Friday, March 08, 2013

I want products

I'd like to modify my discussion comment and earlier thoughts into a short blog post touching only some of the technical concerns voiced, and my opinion to those.

Claim (my version): Ubuntu/Canonical is going the "Google route" to become another Android, while Android has not benefited the Linux ecosystem in any way, forking everything

Firstly, Ubuntu is open to development and community for also mobile and tablet - Android has none of that, just code drops that get modded. (yes, some people have a problem with CLA like Canonical's or Qt's, I have no problem with those - let's keep that discussion elsewhere). Ubuntu contributes back to Debian and upstream projects like Qt - those upstream projects it's not upstream of itself. There are not too many free software mobile UIs for example. SHR has some E17 apps, Nemo Mobile a handful of Qt apps and so on.

Secondly, I disagree about Android - even in its current shape and after creating everything from scratch with mobile on mind, Android has done tremendous things for the free software community, kernel development, mobile device driver and making things like Replicant possible. If those aren't directly seen on the desktop side, that's because it's not the desktop and most free software desktop users don't use free software mobile products (usually at most a vendor provided Android).

I feel people get too attached to software projects or even the desktop in general. The money to pay desktop has traditionally largely come from the server. As a discussion-heating example Wayland has been a great promise for 5 years and continues to be, yet no products use it (software products like distributions or hardware+software products). That's not a problem per se for a great and ambitious project, but it means no interested party has taken it to create products. I was very excited about Gallium3D and Wayland in 2008, but somewhat optimistic in believing they would conquer the world in one or two years. In perspective, I've always seen the "version staring" a common habit in enthusiasts me included. I think it extents to "shiny development projects that should be taken into production use immediately".

The Nokia N9 triumphs all other 2011 mobile phones in general and even the current user interfaces like iOS, Android and Windows Phone in general usability ideas (if only it'd run Cortex-A15 instead of OMAP3..). It uses X.org and Qt 4.7. Jolla's plans for their first phone at the end of this year? Qt 4.8, no Wayland. Like N9 which otherwise had unfortunate fate, I hope Jolla will sell millions of free software wielding products to the masses. The biggest problem with X.org is, though, the drivers, generally zero support from vendors so hard to make products. Hooking into Android EGL drivers and building on top of that seems a good compromise at the moment. Note that from product creation point of view it's not the non-shininess of X.org that IMHO is the blocker. Wayland and Mir may help on the driver side.

I want products!

I'd love to see more push to have actual products on the market, since otherwise we don't get free software to the masses. If Mir helps Ubuntu to do that in one year, fine (I don't know how it's going to be). Yes Mir is a new shiny project, but it's a very product/target oriented project one. If Android would be open as a project, it wouldn't hurt - other than feelings attached to the other projects especially by the core developers and fans of those - if it was the superior alternative from product creation perspective making all of X.org, upstart, systemd, Wayland, Pulseaudio, D-Bus, glibc less interesting to product creators while even more interest would go to Android. It's not so now, Android is not an open project in any sense, even though still beneficial for free software. Ubuntu will keep using a lot more of the traditional stack anyway than Android (which also just got rid of BlueZ), but I have zero problem of changing any of the components if it's visioned to be required to get finished, ready to use products out. IMHO the key is to get products out, and I hope all the parties manage to do that.

Of the traditional GNU/Linux desktop distributions only Ubuntu seems to be adapting for the mobile in large steps at the moment. The other distributions in the mobile playing field are: (Android/)Replicant, Mer/Sailfish, Firefox OS, Tizen, added with OpenEmbedded based distributions like SHR. Have you used those on a daily basis on your devices? I believe you should. I think KDE will bring with its Plasma Active - currently focusing on building on top of Mer - mobile power to the traditional GNU/Linux distributions, but otherwise it's all up to the new players - and Ubuntu.

Like many know, I used Debian exclusively on my primary phone for ca. two years before switching mostly to N9. During all that time, I already pondered why people and distributions are so focused on x86 and desktop. And the reason is that that's what their history is, and I stared at the wrong place - desktop distributions. I dismissed Android and some of the small newcomers in the mobile distro playing field, but it seems that big changes are needed to not need completely new players. I think Ubuntu is on the completely right track to both benefit from the history and adapt for the future. I still hope more developers to Debian Mobile, though!! Debian should be the universal operating system after all.

Disclaimer: I'm an Ubuntu community person from 2004, Debian Developer since 2008 and a contractor for Canonical for ca. 1 year. My opinions haven't changed during the 1 year, but I've learned a lot more of how free software is loved at Canonical despite critics.
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