The release of the latest versions of the two most popular operating systems (Windows 8 and Ubuntu 12.10) in October couldn’t be more complete. While Windows 8 was launched with all the media hype that characterizes Microsoft, the biannual version of Ubuntu was launched quietly while distancing itself from the basic principles that at one time it glorified.
The latest version of Ubuntu, if compared to the previous April 2012 version, only has two really significant new features, the addition of web apps that serve as quick access to web pages and the Ubuntu Music Store, included by default in the desktop.
At first glance this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but these “improvements” have caused a stir in the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community because that small direct web access application included by default belongs to Amazon, one of the kings of Internet commerce. In the FOSS community, many see this addition as an indicator of the direction that Ubuntu is taking, which goes against all the policies that the operating system was founded upon.
Ubuntu started as a derivation of the Debian operating system, which hoped to give the average user all the ease-of-use that Linux was lacking at that time. Under this premise, Canonical directed the different resources that the Ubuntu community had in order to create a stable and refined operating system.
In 2011, when Ubuntu dispensed with GNOME (one of the free interfaces used most by the community) and the Unity interface appeared, there was a lot of commotion among the FOSS community because everything indicated that Ubuntu wasn’t taking into account the contributions of the community, but rather focusing more on the Canonical developers.
Ubuntu’s Unity interface now has incorporated the “lens” concept for searching for applications, files, and local contents. In its latest update, this concept has been incorporated into the data search across various large websites (Amazon, for example, with the special app that we mentioned). Integrating online search in the same place as local search compromises user privacy, going against everything that the free-software communities stand for.
Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and considered the mastermind behind Ubuntu, defended himself in his blog saying that far from being integrated advertisements in the operating system, they are simple suggestions taken from Amazon. According to him, Ubuntu’s new search system is a supercomputer that integrates the best of both worlds. However, the reality is that from now on the average Ubuntu user will be bombarded with undesired information, as if it were an integrated spam program.
The Free-Software Community isn’t going to let this happen, which is why Bhavani Shankar, one of the most important developers in the Ubuntu community, is encouraging users to deactivate this series of links to Amazon simply by dragging the Amazon applet to the recycle bin, and is urging users to keep using free software in a truly free way.
Ubuntu has always been known for delivering operating systems based on GNU/Linux to the average user, and now it is taking that innovation to a broader field. Unity’s new menus system was created with the intention to give the user integrated access to cloud storage space from personal computers, tablets, or cell phones.
Integrating access to private company websites such as Amazon, BBC, Dailymotion, Facebook, Flickr, Google Docs, and YouTube in the main menu is considered (from Canonical’s point of view) one step closer to a simple and pleasant computer experience. Only time will tell if losing these values and commitments that the FOSS abides by is the right step.