Juan Carlos Torres (jucato): Quo Vadis, Kubuntu?
从 Planet KDE
Events of the past week, before and after Gutsy’s release, have led me to think deeply about Kubuntu. No, I haven’t been thinking about what new features to implement (not that I could anyway), what bugs to fix (I’ll try, of course) or what Ubuntu features we need to catch up with. No, I was thinking much deeper, less technical, more abstract, more long term. Not that those goals are unimportant. But they will only be important depending on who/what we are and what we have planned.
Some disclaimers. Firstly, my views are my own and do not represent the official view of Canonical, Ubuntu, or Kubuntu. If they reflect the views and thoughts of other developers and members of the community, that would be a coincidence. Secondly I have been with the community for almost two years now, but my area of contribution has largely been focused on (but not limited to) the community aspects of Kubuntu. And lastly, my technical know-how of the various process involved during the whole development cycle is a bit limited. So I’m not 100% sure if my views and suggestions will be technically possible and feasible.
Ubuntu, no doubt, is a great distro. It’s popularity has helped katapult Kubuntu into the limelight as well. Kubuntu definitely has merits of its own, but Ubuntu’s popularity has helped a lot in marketing Kubuntu. But that popularity is a two-edged sword. Because of that popularity, Kubuntu has also been put under a microscope, compared and contrasted with Ubuntu. But while Ubuntu has grown by leaps and bounds, Kubuntu has somewhat been behind. This has been the case in the past, but probably never so obvious until Gutsy. During Gutsy, I’ve seen people compare the two, feature by feature. They noticed the discrepancy, and they ask why.
Canonical, Ubuntu, and Kubuntu
The answer is simple but true. We lack people. We always could use more hands. Kubuntu is, in principle and in practice, a community-driven distribution. This brings into light Kubuntu’s relationship with Canonical and Ubuntu, as well as a big difference between Kubuntu and Ubuntu. Kubuntu has quite a unique standing with Canonical, a bit different from other Ubuntu derivatives like Xubuntu or Edubuntu. Kubuntu is “officially supported”. We also have a Shipit option. And most of all, we are very fortunate to have Jonathan Riddell, the big man behind Kubuntu, to be employed by Canonical. But at the same time, unlike Ubuntu, Kubuntu is an almost 100% community-driven distribution. In this we are a lot similar with Xubuntu, Edubuntu, and other Ubuntu-derivatives. This is one big difference Kubuntu has with Ubuntu. But does it matter? Or am I just sour-graping that Kubuntu doesn’t get some preferential treatment? Given some “promises” made a few years back about Kubuntu and KDE, maybe I should be. But that’s beside the point. I love community distributions/projects. It means that the community is in control. No ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. But when a community project has to contend, be compared, and in a way, compete, with an older, more supported sibling, then the comparison falls short of being fair. When the community distro’s identity and goals are defined by how much we have to catch up to the features of a more developed base distro, then there’s probably something amiss.
What is Kubuntu?
In my most humble opinion, it all boils down to two questions: what is Kubuntu and what it wants to be. The common conception about Kubuntu right now and the goals we bothers me a bit. Based on what I’ve observed, the common conception is that Kubuntu is just Ubuntu with KDE (and without GNOME). In some ways, this is correct. Kubuntu does make use of Ubuntu as its base, with KDE as the desktop interface. There would be no problem with this definition if it were true. But is it? Is Kubuntu simply just Ubuntu with KDE slapped on top? If it were true, then the Kubuntu team is really nothing more than just a subset of the wider Ubuntu developer community, just like the KDE teams of Debian or Fedora. And the Kubuntu team is responsible for maintaining all KDE packages in the Ubuntu repository after all. But then, what would Kubuntu’s official support from Canonical mean? And what does it mean for our users? Well, based on user feedback in Gutsy, it means that users expect the same amount and kind features that are in Ubuntu to be in Kubuntu as well. They begin to expect that, since Kubuntu is just Ubuntu with KDE, it will have the same features as Ubuntu, but with a KDE face (which sort of also poses a problem for KDE a bit). And perhaps they expect that, since Kubuntu is officially supported, it should have all these things too. And boy, were they very disappointed. This (mis)conception, these expectations, are now also reflected in where Kubuntu is heading. Right now, we have a lot of catching up to do with Ubuntu. But why does it have to? Why have we started to define ourselves, define our features, define our roadmap, based on what Ubuntu has? If Kubuntu just uses Ubuntu for its base system, why do we need to catch up with their non-base features as well?
My very personal answer
Again, I’m just one out of a number of more experienced developers, contributors, and users, so my own definition may not reflect the official definition, if there is one. But still I will give my unsolicited opinion, in the hopes of probably starting some reflective thinking and some discussions.
The first step to a definition of Kubuntu is to accept that we are not Ubuntu. We will never be like Ubuntu, and we might probably never be able to stand up to Ubuntu. Why? Simply because we are a community project. Ubuntu isn’t, at least not in the same way. If we were to set out and match Ubuntu feature by feature, we would forever be catching up with them. The amount of developers we have alone makes it almost impossible to work on the same features simultaneously, side by side, with Ubuntu.
Kubuntu is not Ubuntu. We have to make this clear, to ourselves, and to our community. A large part of user expectation is largely based on what we have been doing in the past: trying to catch up with Ubuntu. And users have now grown to expect that. But why do we need to define ourselves and our goals based on Ubuntu? Can Kubuntu not stand on its own merits?
But does this mean we ditch those features and go on our merry way? Of course not! Most of those features are good, and some are necessary for an enjoyable user experience. But to acquire those features for the sake of matching up to Ubuntu, or to force a feature or app even if it’s not that ready yet just to catch up, that becomes a problem.
Does this mean we “divorce” Kubuntu from Ubuntu? Hardly. We would still be part of the Ubuntu project, use the infrastructure and support that it affords. But I’m sure we are quite free to define our own roadmap, our own identity, that is not Ubuntu.
Once we have accepted that fact, we can start to define Kubuntu as it really is. And then we can decide where we are headed, what we really want Kubuntu to be. This is where I may go wrong. But for me, Kubuntu is more than just “Ubuntu with KDE”. Kubuntu is not a KDE-fied Ubuntu, nor an Ubuntufied KDE (either way hurts KDE in the process as well). I think the About Kubuntu pages here and here probably comes closest to what I’m thinking. Perhaps I’ll blog about my own Kubuntu definition… Maybe…
The three-fold road
Anyway, I see three possible paths for Kubuntu right now.
1. The easiest option. There is actually no problem. I’m just overreacting and being melodramatic. We can just go on with the way things are. Indeed, if I have been totally wrong, I can live with that and accept the status quo. I personally don’t believe that there’s is no problem, though.
2. The ugliest option. We actually become simply a KDE team within Ubuntu, a team that will be called, “Kubuntu”. Kubuntu will become a sort of Ubuntu KDE Spin like Fedora’s. We will have less pressures. We can tie ourselves more closely to Ubuntu’s development, use Ubuntu/GNOME utilities when it matters, or just come up with KDE frontends to those utilities a few releases after.
3. The hardest option. If I have been correct and there is a problem, now’s the time to redefine ourselves, create our own roadmap, our own destiny, if possible away from Ubuntu. Again, we don’t have to stop being part of the Ubuntu project. The whole community will probably have separation issues. But if we survive through it, I believe we will have a more solid and firm distribution.
Well, I don’t know what will be the fallout from this post. I’ve been having second thoughts about posting something like this. I just hope that, IF (and that’s a big if) there really are problems like this, a fruitful discussion could be started.
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