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Ouster of Kubuntu founder leaves its future in doubt

Jon Gold | July 8, 2015
A disagreement between the founder of Kubuntu and the Ubuntu Community Council has roiled the Linux community and left the project rudderless, as Jonathan Riddell left Kubuntu's governing body late last month.

linux penguins arguing
Credit: SAUER VS. TUX

A disagreement between the founder of Kubuntu and the Ubuntu Community Council has roiled the Linux community and left the project rudderless, as Jonathan Riddell left Kubuntu's governing body late last month.

A month before, Riddell was forced out of his post as the de facto head of the governance committee of Kubuntu, the Linux distribution he helped to found in 2005. Kubuntu is an Ubuntu-based desktop operating system that uses the well-regarded KDE Plasma desktop environment.

The organization that demanded and got his resignation is the Ubuntu Community Council, the main non-technical governing body for the mega-distro. The UCC's members are nominated by Canonical head Mark Shuttleworth and approved by Ubuntu's members, and Shuttleworth himself retains a permanent seat.

The expulsion of Riddell raised eyebrows at the time, for three main reasons. The first is that the reason given for the move wasn't well-substantiated indeed, Ubuntu community manager Michael Hall declined to offer specifics when asked, citing Riddell's privacy, and a public message to the Kubuntu project's leadership cited his "aggressive" and "confrontational" behavior but didn't offer any examples.

"[Riddell] is a valuable member of our community who we think made some bad choices, but we don't want to make a big deal of this we don't want to put up big giant posters highlighting this," he told Network World.

But Riddell himself was more forthright, providing a link to the UCC's mailing list message announcing his ouster and saying that he stood by everything he said.

"Amazingly[,] they thought it would be a sane thing to do to put this on Ubuntu's news site ..., this attempt to make me look bad also made the CC and the whole Ubuntu project look even worse so they took it down," Riddell said in an email.

Kubuntu council member Scott Kitterman

The second reason is the abrupt and unprecedented nature of the decision the UCC has never actually called for the head of a "flavor" distro like Kubuntu to step down before, and the decision to do so was presented to Kubuntu's leadership as a settled matter, not open for debate.

This didn't go down well with the Kubuntu council. One member, Scott Kitterman, published an extensive collection of correspondence between the two councils, which show the Kubuntu team clearly dismayed by the decision.

"I think the CC is completely beyond the pale in making this request," he emailed Hall. "Even if every single allegation is true (and I still didn't find the Canonical employee that can't work with Jonathan despite continuing to try), both the action and the way it was arrived at are wrong."

 

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