Challenges Facing Ubuntu
Despite its rise to stardom, Ubuntu is bound to suffer some growing pains. Some
possible challenges Ubuntu faces include:
✦ Debian’s goodwill—While Debian relies on contributions from thousands of
developers worldwide, Ubuntu has only a handful (ten was the last number I
heard) of full-time developers. This means that going forward, they rely a
great deal on the goodwill of the Debian community. There are some in the
Debian community who have spoken out, saying that the good work of the
Debian project has been hijacked by a rich guy and a few developers who
have taken credit from the Debian project. To continue to thrive, Ubuntu
needs to find a comfortable way to coexist with the Debian project.
✦ Fast release cycles—Ubuntu has set itself a pace of six-month release cycles.
In terms of major Linux distributions, only Red Hat Linux (and now its community-
driven predecessor Fedora) has consistently stayed close to a sixmonth
release cycle. Debian has not been known to rush to release new
versions. Breezy (the third release of Ubuntu) came out in October, 2005. So
the two releases of Ubuntu following the original in October 2004 have hit the
six-month schedule. The challenge is to see if they can keep it up.
✦ Business model—While the Ubuntu project does offer shirts, hats, teddy
bears, and other products you can purchase that carry the Ubuntu logo
(www.cafepress.com/ubuntushop), proceeds from that and donations are
clearly not going to be enough to support a long-term development effort. The
project has made it clear that it intends to be committed to software that is
“100% free of charge” going forward. The question is, how will Ubuntu be paid
for in the future if the costs become too much for its benefactor to bear.
✦ Freedom and responsibility—Endeavors with goals such as freedom and
equality as guiding lights can sometimes suffer from a lack of control. As
Ubuntu has become more popular, technical discussions have sometimes
spun out of control to become almost religious discussions. This problem is
not unique to Ubuntu. However, Ubuntu seems to resist the response that
some profit-oriented Linux projects ultimately resort to: “Because we say so.”
So far, I believe, Ubuntu leadership has done a good job setting up a structure
to make hard decisions in a free environment. For example, Ubuntu now has a
Community Council (to create teams and projects, as well as leaders for each
team) and a Technical Board (to guide the technical direction of Ubuntu).
There is also now a Code of Conduct (www.ubuntu.com/community/conduct)
presented to keep everyone participating in the project on the same path.
It will be interesting to see how Ubuntu grows in the future, once the excitement of
being the new kid on the block begins to wear off. So far, the project appears to be
holding up well under the pressure and continuing to grow.
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