Let the Whining Begin

It was bound to happen. Now let the whining begin!

Excerpted from this editorial at Distrowatch:


Clem [Linux Mint’s founder and lead
developer] claims he has been asked by Canonical’s legal department to license the binary packages used by Ubuntu. To me this is a scary thought. Ubuntu is a base distribution for many projects, some of them (such as Mint and Kubuntu) are quite successful. Clem’s statement makes me wonder if Canonical has approached other open source projects about licensing the right to access Ubuntu’s package repositories. If so, what might follow? Would derivative distributions need to pay to use Canonical’s packages? How would Canonical enforce such a policy, with lawyers, by blocking access to the repositories if a user isn’t using Genuine Ubuntu? Canonical would certainly have the right to restrict access to its packages, they are on Canonical’s servers after all. However, most Linux distributions are quite open about allowing anyone to access their software repositories and I wonder if Canonical might be acting in a short-sighted manner if they are trying to license access.

With these thoughts in mind I contacted Canonical and asked if they could shed any light on the issue. At the time of writing I have not received a reply. An e-mail to the Linux Mint project asking for details yielded much better results. Clement Lefebvre responded the following day and, while he wasn’t able to go into specific details as talks with Canonical are still on-going, he was able to share a few pieces of information. When asked if Canonical was hoping to collect a fee for using their binary packages, Clem responded, “Money isn’t a primary concern. Although the original fee was in the hundreds of thousands pounds, it was easily reduced to a single digit figure. The licensing aims at restricting what Mint can and cannot do, mostly in relation to the OEM market, to prevent Mint from competing with Canonical in front of the same commercial partners.”

Clem went on to indicate Canonical has not offered any threats nor discussed enforcing any licensing terms. When I asked what Mint’s plans were concerning the licensing deal Clem answered, “We don’t think the claim is valid (i.e. that you can copyright the compilation of source into a binary, which is a deterministic process). With that said, Ubuntu is one of Mint’s major components and it adds value to our project. If we’re able to please Canonical without harming Linux Mint, then we’re interested in looking into it. As negative as this may sound, this is neither urgent nor conflictual. It’s a rare occasion for Canonical and Linux Mint to talk with one another and although there are disagreements on the validity of the claim, things have been going quite well between the two distributions and both projects are looking for a solution that pleases all parties.”

There must be a zillion or more Linux distros that are built on and derived from Canonical’s flagship Linux distro, Ubuntu. Without question, Ubuntu is by far the most successful desktop Linux distribution in history. Also without question, Ubuntu has done more to bring Linux to “the masses” of ordinary home computer users all over the world. It was Ubuntu which “tamed” Debian Linux better than anyone else (including Debian itself), making it practical for the desktop, and “user friendly” for us ordinary casual computer users. Naturally then, Ubuntu is the most copied distribution in history, with many more derivatives and spin-offs. The best known and most popular of these Ubuntu-derived distributions is Linux Mint.

Linux distributions offer libraries of software called repositories, from which security updates, upgrades, and software can be downloaded to maintain the operating system. Almost all of these repositories are free to the users (with some exceptions), and software packages, server space, and bandwidth costs are donated by users, by universities, tech companies, and donors. The software is packaged and maintained for most Linux distributions by volunteers. It’s awesome!

But here’s the thing: If I build a new Linux distribution based on another and it grows huge in popularity with tens of thousands of users, my distro still uses it’s parent distro’s repositories. Tens of thousands of “Robin’s Linux” users are tapping into the repositories of the distro I copied, raising the cost of maintaining the original.

I might say, “too bad, it’s free, it’s licensed that way, so tough luck. It isn’t my fault that the base I built from is awesome. Let them pay for it!”

The people I copied from aren’t obligated to provide free support and server space for my users. They should not have to pay extra so I can just feed off of them and make “Robin’s Linux” the most popular Linux in the world, yay for me, praise Robin, and by the way, please donate to support Robin who gave us this awesome Linux distro.

Suppose the people I copied from get tired of paying for my users’ share of their resources, and finally ask me to share some of the cost. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

Apparently not to many users of Linux Mint, who are whining and complaining bitterly about Canonical’s request for licensing fees or some way to help shoulder the very heavy burden that Canonical has borne for years, supporting Linux Mint’s huge number of users with it’s vast Ubuntu repositories. In this thread on the Linux Mint forums, several Mint users castigate Canonical (Ubuntu’s developer) as some evil, greedy tyrant who can’t take the heat of competition.

What? Competition? What competition? Linux Mint is Ubuntu! With pretty green window dressing and some wonderful, ingenious improvements like the Mint Menu and Mint Updater and Mint Backup-and-Restore. But at it’s core, it’s Ubuntu. Linux Mint is awesome because it’s Ubuntu at it’s core. And by some estimates, Linux Mint is more popular now than it’s parent distro. Which means that Linux Mint is a huge drain on Canonical’s resources. Ubuntu’s huge software repositories are supported privately by Canonical, not by charitable donations like most Linux distros’ repositories.

The Mint community’s response to Canonical’s simple request for some help with the cost of the burden of maintaining many distros besides their own is disappointing. As one of their own users put it, “It’s kinda like biting the hand that feeds you and then getting all butthurt when they finally say “‘stop it!'”

That’s it, exactly. If Mint is so awesome, let it’s users step up and pay their share of the cost to maintain it instead of acting like the 40-year-old bum who won’t get a job, and lives in his mommy’s basement playing video games that she pays for.

3 thoughts on “Let the Whining Begin

  1. Just to clarify things… I’m NOT saying that Linux Mint (or any other Ubuntu spin-off) should pay for CODE, I’m saying let them pay “rent” on the servers and bandwidth they are using, or use their own servers.

    And before anybody drops the “Ubuntu copied Debian” argument, again it’s not about CODE. Ubuntu users use Ubuntu repositories, not Debian’s. Ubuntu is no longer compatible with it’s parent distro and repackages Debian software for Ubuntu and hosts it in their own repos. So no comparison between some butthurt Mint users’ complaints and Ubuntu’s Debian foundation is fair. Apples and Pineapples.


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