Dear Canonical

by davidnielsen

Dear Canonical,

Let me start out by saying this, I am in no way opposed to you turning a profit. However I believe your recent actions, including but not limited to the Canonical-Yahoo! revenue sharing agreement (henceforth: YahooGate), are hurting Ubuntu and the Ubuntu community.

We can both I hope agree that Ubuntu is marketed as a community project and that was it not for the community Canonical today wouldn’t be where it was. Likewise without Canonical there would be no Ubuntu, you are valued community members and valued sponsors. However I feel that YahooGate shows that you are now willing to go around the community and enforce changes without debating or even proposing these changes to the community ahead of time. We were not asked if there was an interest in entering into such deals, and if so how such changes should be rolled out, let alone limited. You acted like bad community members and that cannot be allowed to happen.

As community members, it is our duty to hold you accountable, to keep you honest. Likewise I would see it as Canonicals duty to hold the community accountable to it’s actions. In that spirit I will quote the part of your own governance charter which I feel was infringed upon as a result of your dealings in YahooGate.

2. ensure that decisions regarding the Ubuntu distribution and community are taken in a fair and transparent fashion,

As you will agree I hope, you announced this change unilaterally without first discussing it in any way or form. As a result here of you cannot claim that the governance charter item 3 can be considered in effect.

3. ensure that necessary decisions are actually taken, even when there is no clear consensus amongst the community.

If we are not consulted we do not know there to be a situation we might need to take a stance on, we cannot make a fully informed decision and we cannot uphold our duty to keep Ubuntu on the path to creating the best possible experience for users.

I ask you to consider that one of the many things users might flee from in the Windows world is preinstalled trialware and other sponsored changes to the defaults, a problem so great that chains like Best Buy have started offering dubious additional fees to “optimize” machines prior to delivery, a service that effectively is comprised of removing all of these additional programs (programs the OEM, like you, make money installing) and resetting defaults. We should avoid at all costs to end up in this situation, this is why I feel that only technically grounded arguments should be valid in determining the defaults in Ubuntu. The aim should be to create a truly pleasant and enjoyable experience, that in itself I believe will prove to be a larger generator of income than any such deal might.

You have entirely failed to present a case for how this change benefits the Ubuntu user experience and in the process have also set a dangerous presidence. What defaults in Ubuntu are for sale and at what price, clearly as long as the user remains with the choice to replace any such default you can put a suitable price on any default. If not where would you define the limit? Going past any technical argument, any argument for the general benefit of the user. E.g. could I offer to pay you a one time fee to make Banshee the default mediaplayer e.g. and in that case, where would that price lie. Not that I intend to pay you but I would be interested in just how big my wallet has to be to have a voice in Ubuntu because clearly being a long time contributor isn’t enough to even get asked about the general guidelines in such cases despite the governance charter.

Then there is the problem of how this is being intended rolled out to users. I gather from the information you have released that you do not see a problem with your plan to also apply this change to upgrades not just new installs. There also has been no mention so far of any user notification at all, I would at least present the user with the information as to why this change was made and a guided way to change the default back. Here I would suggest looking at what Google does with Chrome and Chromium on the first launch. This would be sufficient I think to let the user be able to make an informed decision.

Finally there is the problem of transparency, you say that the income generated from this deal would go towards paying for open development of Ubuntu and the Ubuntu Platform. Given this premise would you be wiling to open your books and let the users see that you uphold your word and put the income you generate from this into Ubuntu?

I am not entirely opposed to this kind of deal however I believe the community and Canonical need to agree upon a set of general guidelines for areas where this would be acceptable and where it wouldn’t be. There would be a need for full transparency in this cases and the user would have to be presented with the option of making an informed decision whenever Canonical has made a change to fiancially benefit themselves to support it or not. This transparency would need to extend to the accounting, if we cannot see that the promised benefit of these deals reaches the Ubuntu user we will be forced to assume that you are hiding something.

If you expect something from us, you have to give us something in return, in this case a voice. I think the community has earned that much. Till you do so and apologize for your handling of YahooGate I will personally pledge to cease doing support, filing and working on bugs as well as promoting Ubuntu. I wish you good luck in the future.

On a personal note, I hope you will do the honorable thing and politely break off the deal with Yahoo! before sitting down with your community of contributors and working on this details. I hope you will alay the fears that this might continue to be a distraction from creating the best possible desktop experience available to mankind. I hope you will show that you despite your actions respect your contributors, that you will affirm that community is more to you than a word, that this relationship we have in order for us both to flurish needs to be a cooperative symbiotic in nature. Right now your actions speak for themselves.

I would also like to extend my apologies to Yahoo!, I have no bad feelings towards your search engine, I do however currently find it technically an inferior choice for my needs as well as those users I have the honor of working with or helping. I do not believe it to be in the best interest of Ubuntu to default to your service currently. I hope you can work on that and propose the change on pure technical grounds one day, at which point I will be happy to support your move without any need to buy your way into Ubuntu. I bear no ill will towards you but I also know that certain members of the community has been calling you names and accusing you of having impure motives to entering in this deal. I see no evidence that this is the case and in the interest of goodwill and honesty I distance myself from such reprehensible behavior. I wish you good luck in the future and hope to be able to find common ground to work with you on in the future that will benefit us both.

Sincerely,
David Nielsen, a disappointed Ubuntu contributor.