Future of Ubuntu Community

Hello all,

I’ve seen the discussions about the abrupt loss of leadership in the community and this is a sad event. I’m not however entirely surprised. If you have been around the project for some years you will notice that there has been a progression towards divestment in the community for many many years.

The thing that’s most saddening though is that Mark (sabdfl) who has benefited from countless thousands of volunteer hours which are certainly worth millions of dollars didn’t have the respect for the community to even articulate why he has abandoned the community and been silent on the collapse of governance which he played a part in since he after all is the project leader.

What I’ve seen culminate here in a a violation of the very social contracts that this community created and has long honored and Mark isn’t the only responsible but rather all the most recent depart community council members failed to gracefully step down and transition things to new leaders.

As you can see the Ubuntu Community Team started winding down some years ago first with the departure of Jono Bacon and then many of his colleagues who were moved to other functions within Canonical. I’ve seen some of those people at conventions in the past years many of them have now entirely left Canonical and because their employment wouldn’t be risked by talking honestly a couple former Ubuntu Community Team members basically told me Mark no longer felt investing in Community or Desktop was a priority for Canonical and instead is focusing where the profits can be had which is understandable since Canonical is a business but nonetheless is a departure from the community oriented project that Ubuntu has always been.

Anyways it appears Canonical now has two jobs listed which appear to be an America’s and European Community Liaison which appears to be based on the role details a proxy for Mark being involved with the community. Basically it seems Mark wants to hire two people to replace his role in governance and alter the way governance functions.

Job Listing 1: https://canonical.com/careers/2210765

Job Listing 2:

What’s disappointing about this is Mark has nothing engaged the community here and has been silent. He also hasn’t solicited the community for feedback on restoring or even modifying governance. It is apparent that Mark no longer sees much benefit in the community so ultimately he doesn’t feel the community is a partner and doesn’t need to solicit feedback or engage.

If this erosion of investment in the community continues I predict there will eventually be a time in the future where flavors are divested and probably more and more wind down of community investment.

The best thing that could have happened is for Mark to establish a proper Ubuntu Foundation that owns the trademarks and a board with majority canonical staff as members and some seats for the community. This would ensure the community still gets to have a say and can’t just be abandoned or ignored but that’s not the reality of things is it?

Anyways I hope I’m wrong because it’s clear the community has been dying for years. Ubuntu in person events had less and less contributors years ago and it’s evident that as of today there are few community leaders and casual contributors left. Community is the soul of the Ubuntu so divestment and abandonment will only turn Ubuntu into a corporate distro.

The Ubuntu Project deserves better than this.

bkerensa
Former Membership Board Member
Former Ubuntu Developer
Former Ubuntu Doc Team Lead
Former Lead Ubuntu Oregon LoCo
Former Ubuntu Member
Former Kubuntu Member

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In addition to what you wrote I see that this site have some illness.
Instead of creating normal modern wiki system it is used to post guides in form of posts which are hard to find. So they are really useless if compare them with ArchLinux Wiki or Gentoo Wiki previosly.

Also I do not see how this site helps to conduct communication between end-users and developers. Bugs are out of interest here, they are not discussed.
For newbies we have AskUbuntu, but it does not contain Canonical staff in the leader boards. So there is no communication between ordinary non-technical user and real developers. This is not the community anyway.

So Ubuntu community is dying and apply wrong decisions. I know at least two - the GNOME Shell is not really a desktop for enterprise users with 10-20 years formed habits, the Snap subsystem is excessive resource hungry and ineffective for both desktop and server markets.
So it is very difficult to predict how all this will affect real community and Ubuntu user base in future…

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I have not been part of any official Ubuntu structure so I have no idea how it worked in the past, but I’d like to give my perspective as an “outsider”.

