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 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 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 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, 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.


Marcos Marado said...

I generally agree with this blog post, but I can't share your fascination with Ubuntu on the mobile: the fact that it just isn't free software ("released for free non-commercial use") spoils it all.

While I'm no fan of the way Android does things (and Replicant mimmicks them) - I mean, that fact that it is Linux but not GNU/Linux - really bothers me, and I agree with you that alternatives must be found. While Firefox OS looks promising in regards to freedom, it seems to have more similarities to Android/Linux than to GNU/Linux. So yes, we really need a way to put Debian on every (mobile) device, and my bets as to the best path to achieve it "quickly" is Plasma Active: it "just runs" on your average GNU/Linux installation (which means that nowadays you'll probably have to build from sources, but you can), works on any device which runs your GNU/Linux distro (phone, tablet, pc, chroot on your android device, whatever!)...

There are actually plasma active packages for kubuntu since the latest released version, but it doesn't seem that the "kubuntu active team" is active enough to keep up par with plasma active, including keeping up with the latest versions, ironing out its issues and supporting several archs... But while Ubuntu mobile doesn't kick for me, a Kubuntu mobile "real effort" would probably do it (even if I would next want to see the packages falling into Debian ;-)).

TJ said...

Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, what do you mean with the first part? Ubuntu is free software, although you may note "Ubuntu" the trademark has restrictions / permission needs on usage, similar to Firefox and other trademarks. But the software itself is there and free/libre licensed regarding copyright licenses. Ubuntu Touch is under GPLv3 and other free software licenses. You could use the same software and not the trademarks, if it happens you don't want to discuss with Canonical about trademark usage. You can take any part or the whole and package it to Debian. It's DFSG-free.

Otherwise I agree. Firefox OS is relatively similar to Android in some ways, but they do it all in the open unlike Android. And as I wrote, I don't care in the long term if parts of Android are deemed to be part of the "normal" system, even though sentimentally I'd prefer many of the traditional components to be preserved. Therefore I don't advocate just GNU/Linux, but free software in general, including Android to the extent it is such.

KDE Plasma Active is indeed a great opportunity, and I hope that the companies that back it up along with the community get their tablet and other efforts really going so that they take actual market share.

Michael Hasselmann said...

See, if you were more involved you would know that Wayland was designed to ship on MeeGo 2.0 at the end of 2011. But then February 11 happened.

By being ignorant (or unknowing) about that fact, you effectively blame the Wayland project for the Nokia CEO's sudden strategy change.

The best you could do (and I am totally honest about this) is to leave out Wayland of your stories unless you really know what you are talking about. Just write that you support Canonical/Ubuntu. That'd be great.

That way, we'd get to focus on what we want to do, and you can wait for your products.


Disclaimer: I am a happy Ubuntu user myself (proof: ), but I am also an (affected) developer.

TJ said...

Michael: Thank you for your comment. You're right, I know it has been in the plans of many product projects, and I've been involved directly. I hate the fact that there are so many projects that didn't complete creating a product, and that's why I wrote this blog post. I however don't see plans and even the possible hard work put in being enough if they didn't deliver a product at the end.

I used the Wayland as an example of a project people get attached to, and not only the developers of it. I did not blame Wayland the project - they are not doing a product, they are developing a protocol/project. I blame all the product makers of not being able to swiftly use free software, including Wayland to create products. No doubt MeeGo didn't deliver on its wished for schedule. And if is a faster way to create shipping products than Wayland, no matter technical benefits, then use Or DirectFB. If Wayland is better from that point of view, then use that and ship it to millions.

People care about the projects. My post's point was that more people should care about free software products, and not about whose favorite project gets into use in those products.

TJ said...

To elaborate a bit more so that there's no doubt - it's also not the fault of the developers if the products don't get completed. There is no single entity to blame, and blaming is not fruitful afterwards. Product failures are a result of complex events.

If some product project finishes, in retrospective it shouldn't matter which software projects it used. If it doesn't succeed, it's a real shame, but thumbs up for trying. Finishing also doesn't technically validate a project better than other (so if Ubuntu would succeed it won't validate Mir being technically better than Wayland). My message was that it doesn't matter which project it was that delivered free software to the masses. If it's Replicant, pushing all of traditional GNU/Linux and away, that's fine - although I'm also attached so I don't really completely agree myself! So people shouldn't fixate on software projects, or blame product creators for which software projects they select to use or create.