Wednesday, August 30, 2006

neglecting ubuntu

A colleague of mine ordered a GNU/Linux distribution called Ubuntu and received stickers with the software. He gave me one of those stickers. Unfortunately, the sticker expresses an oversight that will hopefully be fixed on future versions.

A distribution that uses a name of such depth yet neglects its own origin is rather strange. The fact that ubuntu defines a spirit of community actually expressed by the GNU Project makes this oversight seem - at minimum - like a lost opportunity for self-promotion.

For now, a correction by ballpoint pen will have to suffice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call it neglect or call it saavy.

The GNU people started a great movement, but they're absolutely clueless about marketing (which is just a "business" way of saying they're clueless about communicating their message effectively). I for one think that the best thing that can happen for the GNU movement is to have their movement and their philosophy borrowed by companies like canonical -- companies that get the importance of the free software community, but are also committed to finding an effective way (rather than a geeky way) of communicating the values of that community.

To wit, compare the following.

Operating System Name: Compare the pronounceable and well-known "linux" with the unpronounceable and (therefore) obscure "gnu" (hard G + n is not a sound pattern that exists in English; furthermore, when the letters gn exist together in English spelling, the "g" is either silent (gnome) or an italian spelling indicating the ñ sound (gnocchi).

Mottos: "Free Software" vs. "Linux for Human Beings" or "open source", for that matter. Without getting into the history of these words, just think about the phrases from a marketing perspective -- "free software", uttered in a world in which most software is purchased, indicates *price* first to most people -- which means that every time someone talks about free software, they have to clarify what they mean in the next breath ("free as in freedom"). If the very title for your movement needs to be clarified, it's not a good sign.

Logos: Compare the stylized people holding hands (which nicely translates from anything from sexy shirtless ads to the cute edubuntu logo) with GNU's disturbing goat-like creature (is that a gnu or what?), which has nothing whatsoever to do with community.

So, yes, it would be nice if Stallman et. al. got more credit for what they did. But if "gnu/linux for human beings" started showing up on billboards and whatnot, I think it would confuse more people than it would educate.

Blogger Gnuosphere said...

"The GNU people [are] absolutely clueless about marketing [...] they're clueless about communicating their message effectively"

Fundamentally, the GNU Project is not about popularity or the marketing of any product. So to state that the "GNU people" are clueless about marketing is incongruous. Besides a few t-shirts or other petty merchandise available through the Free Software Foundation, "GNU people" have little interest in the marketing of anything. Ultimately, the GNU Project is a project to develop a complete operating system that gives users freedom.

The statement that "GNU people" are clueless about communicating their message is blatantly false. If one visits the GNU Project website and the FSF, one can find an enormous amount of detailed information as to the history and purpose of the free software movement. As well, there are many independent websites that explain quite clearly what our goal is. There is no indication that the message of freedom is poorly communicated by those who develop GNU.

"I for one think that the best thing that can happen for the GNU movement is to have their movement and their philosophy borrowed by companies"

That would be wonderful if that were actually happening. However, the majority of these companies are not borrowing the philosophy. Most companies are borrowing the philosophy expounded by the "Open Source" movement. This movement has made an intentional habit of calling the GNU/Linux system "Linux". This movement has purposefully shunned talk about freedom. If companies wanted to borrow the free software movement's philosophy, they would consistently call the system they've built their business upon "GNU" or "GNU/Linux" and refer to their distro as comprised of "free software" or, at the very least, "free/open source software".

"[companies] committed to finding an effective way (rather than a geeky way) of communicating the values of that community."

Implied in your statement is that freedom is attained through popularity or that popularity, not freedom, is the actual goal. If you are trying to state the former, I would ask how one expects to attain the quality of freedom through a quantitative strategy. That's like arguing that the best way to keep the freedoms offered by a country is not to actually teach its people about freedom, but to simply increase the population of the country. That is, of course, absurd. If you are arguing that popularity is the goal itself, then your values are irrelevant to the free software movement. The free software movement's goal is not to get as many people to install a free kernel (e.g. Linux) as possible. Our goal is much bigger than that.

"So, yes, it would be nice if Stallman et. al. got more credit for what they did."

"Nice" is an understatement. It is essential. Not because anyone needs or desires a pat on the back, but because GNU is a reference to the history and intent of the movement that allowed projects like Ubuntu to even exist in the first place. Stallman doesn't want his ego rubbed. He wants people to see why freedom is important in regards to software. And the best way to learn that is to look directly at the movement that has given us an opportunity to have freedom if we so choose to take it. "Linux" alone does not point to freedom. In fact, "Linux" alone is most often associated with a movement ("Open Source") that actually discourages talk of freedom.

"[If we call it GNU/Linux] it would confuse more people than it would educate."

I don't understand how a name can actually cause confusion unless that name refers to something it is not. Calling the complete system "Linux" is actually confusing. I don't see people walking around with Mac OS X on their machine saying they use XNU. Referring to a complete OS as simply the name of its kernel is what's confusing.

In regards to education, we would have to find out what it is we are interested in teaching. If we want to teach people about freedom - which encompasses values such as community, cooperation, and sharing - then "GNU" or "GNU/Linux" is the obvious choice.


Post a Comment

<< Home