But as an outsider, for me personally, the community and developers have become more approachable than before. The discourse forums are much more approachable for me than the mailinglists and IRC. Having source code in git, on GitHub and Gitlab allowed me to focus on contributions instead of fighting with the platform (Launchpad). The whole community initiative for Yaru was really refreshing and I actually felt empowered for the first time. I think this is a pattern that should be repeated.

Mark has been engaging with the Juju and Snapcraft community, although I have not seen him on this specific forum.

I do feel as if Canonical is slacking a bit behind on community involvement. I think this becomes more apparent because the bar has been lifted generally, not because Ubuntu has been getting worse. I amazed at how good Microsoft is in building communities. Watching some of Jono Bacon’s videos on building open source communities, it does seem that Canonical can learn a thing or two from him.

  • The “core” of the platform should always be open source; the project should be able to be reused for its intended purpose using only open source code. Good example: gitlab. Bad example: the snap store.
  • All development should happen in the open as if all developers are outsiders. This is not the case when I look at pull requests for snapcraft, for example. Many pull requests contain no discussion or imply a discussion happened somewhere else without linking to it.

I personally don’t think that having a community council would solve the issues I describe above. I think that having more community liaisons (like what @popey is doing and what Jono Bacon did) might actually have a better chance of solving these issues. As long as they’re empowered to solve the issues and they actually have power inside of the company to push for change.

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His profile suggests that he may not visit very often but he’s definitely been here. :smile:

May be the Ubuntu Community Representative position, which is currently being advertised by Canonical, will help solve any issues that the general Ubuntu community may have.

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One of the the things I hope that will result from having “Community Representatives” is that we have more community input into the snap store and snap declarations. Right now, the processes for requesting and granting additional permissions to snaps is created exclusively by Canonical employees. I would love if we could instead have some sort of board (possibly with majority canonical staff) which oversees these things. I think the snap store is too important not to have any community involvement in it.

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Hi, as an ethusiastic Ubuntu user since 2007, I am rather surprised by this post; you are painting quite a grim picture of the state of the Ubuntu community.

I’d like to know from other community members and/or former Canonical employees if this is an accurate picture, since it worries me. I don’t mean to say that I don’t believe you, but I would like to know to which extent what you are saying is personal experience/opinion or a genuine, generalized problem.

I have followed Ubuntu through all its successes and sad failures (Ubuntu TV, Ubuntu One, the falling out between GNOME and Canonical, etc.) To me, Ubuntu’s successes have always, and still far outweigh their failures, and, as they say, high trees catch a lot of wind. I know that Canonical’s choice to drop all desktop, smartphone endearvous was a bitter pill for everyone (least of all the people at Canonical who had worked hard on it, but also the community), but I think that the reversion to GNOME has happened in quite a painless and elegant way, with the community taking back more control. (I remember Didier Roche’s blog in preparing Ambiance and the Ubuntu experience on GNOME.) The result is this Discourse forum, a new theme, a vibrant presence on social media, a renewed cooperation with the GNOME community, with hardware vendors (Lenovo to name one!), even with Microsoft and Google …

Every new chapter in Ubuntu’s history seems to have been (and still is) welcomed with a lot of complaining (I remember vividly the merciless criticism on Unity), criticism that very often heralds ‘the end of Ubuntu’.

To me, Ubuntu has reverted back to what it was before the start of Unity. It might not have been what people were expecting, it might have been a painful decision, but Ubuntu is still here, and it still has a unique position in the Linux world.

So, my question is: to which extent ‘is the community dying’, as you say? (I see a LOT of activity on Reddit, here on Discourse, in education (where I work).)

Let me also take the opportunity to speak out for GNOME. There is a lot of criticism on GNOME and the GNOME community, but from where I am sitting, it is the most popular Linux desktop and it is thriving. They have a lot of new sponsors, their own new Discourse page, … What Ubuntu needs is a continuing involvement with GNOME. I for one - and I know I’m not alone, love vanilla GNOME, but also love the tweaks that the Ubuntu Community has made to it to make it a genuine Ubuntu experience. It is not a Unity-grade endeavour, but it comes close to what happened back when Ubuntu used GNOME 2. Using GNOME, branding and tweaking the experience, and opening the doors to 3rd party software apps. It is what Ubuntu does best. I hope for a prosperous future!

