Empowering the Linux Community

From a Linux Developer point of view, when users are no longer developing with you…you’ve lost. Empowerment is key to a successful community in Linux. The day the community is no longer empowered to improve is the day the distribution dies. What kills empowerment? Helplessness. Despair. Inability.

As an example, a user might not like it if you tell them their bug will not be fixed for the next release. This is normal practice in many major distributions. But if you tell a user that their bug won’t be fixed through 4 releases, you may have a problem. Unfortunately, this also is becoming a normal practice for some major distributions.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence as a user and developer. I also managed a major community incentive for PCLinuxOS called mypclinuxos.com and coordinated PCLinuxOS Magazine (which now boasts a circulation of over 50k people). The main vehicle for the massive growth it went through was empowerment. If a user needed something done, we did it right away. If we couldn’t do it right away, we found a way to do it, met later, and did it then. The users felt actively enguaged in their software and took ownership of it. I tell you about these endeavors not to boast, but to show you that I know a little bit about communities and how to make them grow.

Bureaucracy be damned.

I feel sorry for organizations that get so hung up on organization that they forget that organizing isn’t just politics and data. Organizing is people too (Keep your Soylent Green jokes to a min).

What I think is happening in Ubuntu’s case is really something that effects all linux distributions out there…a lack of a QA process to deal not with quality of software but quality of service. A lack of a process to make sure simplistic bugs like the Aumix one and what happened to address it never happen again. I know they have a person that they recruited as a liaison to do this for them but one person and a handful of processes won’t cut it. It can be done by users if it is setup correctly and if Canonical would trust and empower its community to do the lifting for them.

I guarantee if Canoncical and Ubuntu asked its users to jump 85%+ of them would ask “How High?” The point of this post is that there aren’t a lot of distros out there that empower their users. When I first started developing add-on packages with my friend Josh for MEPIS Linux, we were ostracized from the community. I experienced empowerment when I changed to PCLinuxOS as my primary distribution. Now, as I join the development team of Foresight Linux (KDE Version) I also have experienced the attitude “the tools are there…use them and allow us to help you”.

It’s refreshing to find this twice.

I’ve never been an Ubuntu user. This doesn’t mean I think it’s crap. I think it has done fantastic things and innovated many things for Linux and the desktop. I think that Ubuntu may be beginning to lose focus though on what matters. Canonical still isn’t making money hand over fist and this “desktop” thing isn’t paying the bills. More attention is being focused on selling the server side of things to fund the desktop side of things (my opinion). I sure hope Ubuntu can change prescriptions in their community glasses to bring things more clearly into focus.

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  • Shawn Rogers

    This is the very reason I switched from Ubuntu to Mint. I felt helpless in the Ubuntu sea. I actually feel like Mint belongs to devs and users alike. Users report bugs, devs try to fix them. Sometimes fixes are used from the users. It is a beautiful thing.