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6 things Mark Shuttleworth should do as CEO of Canonical

Swapnil Bhartiya | April 17, 2017
Shuttleworth is re-taking control of Canonical. Can he get the company behind Ubuntu back on track?

Be a consumer: Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation once told me that one of the many reasons organizations use open source projects is that they have “discovered that they want to shed what is essentially commodity R&D and software development that isn't core to their customers.”

Canonical had been doing the opposite. Instead of using existing projects, even if that meant some compromises, they tended to create their own in-house projects. Not only does this approach go against the idea of open source, it wastes resources. My advice to Canonical is to start consuming as much as you can, and when you do make changes, do it upstream.

Snip Snap: In last week’s announcement, Canonical gave hints that it would go back to Gnome and Wayland. But it still seemed attached to Snap. Canonical should ditch Snap and adopt Flatpak for desktop and Docker containers for IoT and cloud. I understand Canonical might have its own reasons behind developing Snap packages, just the way it had reasons behind Unity, Mir and Upstart. Don’t make the same mistake again, Canonical. Drop Snap, even if it means some compromises.

That leads us to the last point:

Give respect to earn it: You can’t expect a community to include features that you need if you are not seen as a good citizen. Canonical and Shuttleworth have a long history of upsetting members of the open source community: Unity was created because Canonical couldn’t work with Gnome; Banshee was kicked out of Ubuntu because Canonical wanted to take a cut of sales; there was a dispute between Canonical and Linux Mint over licence fees; the founder of Kubuntu was kicked out of his own project; there was a nasty battle within the Debian community over the use of systemd vs Upstart; Mir was announced with heavy criticism from the Wayland and Xorg communities. You can see there is a very long list of confrontations between Canonical and other open source communities.

You won’t find any such conflicts in the Fedora or openSUSE communities. Tribalism and cutting others short to make yourself look big will never work in the open source world. You can’t insult people who work in their own free time (and often company time) to create and improve upon the project that you use in your products.

I think it’s about time for Shuttleworth to start the healing process. The new message from Canonical should be community first. In my meetings with the CEOs of Red Hat and SUSE, they both made it clear that for them community comes first. As Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said, “If it's important to the Linux community, it's important to Red Hat". That should be the new message from Shuttleworth to the community: “If it’s important for the open source community, it’s important for Canonical.’


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