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Mark Shuttleworth clarifies: Ubuntu is "not a democracy"

Ubuntu mock-up

As some of you may have noticed, the new Ubuntu theme for 10.4 features the window buttons on the "wrong side" (left). This has caused quite the storm in a teacup. It turns out some people feel strongly about this point, even though you apparently would be able to change it later (on a per-user basis, as a preference). This presents Mark Shuttleworth (head of Ubuntu) with an interesting situation: what do you do when some of your users are up in arms about a decision? This is open-source, after all, and it's often very "democratic" (read: "the noisiest people get what they want").

The trouble with democracy in the open-source world is that the result is often muddled and mediocre. That "happy medium" isn't all too happy after all; the companies with the gutsiest (and often, least democratic) decision-making processes are those which often take the lead. And if you're thinking Apple, you're not the only one.

So Shuttleworth took the following stand on the Ubuntu mailing list:

"We all make Ubuntu, but we do not all make all of it. In other words, we delegate well. We have a kernel team, and they make kernel decisions. You don't get to make kernel decisions unless you're in that kernel team. You can file bugs and comment, and engage, but you don't get to second-guess their decisions. We have a security team. They get to make decisions about security. You don't get to see a lot of what they see unless you're on that team. We have processes to help make sure we're doing a good job of delegation, but being an open community is not the same as saying everybody has a say in everything."

He then further added:

"No. This is not a democracy. Good feedback, good data, are welcome. But we are not voting on design decisions."

This is not all he said; you can read the rest at the original post over at Webupd8.org. The rest of it makes perfect sense to me, too. Seeing Shuttleworth take such a clear and brave stand helps me understand part of what makes Ubuntu the most popular distribution today. Kudos.

Tags: linux, osupdates, ubuntu, UI, UserInterface

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