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Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

Ubuntu is a beautiful word in one african language. It means something close to "connected humanity" or more exactly "the interdependent human community".
With this name, the Ubuntu Linux Distribution, created by Canonical, the company of Mark Shuttleworth, the deep-space zillionaire from South Africa, has managed to take over the Distrowatch Billboard of GNU/Linux distributions and remain as the number one distribution for more than 6 months.
Ubuntu is based on Debian, and is intended primarily for Linux newbies who use it mainly as a desktop. In short, it's a well-polished Debian distro, with fewer customization capacities and an excellent hardware detection.
But Ubuntu is much more than that. Ubuntu never positioned itself as a Debian derivative, like Xandros, or Mepis, or Knoppix. Ubuntu publicly acknowledges its relationship with Debian, and Canonical, through its recently founded Ubuntu foundation, hires some Debian developpers.
All this should be good news; but for some it's not. Wether on Distrowatch or on community forums, voices whisper that Ubuntu has a dirty secret you may not want to hear: they don't keep the compatibility with Debian, and they want to fork away from their mother distribution. Now, nobody could even care because we may find ourselves in the following scenarios:

- Ubuntu is a very small distribution nobody pays attention about
- Ubuntu is criticized by jealous people
- Ubuntu released a 1.0, but never managed to release a 2.0

All this is wrong, indeed. Ubuntu is the first, or one of the first distributions in the world. Some people may be jealous, but I know some who aren't and who criticizes Ubuntu anyway. Ubuntu releases often, and has no problems in terms of motivation or human ressources.

So, what's the fuss with Ubuntu? Does it want to become THE distribution for everybody? Does it want to fork Debian?
Let's move to these points. Ubuntu has something special that no other distribution ever had before. It shipped its own CDs to you, anywhere in the world for free. It has money (10 million USD from Mark Shuttleworth) and can afford that. For Linux newbies out there, Ubuntu is like Windows. In much the same way they have believed for years that Windows was included for free with their computers, they now have the same kind of facility with Ubuntu: they order CDs for free and it lands in their postal inbox. But much in the same way that they paid for Windows without knowing it, somebody has to pay for the free shipping. And since it's not the users, it's somebody else, namely, the resources of Canonical, or put simply Mark Shuttleworth.
To everyone who thinks this guy is a saint, let me tell you: I hope I'm wrong, but although he's doing a lot for FLOSS I'm sure he could do much better, and I'm going to explain you how.
Here's somebody who wants to help the Free Software movement, and what could be better than helping the holiest of the holy projects (for some, at least), the Debian project? At this stage, I'm all with Mark and Ubuntu.
So if you wish to contribute your 10 millions to Debian, make a donation to the Software in Public Interest (www.spi-inc.org) the non-for profit corporation legally covering Debian.
But Mark Shuttleworth did not do that. He instead funded Ubuntu, its own distribution with both commercial and community interests in it. If you read this page, you will notice that Ubuntu acknowledges its relationship with Debian but openly gets away from it, by stating things about "what Debian is not good about". My poor fellows. What is really Debian, if not the single most important NON-DISTRIBUTION in the world? Debian has no product line, it maintains packages and one single big system (these days, it's called Sarge) and you create your own system on it. That's the Debian way, and let's not forget this. It's so true that its founder, Ian Murdock, started a business on this concept, called Progeny (www.progeny.com) and sells a custom Debian distro called "Componentized Linux". So if Ubuntu wants to be pictured as the coolest debian desktop ever (and it is positioned this way actually), then why not arrange something in the Debian community? Why not leave its name, "Debian for desktops"?
Because Ubuntu has commercial interests too. Aha. Of couse, these are not bad, but where it starts to get bad is when you mix the two, community and business.
Ubuntu sells services, such as support. It's also looking for commercial partners Ubuntu has community forums and sends its CDs for free everywhere in the world. Now that's not what I call philanthropy anymore, I call that a damned smart business plan. So is it a community or a commercial distribution?
It seems to be both, but it does not stop there. In fact, it seems that Ubuntu does not keep the compatibility between Debian and its own distribution. I don't need evidences here, just browse the Debian, Ubuntu, and Linux forums and you will see that it's true. One of my business partner installed it and has trouble going back to Debian through the daily packages of updates (which, and that's the first, was feasible with Mepis or Knoppix). The problem is that these incompatibilities can only grow with time, as it should have been of perennial concern for Ubuntu before these could ever show up, and not after.
So in doing this, Ubuntu breaks its uncousciously-propagated promise of a true Debian desktop. And in doing this, Ubuntu is now able to offer support not for Debian-based systems, but for Ubuntu only.
There is even worse. When the Debian Core Consortium was launched, any single Debian reseller/service provider/linux distributor out there rushed to join the alliance . But Ubuntu refused, for the sake of its own business, and for the sake of its own foundation... So Ubuntu declared that day to the world that it would separate itself from Debian. It may sound overreacted, but it's true. If you refuse to join a consortium that is grouping the commercial and community players around Debian and is working withing the Debian project, you are simply saying that you're not part of this community.

