persistent enough. I don't know if it was because he did not want to or he simply couldn't. He failed explaining his "turns".

Instead of avoiding the mistakes he made in previous years, he is digging into them. Instead of searching for allies in his new effort, he moves toward isolation. Instead of concentrating more on making his project sustainable, he is increasing costs by creating new technologies on his own and increasing the barrier to adopt them. Instead of leading us toward a solution, he is dividing those who should fight by his side.

He works toward becoming a champion, not a leader.

Most of my colleagues has nothing against Canonical becoming a champion of freedom in the embedded space. He is putting his own money and reputation in place. All my respect for that. But many of us do not understand the motivations and reasons behind Canonical decisions (Unity, Mir... ). We are not stupid. Mark simply failed in explaining them. So it is hard for me to digest his irritation when KDE colleagues do not support him as he expected.

Mark Shuttleworth has done and will do many relevant actions for increasing our freedom. He has created a great company full of talent and positive energy, capable of achieving a remarkable success once again. Ubuntu is still a great community, of course. I wish them nothing but luck in this trip through the embedded world. I just hope Mark understands AND assumes the consequences of the choice he made some time ago: becoming a champion instead of a leader.

Meanwhile, I would like to see no more of this "Tea Party" game, that hurts us all so badly. My colleagues at KDE do not deserve it. Ubuntu community and Canonical employees either. Even Mark Shuttleworth's reputation deserves better than what he is receiving lately. It is in his hands to revert this situation that he has created. I encourage him to, at least, not making it worse. We all have enough challenges already.
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