Ubuntu either doesn’t know how important they’ve become, or they don’t care.
So recently a lot of dust hs been kicked up over the fact that Ubuntu at UDS recently decided to take Banshee and Tomboy Notes off the default CD image. I won’t speak to the technical reasons other than to say that I feel they are rather weak, especially since the exact same reasoning was used to switch Rhythmbox with Banshee last time around. (Full disclosure department: being a Tomboy contributor it’s pretty obvious that I think Tomboy’s the best thing since sliced bread and grilled cheese and that removing it sucks.) What I am going to talk about is the total lack of communication and transparency in the decision-making process. Obviously I’m not the first to have opinions on this: Go to Jo Shield’s blog for a long and well-argued comment on the subject.
Now, what I have to add is this: Ubuntu either doesn’t know how important they’ve become, or they don’t care. Developers in upstream apps know that getting exposure in Ubuntu means an incredible influx of new users, which in turn leads to new bug reporters, which finally means new contributors. It’s well known that each of these groups is an order of magnitude smaller than the last, so making sure the user group is as big as possible is vital for an application. And because upstream knows this, they are willing to bend over backwards to accommodate Ubuntu’s wishes. Banshee added the U1 music store as core feature rather than a community extension, while when Tomboy was informed that they were temporarily off the Oneric CD due to Tomboy being the only app dependent on gnome-sharp early in the release cycle the developers dropped just about everything to get that fixed sharpish. How was Tomboy informed? One helpful soul forwarded an email that had been posted to the ubuntu-desktop mailing list announcing that Tomboy was being dropped until the dependency was removed. Evidently nobody on the desktop team thought it was worth taking the time to ask the Tomboy developers if it was an easy fix. (Which it turned out to be.)
Upstreams would be more than happy to do a lot of stuff for Ubuntu if only Ubuntu actually let them know what they wanted in some sort of predictable fashion. The trouble is, I’m not even sure that Ubuntu has a predictable system for making such decisions, much less communicating them. Listening to the recording from the relevant UDS session, it seems like it’s a bunch of guys larking about and having laughs while they make up the agenda as they go along. I’m also given to understand that there was in fact no official mention of the now controversial plans before the session started, and the record-keeping, a rather thin etherpad, just doesn’t cut it.
OK, I get it. Formalities are boring. But formalities tend to go hand in hand with responsibility. When Ubuntu wields such incredible clout over upstream development (and also so many people use Ubuntu and are interested in how it develops), they really should get bit more boring by properly formalizing procedures for things like this. They also need to make sure it all gets communicated to the people who need to know about it before it’s too late, so that they can help resolve any issues that might arise. After all, Ubuntu is Linux for human beings. And I hear that developers are human beings too.