Ubuntu may have had other commercial objectives, and that I can't prove nor criticize. It's just a pity that the largest Debian distributor out there decided to fork not only its bytes, but also its community from its mothercommunity.

Now, Ubuntu is trying to imitate Debian; Since it refuses to integrate inside the Debian framework, it captures its own community, and takes all the goodwill of volunteers who used to travell from and to projects like Knoppix and Debian for itself.
It's rather shameful to do this in my opinion, but I hope it is now clear that Ubuntu has at least an agenda. It is now progressively forking from its Debian core base, and is also forking its community.
Thanks to the millions of Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu became the number one distribution for desktop by giving away CDs to the masses and living in parasite on the Debian core base.
Well done Mr. Shuttleworth, well done Ubuntu, you have showed us how to take power inside a community and turn it to your own advantage.

Charles-H. Schulz is a leader of the OpenOffice.org Native Language Confederation.

Please take this poll related to the issue: Do you think Ubuntu is a fork or a derivate of Debian? Vote now. -- Libervisco

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Comments

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

 

Just wanted to point out a couple of things, that might seem obvious to some, but may be of some insight to others.

1. DCC is based on the Sarge relase of Debian, while ubuntu is based on six month snapshots of the Sid release of Debian. Therefore it doesn't really make sense to even ask Ubuntu to join the DCC.

2. With a quick change to the Ubuntu sources.list file, namely uncommenting a couple of lines, one has access to the universe component. I believe the universe component includes most of the other Sid packages and some additonal ones as well,, re-compiled to work with the rest of Ubuntu. The only difference being that packages in the universe component are not offically supported.

3. Ubuntu and Sid will always be incompatiable (except for maybe a brief period when the snapshot is taken) since Sid is constantly changing (so it's not really a release in a traditional sense), whereas Ubuntu tries to stablize on that particular snapshot. It would be like expecting all current Sid packages to be comaptiable with all Sid packages from six months ago.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

Alright, here is a proposal..

Since this article was more of a call for discussion than a definite statement and thus pretty speculative to some point, after reviewing all reactions we could come up with an article that explains the whole issue thoroughly and finally clears things up about it. From where I stand, the whole presumed incompatibility issue of any kind isn't as important as is being aware of what Ubuntu really is. I think that what we can all mostly agree on is that Ubuntu isn't a standard Debian derivate, not just because of its enormous popularity, but because of the way it "derivates" from Debian, resulting in suspicions in its compatibility with Debian.

As the previous comment says, other distros in DCC take from Sarge, while Ubuntu takes from Sid, which is the difference I refer to above.

So, instead of further spreading confusion and division we should put things into perspective and present this perspective to the community. We can present our opinions and facts in this discussion and then, on its base, someone of us or together (with a wiki) we can write up an article that to some extent concludes the discussion, makes peace between the two communities and suggests the best course to take into the future.

If there's anything that's pretty clear than it is that both Ubuntu and Debian are here to stay, be them under the same umbrella or two big sister entities. We better get used to that. :-)

Thanks
Daniel

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

 

LOL!!

Charles.... DCC is the same thing as Ubuntu. They fork Sarge to create some common base for other distributions (but not for Debian). First DCC release would be build on top of 2.6.12 kernel. You can't find that kernel in Sarge. They will have udev patched that isn't available in Sarge. And this are only base parts of an operating system. I guess you know that

Debian is not related to DCC! It's related in the same way as Canonical.

What's worse is that DCC is a copy of Ubuntu project (http://www.ubuntu.com) and Canonical ideas (http://www.launchpad.net) of one place for all distributions.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

 

Uhm... What do you think DCC is? DCC isn't related to Debian and it's goals aren't to make Debian better. DCC and Debian are in conflict cause DCC violets Debian's trademark rights (mentions Debian's name in commercial purposes). What they do is forking, but most of the patches hardly will get in Debian.

Please, don't mention DCC and don't force Ubuntu in DCC, cause this are two organisations/company that create buissness model on Debian. They can't go together.

