November 25, 2006

Mark Shuttleworth issues divisive invitation to openSUSE developers

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

Tensions are already high over Novell's patent agreement with Microsoft, but Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth's invitation to openSUSE developers "concerned about the long term consequences" has kicked the tension up a notch.

Shuttleworth sent an email to the openSUSE developer's list, reading in part:

Novell’s decision to go to great lengths to circumvent the patent framework clearly articulated in the GPL has sent shockwaves through the community. If you are an OpenSUSE developer who is concerned about the long term consequences of this pact, you may be interested in some of the events happening next week as part of the Ubuntu Open Week:

...I know that posting this message to an OpenSUSE list will be controversial. I'm greatly respectful of the long tradition of excellence in the SuSE product and community and have no desire to undermine that with this post. That said, I think the position taken by Novell leadership in their contract with Microsoft is hugely disrespectful of the contributions of thousands of GPL programmers and contributors to SuSE, and I know that many are looking for a new place to get involved that is not subject to the same arbitrary executive intervention. Ubuntu is one option, as are Gentoo, Debian and other communities. Please accept this mail in that spirit.

The invitation comes days before Ubuntu Open Week, a week of events for anyone interested in being part of the Ubuntu community. The invitation also coincides with the pending release of openSUSE 10.2, which just received its first release candidate.

Shuttleworth has not responded to the email query that I sent on Friday afternoon yet, and we will be sure to provide his response if we do receive one.

Novell has clearly angered some of the community over its deal with Microsoft. No doubt, many Novell employees who began work with SUSE feel the same way.

However, Shuttleworth's invitation is unlikely to be seen by most openSUSE developers in anything but a negative light. The replies are almost universally negative, and accuse Shuttleworth of "doing Microsoft's FUD work for them" and attempting to divide the community.

It hasn't taken long for at least one openSUSE community member to post a satirical response to the Ubuntu developer list, albeit as an anonymous coward under the moniker "Shark Muddleworth," inviting Ubuntu developers to join openSUSE because of Shuttleworth's stance on proprietary drivers in the upcoming Ubuntu Feisty release.

Ubuntu developers are finding the post distasteful as well. Corey Burger writes, "I feel that Mark's mail (and subsequent blog post) were not called for. Stuff like what Mark did is simply not done. I believe Ubuntu to be the technically better distribution but I absolutely respect the OpenSUSE people and the awesome work that they are doing. There is no need to poach developers and users from each other, especially in this manner."

There's never been any question that openSUSE developers and others are welcome to contribute to Ubuntu. I was considerably impressed by the sense of community at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Mountain View, California a few weeks ago. Ubuntu has built up considerable goodwill with most of the community, even those who do not use Ubuntu.

Unfortunately, what may be seen as an attempt to capitalize on Novell's ill-advised agreement with Microsoft may well backfire on Shuttleworth and Ubuntu. The distro has already had a reputation for "stealing" Debian developers, fairly or unfairly earned, and now Shuttleworth may be seen as emphasizing an uncomfortable situation to benefit his project.

The primary cause for dissatisfaction with Novell's Microsoft deal is that it is divisive, so why would anyone think that further divisiveness would be well-received or productive? If Ubuntu is going to fix Bug #1, it will need to do so as part of a concerted effort with other Linux distros and community projects.


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