Is Ubuntu commited to free software?

Travis Beaty twbeaty at
Wed Jun 9 21:59:22 UTC 2010

Hello.  I'm usually a lurker on the list, but I feel a bit compelled to
jump into the fray here.

On Wed, 2010-06-09 at 16:49 -0400, John King wrote:

> Ubuntu is targeted at a more mainstream user; that user more than likely wants his computer to 
> just work, even if that means proprietary software and/or binary blobs. One of those driver 
> blobs could mean the difference between 'Happy Ubuntu Convert' and 'Failed Ubuntu Convert'. 
> Trisquel is aimed at a user who is uncompromising in his/her pursuit of complete software 
> freedom; IMO a great goal and one that we should all work towards, but not one that really
>  encompasses the average computer user at this point.

I'm the guy he's talking about here.  Although I've now been using Linux
long enough that I feel myself to be somewhere on the low side of
intermediate in terms of what goes on under the hood, I feel that I'm a
bit rare in that I didn't come to Linux because it was "open source
software," but rather because it was "free as in beer."  And actually,
believe it or not, it wasn't technically free from a wallet perspective.
I bought a copy of Mandrake from the clearance rack at Walmart for, I
want to say, US$10 for something like that.

In fact, I didn't even know (or care at the time) about open source
software, GPL, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, or anything else about
the open source or Linux world.  But what I did know was the Windows ME
on the machine I had bought was an epic fail, and I couldn't find
Windows 98 anywhere.  So, to be blunt, I said "what the hell," grabbed
the box with the penguin on it, and the rest is history.

UNTIL I found Ubuntu, I had a love/hate relationship with Linux, where I
would use it, go back to Windows, back to another distro, back to
Windows, lather, rinse, and repeat.  Ninety percent of the time, each of
these iterations in the cycle was caused by something that just didn't
work.  Graphics didn't work right.  Network card wouldn't be seen.  And
it wouldn't play mp3s.  

Now, I understand that for many, "wouldn't play mp3s" is considered a
feature, not a bug.  But ... for the mainstream user just coming over
from the Windows world, not being able to play mp3s, or not being able
to play DVDs equals *broke*.  After all, they worked in Windows, but not
Linux.  To them, it is not a matter of free vs. proprietary, nor is it a
matter of closed source vs. open source.

It's a matter of works vs. broke.  And as a mainstream user, I went
through a ton of "broke" distros.  I was even more frustrated with SuSE,
when, in order to listen to mp3s, I had to add another independently
maintained repo to yast, which completely hosed yast.  And so, I went
back to Windows.

Now then.  Having been involved in the Linux society and culture, I
understand why closed-source software is shunned.  However, I also see
that, at this juncture, it is often necessary to make things work.
Right now, I've got a wireless driver and a graphics driver that are
proprietary.  I know this because the Device Manager told me.  I also
have the restricted extras package installed.

But Ubuntu works, and I've stuck with it ever since.  It works.  I can't
repeat that enough.  IT.  WORKS.  In my experience with Linux, I've
noticed that over time, open source solutions to close sourced problems
pop up, given enough eyeballs.  Perhaps those are eyeballs like mine,
the folks that see Ubuntu as a shining star because it works, and are
coaxed into realizing the advantages of open source software.  I believe
you attract a lot more people if you give them something that works, but
say "We believe this is a problem because it works, but it's closed
source.  Can you help?"

It's better to walk along the fence line with folks who are new to
Linux, as opposed to pelting them with rocks from fifty feet away and
saying "If you want this to work, throw rocks with us."  And honestly, I
think one of the greatest issues that Linux, as an operating system, is
struggling with right now is not the proprietary developers in front of
it, but the wild fanatics behind it shooting it in the back of the head,
yelling "Give me free or give me death."

So, yes, I am committed to free software.  But I also know the carrot
works better than the stick, and the better it works out of the gate,
the more eyeballs you have to open things up even more.

Just my twelve cents.  Your mileage may vary.  And so forth.

- Travis.

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