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You can look around in discourse or look at Ubuntu Newsletters there has been a decline for many years now. Ubuntu Membership has been steadily declining for years and so has Ubuntu Developers. There hasn’t been fully functioning Ubuntu Community Team in years now and the Community Council which is the main governance body has been abandoned and vacant without any official communication from Mark who is the project leader.

Here you can see a thread of long time Ubuntu contributors sharing the same concerns:

This isn’t exactly news to anyone rather the community council has been defunct for awhile and Mark and Canonical really haven’t done much of anything to address community concerns about the abandonment of the project by the “benevolent dictator”

From the Ubuntu Community Code of Comduct:
“ Responsibility for the project starts with the “benevolent dictator”, who delegates specific responsibilities and the corresponding authority to a series of teams, councils and individuals, starting with the Community Council (“CC”). That Council or its delegated representative will arbitrate in any dispute.

We are a meritocracy; we delegate decision making, governance and leadership from senior bodies to the most able and engaged candidates.”

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Thank you for your elaborate response. I read through the other discussion. I understand your position better now and continue to hope that the Ubuntu Community stays alive. Both in this discussion and the one that you provided a link to, there are skeptics and more positive voices. I do stand with the positive voices. As some rightfully say, a governing body might be missing, but perhaps things just simply don’t happen the way they were done before. And, apart from that, as long as there are people who believe in the project, the project will stay alive. I even see progress in more than one field. And perhaps one has to be a GNOME 3 fan to see a silver lining as well. I think they are doing a splendid job and are thriving. Add to this the unique position of Ubuntu to bring Linux to the masses (with old (Steam) and new collaborations (Windows, Google, Lenovo) and I think Ubuntu can have a bright future.

The one thing that I think is still missing - and I said this many times before here on Discourse - is a clear Marketing effort towards the desktop, for instance on the official website.

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Opinion: Ubuntu has transitioned from “new-and-scrappy” to “mature.” Each appeals to different folks.

The comments by @bkerensa2 and @Norbert are excellent examples of constructive criticism by folks who want Ubuntu to succeed. Both seem more-or-less well-reasoned, present good examples, and avoid ranting. Thanks to you both for being constructive – it enhances your argument.

I don’t fully agree with the conclusions: I see plenty of new volunteers in AskUbuntu, new respins of Ubuntu appearing regularly, healthy downstream distros, new testers showing up here in various threads, and volunteers seem to have refreshed Translations and the Ubuntu Weekly News within the past couple years. I think that it’s perfectly natural for some folks to lose interest as Ubuntu matures…while others join anew.

I don’t see that as cherry-picking a couple success stories among greater failure. I see it as volunteers-being-volunteers and going where they are interested and welcomed, as volunteers have always done.

Should the Community Council be resurrected? Strong ‘Yes’ from here. Kudos to folks working to influence in that direction.

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I don’t think Ubuntu is going anywhere but I think there needs to be a discussion about the future of Ubuntu governance and that really requires Mark to come to the table and engage the community and tell us his plans since he is the project leader and he is the owner of the defunct community Council.

Ultimately the ball is in his court and the community is waiting to hear his plans.

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A post was split to a new topic: First Time Rant

I don’t think it’s fair to draw this conclusion. You said yourself earlier in the same post:

Seems to me that these posts are intended to fulfill the community liaison function, and therefore what is going on is the exact opposite of what you fear. Mark and/or Canonical are taking community needs seriously and are putting money towards necessary improvements. There were people employed before to do this, and as those roles got diluted (eg. towards snap community), more people are being hired to make up for that. I just don’t see how you infer “replace his role in governance and alter the way governance functions” from this.

