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The Gobuntu Mission Examined - page 3

What Makes a Linux Distribution Truly Free

  • November 12, 2007
  • By Roy Schestowitz

According to recent arguments in Gobuntu's mailing lists, focus has been shifting toward freeing the kernel. This effort comes at the expense of freedom at a higher level, which still includes popular "non free" applications. At present, the applications layer in Gobuntu resembles those which can be already found in Ubuntu (the less free version).

Mark Shuttleworth defends his stance on such issues by highlighting key parts of a long mailing list thread.

There appears to be a certain fear among the Gobuntu development community when it comes to voicing criticism, especially because the project meets the public eye. It thrives in transparency, but concerns about the project's direction are sometimes raised off-list instead. We are told by Robertson-Turner that discussions among the contributors tend to be philosophical, but only in the sense that there is a 'political' power struggle, not in the sense that free software philosophies are encouraged though free and open expression.

Paraphrasing from memory, Robertson-Turner says that Mark Shuttleworth "comes in and says, stop bickering, this is supposed to be a devel[opment] mailing list, so talk about development stuff, and stop wasting time on trivial matters like Freedom."

But Matthew East, a member of the Ubuntu Community Council, strongly disagrees with this assessment. "With limited exceptions, no one has yet (or at least until recently) stepped up with any concrete work which actually furthers Gobuntu's aims of developing a completely free derivative of Ubuntu," he tells us. He does, however, acknowledge the fact that mistakes were made. He believes that the company failed to give the Gobuntu project more substantial guidance about the scope and methods of the project, until recently. However, "This has been recognized and is being addressed," he assures us.

There appears to be a mild confrontation between those who are volunteers and those who are associated with Canonical, which is the company behind Gobuntu. Robertson-Turner says: Somebody else pointed out that, if we can't even establish what is or isn't Free, then how are we supposed to proceed? This is core to the goals of this project. Where is the advisory board? Where are the mentors? Where is the information necessary to actually get involved? It's all very well telling us to talk devel stuff, but what is it that we're supposed to be developing?"

He argues that this was never the case when he participated in Fedora, where it was easier than ever to be a contributor. "They're tripping over themselves to help volunteers," he said, referring to Red Hat, which took over Fedora.

Robertson-Turner further complains that, "I suggested various non-Free packages be removed, and the reaction was, to put it mildly, aggressive. There seems to be core of contributors who are blind to the dangers of certain software, such as Mono, and argue vigorously in its defense, despite it having a particularly untrustworthy so-called 'RAND' clause from Microsoft. It is poison for the well, but certain Gobuntu contributors just don't seem to care, and embrace this encumbered Microsoft technology with open arms. It's deeply unsettling to discover this kind of attitude, especially in, of all places, the Gobuntu project."

As it stands, other than the supposed changes to the kernel, Robertson-Tuner claims that one is hard pressed to find any difference between Gobuntu and Ubuntu at all, likening it to "little more than a new paint job," adding that "as for changes in the kernel, even that was done without any consultation to the list, and to this day it remains a mystery as to what, if anything, has actually been changed." A direct request from Robertson-Turner to Shuttleworth, on the mailing list, for information regarding those changes, went unanswered.

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