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Shuttleworth Acknowledges Ubuntu’s Debt to Debian


New comers to Linux sometimes think that Ubuntu sprang forth from Linux as a totally new creation, the next generation of Linux. Old-hands at Linux know better. Now, Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, sets the story straight for those to whom Ubuntu 8.04 is the be-all and end-all of Linux.

In his latest blog posting, Shuttleworth once more acknowledges the debt Ubuntu owes to other open-source developers and projects. After opening by thanking the Ubuntu community, Shuttleworth moved on to thanking the larger free software world.

Shuttleworth wrote, “I’m very conscious of the fact that Ubuntu is the pointy edge of a very large wedge – we are the conduit, but we exist only because of the extraordinary dedication and effort of thousands of other communities and projects.”

In particular, “We all owe a great deal to the team who make Debian’s ‘unstable’ repository possible, and of course to the upstream projects from GNOME and KDE through to the Linux kernel. We hope you will be proud of the condition in which we have carried your excellent work through to the users of Ubuntu.”

Historically, Debian users have shown a fair amount of jealousy towards Ubuntu. Martin F. Krafft, aka madduck, a well-known Debian developer, summed the reasons for these feelings in his analysis piece Ubuntu and Debian in May 2006.

According to Krafft, there are several major friction points between the two prominent Linux distributions. For example Debian “developers are largely unsatisfied with how Canonical/Ubuntu cooperates and ‘gives back’ to the Debian community. This, in turn, has lead to the “perception that Canonical/Ubuntu is taking advantage of Debian.”

A more personal reason is that “When Canonical entered the market and hired some developers to work on a Debian-related project, a lot of jealousy boiled up among those who didn’t get a job, because back then it seemed that Canonical was out to pay people to work on Debian—which is a common dream among us developers; at least people hoped that’s what it would be. Many fundamental contributors felt left out and confronted with the question why they should continue their work for free when others are now getting paid for it. The twist is that nobody wanted to ask themselves that question, because money was never the reason why they started to work on Debian,” wrote Krafft.

Another sore point springs from Debian developers’ jealousy of Ubuntu’s popular success. In 2006, Debian developers saw Ubuntu as not acknowledging Debian enough, nor giving “credit where credit is due.”

Hopefully, comments like the ones that Shuttleworth just made and acknowledgments on Ubuntu’s pages that “Debian is the rock upon which Ubuntu is built” will help salve these old wounds. While the two have continued on their different paths, Debian as a purist free-software Linux distribution while Ubuntu strives for commercial and corporate success, the pair works best when they work smoothly together.