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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 ( 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 ( 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 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



Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


Mandrake was initially a fork of Redhat and Redhat seems to be doing fine. I don't think this will hurt debian in the long run.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


whats a fork? but something to eat with.
whats a deriative. but something changed
whats a matter but something you should decide on

gentoo sources for ubuntu in future backed by novell

right! stop fighting and merge all the desktops and compete with microsoft on one platform and one LSB and one GPL

fork or not. ubuntu is good linux is great

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


fork or not. ubuntu is good linux is great

Right on! ;-)

Still.. it is good to clear up confusion. This article might have not been the best way to start a discussion, but it started it nonetheless and the followup should come and take into account all opinions.

We'll make peace. :yes:


Re: Personally, Ubuntu is better than Debian.


It isn't just ABI differences, packages in Ubuntu have different dependencies than the same package in Sid.

You see, people comunicate. Debian decided to do a gcc4 transition after Sarge release. They developed a naming sheme that they would have. Package libsomethingc102 is old name, and new name would be libsomething. Package libsomethingelse would be known as libsomethingelsec2.

Since these sheme was adopted from Debian, it would be silly to something different in Ubuntu, right? So, Ubuntu did transition first, following Debian's nameing sheme. Now Debian stareted gcc4 transition and they would have easier job since most of sources are allready fixed in Ubuntu.


One need only look at the slow speed at which the GCC4 transition is proceeding. It's already been done in Ubuntu, it seems no one cares about making sure it finishes with Sid.

Could that be cause Ubuntu started it 5 months ago? And Debian few weeks ago? And, take a better look at that link. I don't see transition stalling. Less then 500 packages are gcc3. Debian needs, what, 2 weeks to finish it? No one cares? Too much FUD, my friend, too much FUD.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


hi, i started using ubuntu 5 months ago. Previously i was using windows, even though i don't like or trust microsoft.. I played with ubuntu for about a month. then, i actually got ubuntu working with all my hardware, and decided to ditch windows on my home desktop machine. why did i switch? i diddn't know much about linux at all. i'll tell you what helped me switch. ubuntu is and pretty user friendly because its put together in a uniform way, most of the defaults are good defaults, even the default music players and video players. Also another major thing that helped me out a TON is ubuntu's forums. Oh yeah, another nice thing is it fits on a single cd, with the option to download all sorts of extras from repositories.

If ubuntu purpose was making so much money on support. Why would they put up a free forum for getting help from other users? you would think, if money were the goal, they would NOT do that, so they could get more people to sign up for support.

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?

I love hearing migration stories like this. Welcome to Free Software community.. anonymous. :-)


If ubuntu purpose was making so much money on support. Why would they put up a free forum for getting help from other users? you would think, if money were the goal, they would NOT do that, so they could get more people to sign up for support.

It is so because those support services aren't even meant for "ordinary" desktop users like you and me. If they had not provide great community forums for people to get help that would probably be only detrimental to the adoption of Ubuntu while others would just go to places like or to get help.

Commercial support is usually aimed at business users, that is companies and corporations who would use Ubuntu and usually need professional support they can rely on. They are also ones willing to pay for it.

However, making business out of support for Free Software is nothing Free Software movement and community are against. In a contrary, we keep repeating that software is about freedom, not cost. Therefore it is not against business..

I am almost done with a followup to this article. Expect it published on this site soon. :-)

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


I don't think any of you are using KDE for your desktop. But I do and I don't think is fair to leave me stuck with KDE 3.3 for two or three years (who knows) with this version, one month before KDE 3.4 became stable.
I am talking about Sarge, the stable branch of Debian, that imposes their own idea of stability.
Why so much fuss about KDE 3.3/4, you may ask?
I was a user of Mandrake, for years I didn't have to use a terminal to mount and unmount my devices.
I decided to switch to Debian and realise the system comes with no integrated automounter or installed with the base system.
That's fine, cause KDE 3.4 manages mounting through dbus and hal (like gnome), but not 3.3 which is the official version in Sarge.
I tried the packages from and they are full bugs and they have stopped realeasing updates (3.4.2)
My desktop enviroment is the base of my everyday work, and Debian is the distro who cares less about users like me.
Maybe GNOME users are luckier? or maybe Debian and RS never forgive the KDE project for using Trolltechs QT? Maybe there is a secret and a conspirancy against desktop users in Debian too?
On the other hand, when I go into debian irc channels, everybody tells me the same thing: nobody uses sarge, switch to Testing.
And Testing+Unstable=Ubuntu.
I think the Debian community uses Debian like an Ubuntu Distribution. Shouldn't Debian focus on that?
Yours sincerely:Néstor

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?



I would say Testin+Unstable=Ubuntu-SecurityRepository-DesktopPatches+DependencyHell

Re: Ubuntu: derivative or fork ?


Here's a non-techie view of the Debian/Ubuntu controversy:

Let Ubuntu and Debian develop as they will. Frankly, I admire the Debian ideals greatly. On the other hand, I think that by taking all architectures to be its province, Debian spreads itself mighty thin. Plus, it's far harder to install. Ergo, my working distribution of choice is Ubuntu.

Now, idealistically, there may be a lot to debate. But in the marketplace of distros, ideals will (and should) take a back seat. GNU/Linux as a whole won't become a viable desktop alternative for the masses (as I hope it will) based on its ideals. It will do so because it performs.

So let the multitude of distros -- be they forks, derivates, fresh creations, part-time parasites or whatever -- fight it out (or cooperate and work together, as it suits them) in the larger market. GNU/Linux as a whole won't be hurt and in fact should end up far stronger and better able to be what it should be: a workable operating system for John Q. User and family.

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