What’s behind GregKH’s (latest) Rant?

September 18, 2008

If you haven’t seen the latest rant from Novell‘s Greg Kroah-Hartman, I’m not going to link to it.  You’ll have to find it on your own.

Greg has used at least two high-profile speeches this year (a Linux Plumber’s Conference keynote, and a Google Tech Talk) to tear down the contributions of Canonical to the Linux ecosystem.

I hope that people take it for what it is, pure and simple…

a negative marketing campaign
engineered by a high-profile Novell employee
against a key competitor

Greg threw out some numbers in his slides, usually showing a very small number next to Canonical, and then much larger numbers next to Red Hat, Novell, and others, such as IBM.

Full Disclosure…

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that:

  1. I am currently employed by Canonical
  2. I was an IBM employee from 2000 – 2008
  3. I spent most of 2005 as an IBM employee on-site at Red Hat

Some missing numbers…

I dug up a few numbers that Greg missed.

So, yeah, Canonical is a small, young company.  It would be nice if Greg would normalize some of his numbers against each company’s size.

But why pick on Canonical and Ubuntu…

Here are some more numbers from Google Trends.

Google searches of “suse” vs “fedora” vs “ubuntu”, over the last 5 years:

Site traffic of opensuse.org vs. fedoraproject.org vs. ubuntu.com, over the last year:

These numbers are corroborated by DistroWatch.com‘s popularity ratings:

Drum roll please…

Ubuntu’s popularity has some people from other distributions uneasy.  But I think the next chart is the most impressive, humbling, and telling. The following shows the Google trend between people searching for “linux” vs. “ubuntu”:

I left “red hat”, “fedora”, “novell”, and “suse” off of this chart because they don’t even show up.  Click here if you’d like to see.

At that pace, there will soon be more people searching for
“Ubuntu”, than searching for “Linux” on the Internet.

So back to this “ecosystem”…

As Matt Zimmerman discussed, Greg’s “Linux ecosystem” seems a bit unfairly limited to the kernel, gcc, and binutils, and neglects a wider macrocosm of Ubuntu’s contributions to the Linux, free, and open source space.  Canonical and Ubuntu actively contribute to GNOME and KDE, as well as dozens of other open source projects (e.g., I’m co-maintainer of the upstream eCryptfs project and have contributed considerable code there on Canonical’s dime).

Something must be said for the user base that Ubuntu brings to the ecosystem.  While some Ubuntu users may have come from Red Hat, SUSE, Debian, Gentoo, etc., many Ubuntu users are first time Linux users.  I dare say that some of these individuals are Linux users because of Ubuntu.

I personally know Fedora and OpenSUSE users (I used to be one of them) who actively search the Ubuntu Forums and the Ubuntu Wiki when they run into problems on their respective distributions.  The Ubuntu documentation spectrum is simply the most informative, comprehensive, and useful in the Linux business.

Reducing the Linux ecosystem down to the kernel, gcc, and binutils is equivalent to reducing the human diet down to bread and water.  I suppose one can do that, but that’s not a very satisfying existence.  There’s so much more to a complete and fulfilling life-sustenance.

Or, better yet, let’s work our way back to the Linux Plumber’s Conference.  While we need plumbing in our house every day, don’t we also appreciate a roof, electricity, windows, and furniture?  And did your plumber also roof your house and wire your electrical sockets?  Perhaps that was another team of qualified specialists…



16 Responses to “What’s behind GregKH’s (latest) Rant?”

  1. Vadi Says:

    Your Planet Ubuntu rss feed thing is broken. I heard switching to atom helps that though.

    Good post nonethless. Canonical’s numbers only show that they *really* know what are they doing, way better than others. And way more efficiently.

    Imho this should be spread: http://digg.com/linux_unix/What_s_behind_GregKH_s_latest_Rant

  2. nathandbb Says:

    IBM, Red Hat, and Novell are making their money on servers/workstations — Cononical is making the netbook remix and was the development distribution for Intels moblin.org project.

    This points out how the other companies were not willing to spend any significant money and manpower on the home/small business/education desktop; because they believed there was no money in that segment. They forget that the small businesses of today are the big businesses of tomorrow, and the students of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow. Apple (early on) used to give 50% discounts for students.

    Canonical does not have billions to spend (just tens of millions), and has done a really good job with the money.

