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Is Canonical A Free Rider in the Linux Community?

Some interesting statistics came out of the GUADEC conference this week, and with them, a fiery condemnation blog by former Red Hat employee Greg DeKoenigsberg. The condemned party in this case, is Canonical, the company that produces the Ubuntu Linux distribution.  DeKoenigsberg's anger comes from the GNOME Census, which includes statistics indicating that Red Hat actually contributes 16 times as much code to the GNOME desktop as Canonical does.

The pool of GNOME contributors is very diverse, but aside from volunteers and "unknown" contributors, Red Hat made the most contributions of any single organization with almost 17% of the code commits.  Volunteers and unknowns committed 40% of the code and other leading organizations included Novell (10%), and Collabora (5%).  Canonical, on the other hand, contributed only 1% of the code commits.  The news came as a shock to many of the commenters on DeKoenigsberg's blog, as well as DeKoenigsberg himself, who knew that Red Hat was contributing plenty of code, but not getting credit for it in the community.  He didn't know that Canonical's contribution was so low, and it was surprising since Ubuntu is one of the most popular distros.  

To visualize exactly which modules Canonical and Red Hat contribute to, take a peek at the GNOME maintenance map.  The only modules that Canonical works on are the default-icon-theme and the gcalc-tool.



DeKoenigsberg laid into Canonical on his blog saying, "They’ve certainly given the impression, over the last several years, of having put a lot of work into GNOME.  They’ve been very successful at positioning themselves as the Eternal Champion of the Linux Desktop, and positioning Red Hat as the boring old has-beens who long ago abandoned the Desktop fight."  One commenter agreed with DeKoenigsberg's assessment, saying that Canonical has claimed desktop advancements from GNOME as new features in Ubuntu.  

DeKoenigsberg also says Canonical hasn't been contributing to Linux on the kernel level either, and one commenter suggested that Canonical is keeping all of their engineering focused on internal projects and contributing very little of their innovation back to the community that is building their core platform.  Here's another quote from DeKoenigsberg:

"Canonical is a marketing organization masquerading as an engineering organization…  If anyone at Canonical even bothers to respond to this analysis (which I doubt they will), I’m sure it’ll be the same old song-and-dance about how everyone collaborates, and everyone competes, and everyone wins, and the strength of the open source model, and not a fair comparison because Red Hat is so much bigger, and distro wars are bad, and can’t we all be friends, and yadda yadda yadda."

It's true that Canonical is much smaller than Red Hat (a billion dollar organization), and its been struggling to make a profit.  Some commenters argued that Ubuntu doesn't have the resources to contribute at the level that Red Hat does.  Others countered that argument by saying that Canonical shouldn't market the Linux desktop in Ubuntu as something they make.  Just because they're small doesn't give them a ticket to ride (nearly) free on the rest of the community's back.  DeKoenigsberg was especially angry when Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth suggested that Red Hat should change their release schedules to make it easier for them to "ride the gravy train," all while accusing Red Hat of being a proprietary software company

While DeKoenigsberg makes several good points, the fact that he was a former Red Hat employee and obviously feels taken advantage of by Canonical means that his bias leaves anything he argues, except maybe the stats, up for debate.  

Some commenters praised the marketing success of Canonical, saying that Ubuntu's success is good for the growth of the Linux community as a whole.  Another says that the stats are skewed because Canonical's commits aren't being accepted as much.  He suggests that Canonical should fork GNOME because its code is not fitting the "terribly designed" GNOME shell direction.  

At least one thing's for sure (if the stats are accurate), users who enjoy the current GNOME desktop should be thanking Red Hat a lot more than Canonical.  

Do you disagree with DeKoenigsberg's harsh assessment of Canonical?  Are you disappointed with Canonical?
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