Mark/Canonical did tried to make changes in Debian, but there is too many people that think in many different ways. You can't get consensus in that project. If you are in Debian development, you would see how hard it was to drop support for obsolete archs.

You listen too much FUD from Ian. The fact is that Ubuntu project (I won't say developers, cause Ubuntu developers are Debian developers) did great work on gcc4 transition, xorg, xorg modulisation, .desktop creation, etc... All that work will be implemented in Debian. You can easily take Hoary's xorg and install it on Sarge.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

 

"They only keep the lineage, but you would be risking to use RPM from RedHat in say Mandriva. Ubuntu seems to be going the same road.. something he doesn't approve as well as good deal of the Debian community. What we want to know is why does Ubuntu do that? And also we need to determine for once if Ubuntu is really Debian or is it becoming something new."

But you can install Debian/Ubuntu deb on Ubuntu/Debian. This is issue only in Sarge/Hoary, since Debian changed ABI for libc6 without chaning version of libc6. On http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2005/06/msg01578.html how ignorant Ian can be (read whole page, with quotes).

Beside, Ubuntu and Debian will be closely related, but never the same. Debian is great source base on top of wich you can create great work. Demanding binary compatibility is silly - it stops development.

Personally, Ubuntu is better than Debian.

 

I have not used Debian yet, but I am sure Ubuntu is better. I have used Mandrake and Red Hat (this always sucks and it shows in their position in the www.distrowatch.com)..

So personally for me, just let the better distribution wins and let the Debian distro dies.. after all it seems it can not get better or evolve...

=)

Anyway, maybe in the future all DISTRO should used one packaging scheme (should be DEBIAN not RPM because it sucks based on my experience and now I hate it).. since a lot of effort I think is wasted and the distros are currently fragmented..

This article is nothing but a rant towards Ubuntu

 

I could make many points about what is wrong in this article (really a blog/rant) but there is just too much wrong with it, I will not even bother.

But overall, Ubuntu wants to become a well polished distrubution for free. Why does everyone complain about this? Because it doesnt want to follow the rest of the distros (Debian, and the rest in the DCC). Why change his development model so that others may profit from his work? I would'nt. Ian Murdock is a reasonable person but why create something for free when someone else is going to just go and sell your changes? Linspire does this crap all of the time.

Re: Personally, Ubuntu is better than Debian.

 

"So personally for me, just let the better distribution wins and let the Debian distro dies"

If Debian dies, Ubuntu will die too. For those thinking that Ubuntu is fork, this will come as surprise. But, that's the fact. If Debian stops development, Ubuntu wouldn't have sources to polish, cause that's what Ubuntu does - polishes Debian. And, of course, sends that polish back to Debian. I doubt this will be the case with DCC.

Re: Personally, Ubuntu is better than Debian.

 

I do think Ubuntu is a better distro for the desktop user who is happy with using GNOME. This doesn't apply to everyone, however, and Debian supports a wider range of users on more architectures with more packages, it is a behemoth of a distro that is hard to make changes to quickly because of this and this causes a problem if Ubuntu wants to be a part of Debian. I can't see any way Ubuntu could maintain full Debian compatability and also be up to date with new packages, they don't try to break compatibility, they just don't support fixing it is it crops up, so it isn't a deliberate thing.

There is certainly a place for both Debian and Ubuntu because they are different and for the most part they cater for different users, although there is some overlap. Both distros will carry on, neither wil die and neither will win because it isn't a competition.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

 

Note the last Q/A in the DCC FAQ (http://www.dccalliance.org/faq.html)

=======
Are all Debian-based distributions members of the Alliance?

No. While Debian distributions are welcome to join the Alliance, we are a purely voluntary association. For example, some Linux distributions may take a more cutting-edge approach, rather than base their offerings on the latest stable Debian core. Despite such diversity, all Debian distributions share the common goal of strengthening and advancing the Debian GNU/Linux project from which we are all derived.
=======

So from the perspective of the DCC itself, the alliance is for distributions which are based on the latest stable Debian core. Ubuntu is just the kind of "cutting-edge" distros. It's based on the unstable release, and acts as a kind of reconaissance patrol, both contributing new features, and fixing bugs which are regularly contributed back to the Debian stream.

So I don't think that the fact that Ubuntu hasn't joined DCC means anything sinister, it just isn't the kind of distro which the DCC represents. From what I've seen of Ubuntu, it's only a good thing for the Debian project, and Canonical is doing much to support "the common goal of strengthening and advancing the Debian GNU/Linux project from which" it and the other Debian distros, DCC or not, are derived.

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