    Mark Shuttleworth, with his playboy image and willingness to piss people off, is on his way to being Linux’s Steve Jobs. This is a good thing, as Linux has no pretty faces in the press (apologies to RMS, LBT, ESR and BP).

    Canonical is throwing small ammounts of money at the areas that other companies have ignored. Good for them, and us. Red Hat has recognized the threat, as they have grabbed the 2.0 version of Moblin.org project from Canonical.

  3. Dustin Kirkland Says:

    Thanks Vadi, I changed it to Atom and it seems to be working much better 😉


  4. […] What’s behind GregKH’s (latest) Rant? If you haven’t seen the latest rant from Novell’s Greg Kroah-Hartman, I’m not going to link to it.  […] […]

  5. fahr99 Says:

    A couple of comments: If you mean that Canonical contributes relatively more to projects like Gnome/KDE and others, it would be interesting to seem similar patch comparisons for them – of course normalized as you ask for here, qualitatively if not quantitatively.

  6. fahr99 Says:

    #2, one could put even more emphasis on this aspect: Many have tried their best to create a distro with a broad scope and appeal, to conquer new territory for GNU/Linux. Some failed and disappeared more or less (Corel Linux, Lindows), some succeeded partly (Mandrake/Mandriva). (k)ubuntu has done so many right things (like such a ‘simple’ thing as doing ubuntu/kubuntu), and been lucky, and more, giving them this tremendous momentum. I can only speculate what could motivate a man of gregkh’s format to this kind of bickering.

    gregkh’s “core” is important. So is the desktop, so is the zest of ubuntu, and so is ‘selling’ it all to the world. Let each do what they do best.

  7. ruel24 Says:

    First off, nathandbb, Mandriva is doing the very same thing you outline Canonical is doing – making something primarily for the home/small business desktop. It contributes to the kernel and is a small company. So there is no excuse why Canonical can’t do the very same thing. I know Mandriva isn’t on the same level of contribution as Red Hat or Novell, but it’s there.

    Second, part of the beef with Canonical is that they spend so much of their resources marketing Ubuntu, yet don’t give all that much back to the development of Linux as a whole. Part of the reason Ubuntu has the popularity it has is that Canonical markets the heck out of it. So why aren’t they spending more of their resources on development?

    There are lots of distros out there that don’t give anything back at all. I use a small distro that can’t afford to develop for the kernel, KDE, Gnome, or anything else. But a distro the size of Ubuntu, that reportedly spends about 10 million a year in development and marketing, could at least spend part of that giving back to those that make it posssible at all.

  8. mutluinek Says:

    Dustin, I think you have done a good job putting this whole issue into perspective with regard to the competition between canonical, novell and red hat.

    However, your argument that “Greg’s ‘Linux ecosystem’ seems a bit unfairly limited” given that “Canonical and Ubuntu actively contribute to GNOME and KDE” is not overly convincing. To me, the contributions to Gnome and KDE seem minimal. There are a few Canonical developers, for example Ridell who works on KDE, but they contribute very little. To me, they seem largely absorbed in Ubuntu-only projects.

    If you disagree, please feel free to explain what contributions Canonical employees actually made/make to Gnome and KDE.

  9. verbalshadow Says:

    @ ruel24 & mutluinek

    Even if Canonical/Ubuntu only spent 10 million(US$,£,?? not sure where this number comes from) a year on marketing. That is 10mil that no one else would spend in there place and it doesn’t matter what the actual amount is the same holds true. They have proven success in marketing and that IMO brings more to the Linux table than they would theoretically bring by spending it on programmers.

  10. […] articolo suoko @ 12:35 am [archiviato in Uncategorized […]

  11. […] Dustin Kirkland, who also works for Canonical, points out some interesting numbers: […]

  12. […] charla. En la segunda respuesta, se cuestiona la presunta imparcialidad del ponente y se dan unas estadísticas muy interesantes que toda persona interesada en Linux debería conocer, respondiendo a la pregunta: ¿quiénes son […]

  13. […] todo, después de leer el más que interesante post de Dustin Kirkland, empleado de Canonical en estos momentos, y que trabajó desde 2000 hasta 2008 en IBM, lo que le da […]

  14. […] Dustin Kirkland, who also works for Canonical, points out some interesting numbers: […]

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