Edit: I see that my Canonical badge is showing, but note that I can’t speak for Canonical on this. I don’t have any inside knowledge. I’m just wearing my Ubuntu community hat here, making an observation on publicly available information.

If you mean that Ubuntu matured enough to transition from open source community to Microsoft support forums, yes I totally agree.
Is this something bad? No.
Am I feeling motivated to contribute? No.
Do I wish the best to Ubuntu and his new contributors? Yes, totally.

I tend to believe that the proof is in the pudding. I don’t really see any steps being taken, any resources being allocated, or more people being hired. What are the specifics here?

Furthermore, if Mark/Canonical care so much about the community, why isn’t Mark and/or someone who can speak for Canonical replying to these concerns, which have been raised multiple times not only across the forums but in many other venues? I’m not trying to imply that this isn’t a point of concern, but the optics of non-response is not good.

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I don’t think we need Mark or Canonical in this discussion. I very much believe in do-ocracy: If we want an organized community effort, then why don’t we just create one? I would be happy to help out but it’s just not clear to me what is needed exactly. I think this discussion is a great place to figure out what we actually want and need as a community.

What kind of governance are we looking for? What are the concrete problems we want solved? I don’t see why we need to wait for Canonical’s approval. On the contrary, I think an initiative created by the community will be a lot more successful and sustainable. Bottom-up instead of top-down.

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The Community Council’s primary purpose was to serve as an avenue for dispute resolution, among other things. We could probably make this up on our own but it’s hard for it to serve this purpose if all parties involved do not consider it a reasonable authority. For that matter, in the event that a dispute requires some sort of punitive action, Canonical’s IS team needs to recognize it as a reasonable authority in order to take action. So it does need Canonical.

I would also like to think that the Community Council, at least without any community liason in place (like the aforementioned Jono Bacon), served to sort of steer the direction of the community, inspiring and encouraging, and networking people together to solve larger problems. This is probably easier to implement, but in the event that something required resources (funds or otherwise) from Canonical, again, the question of authority comes up.

@bkerensa2 linked to posted job openings in his original post. That’s evidence of resources being allocated in terms of more people being hired.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that further steps will be taken specifically by those new hires once they are hired.

Again - I think that’ll become evident once the new hires being hired specifically for this purpose are onboarded.

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Ok, your initial post made the response sound a lot more extensive than a couple job postings. I guess that is a reasonable action, though.

Still, community is kept going through communication. Not everyone who is concerned about this issue is searching job postings. Making it really clear to everyone what Canonical’s goals/direction for the community is would be incredibly wise and do much to help support whoever these new hires are.

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I wonder how many times the Community Council actually needed to use their “hard power” in order to do this dispute resolution. I haven’t really kept up with what the CC did over the years but I think many issues can be solved simply by having a respected third party help out.

I also think that the issue of “hard power” is one we can solve if/when we get to that point. Canonical still clearly cares about the community, so it’s very likely that Canonical would help this initiative if/when their help is needed.

I agree that we need Canonical to use the funds, but many resources such as Launchpad are already freely available to anyone in the community. I also think we could achieve a great deal without any funds whatsoever. As you said it yourself, I think inspiration and encouragement are some of the most powerful tools. Take KDE as an example of how powerful inspiration is.

Moreover, I think that Canonical would be happy to support such an initiative. But I think the first step is to create the initiative. Canonical’s support is not the first step.

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I brought all that up from having experienced both of those needs firsthand. They were never a problem because the Community Council was an established thing. Now, it’s decimated.

And I will most certainly say that disputes can rage quite dramatically. I would not underestimate the collateral damage that can be caused if such situations are not handled delicately and swiftly. Having an impromptu Council that a fraction of folks acknowledge to make decisions isn’t really going to work in those situations. They don’t happen every day, but they are also not uncommon.

Oh, and with regards to Launchpad, the Community Council pretty much owns every team in the Ubuntu community but since no one has access to that except Mark (and IS), that makes for a bit of a problem, too.

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