Mark Shuttleworth is dragging Ubuntu (and by extension) Linux, kicking and screaming into the “design-first” world of computing lead by Apple.
This progress requires that he, to some extent, ignore an entire community that has never prided itself on or been particularly good at design aesthetics. Ignoring such a community has… it’s problems. It also flies in the face of the ethos behind Linux; a community of developers for developers (“hackers” is an overloaded term, but you understand my point).
When you look at what Ubuntu has actually accomplished, you have to appreciate that the decisions Mark is making are the only ones that will guarantee Ubuntu to be a commercial success moving forward.
What other operating systems offer account file syncing to the cloud? Just OS X w/ iCloud now, but Windows 8 will add it. What other operating systems offers an integrated app store? Again, just OS X, but Windows 8 will also be adding this.
What Linux distribution has ever been ahead of the integration/services/features curve before like Ubuntu is now and will continue to be in 12.x?
Mark isn’t bringing us Linux, rehashed, for the 14th time with a new package manager and custom window manager; he is delivering a customer-facing experience that will stand alongside Windows, Mac, iOS and Android in the computing devices of tomorrow.
Ubuntu is not a community-driven development effort like Arch Linux. Canonical doesn’t care if you don’t like Unity, the plans Canonical has for Unity are probably spec’ed out for a few years down the road and include things like a unified ID with an associated credit card number that makes it trivial to buy music from the Amazon MP3 store, rent movies from Amazon VOD, sync your files to Ubuntu Cloud, purchase apps from the App Store and keep them in your library you can sync to other devices running Ubuntu using your Ubuntu One ID.
You don’t like the menu bar or how the Unity sidebar slides out? Canonical (probably) doesn’t care all that much. They rely on their squad of talented designers to look at all that stuff. If they say it is good, Mark doesn’t want to talk to you about it for 5 more days about why the launch arrow should or shouldn’t glow.
He has work to do.
If Mark listens to the community’s incessant demands for choice and flexibility and frameworks and feedback he will accomplish one thing: create another commercial Linux failure that becomes the 40th Linux distribution to be “maintained by the community” in a few years once Canonical is broke. Ubuntu will be Mandrake all over again.
Canonical is taking Linux where it has never been before and there will be growing pains. For the people that don’t realize this is where Ubuntu is headed, this is a frustrating experience. For the people that realized where Ubuntu was headed as soon as they saw the Amazon MP3 integration and App Store, this will be a very cool ride as Linux, for the first time, leads the way towards the future of device computing and integrated services.