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Jante’s Shield

It’s difficult to be critical of open source software. Often, it’s created by volunteers who are motivated purely by the challenge and the desire to do something good. This attitude is why we’ve got such a thriving ecosystem of distributions and software, and why the GPL has become such a disruptive idea. It has also enabled many companies to build a viable business model supporting, extending and distributing this software in ways that would never occur if they were shipping their own proprietary software. This is what causes the occasional friction in the community, and it’s completely understandable. On the one hand you have communities working together in a way that I think is similar to the Swedish ‘Law of Jante’ – the idea that individual success is downplayed in favour of the achievements made by the groups. On the other hand you have traditional company values, bigging up its individual success and vitality in order to compete with other (non-open source) businesses doing the same.

This is why, I think, Ubuntu’s recent migration from a more traditional distribution to one that is attempting to be a great operating system for everybody has been so noisy. This noise has been the loudest in discussions over Ubuntu’s decisions to move away from established open source projects such as Gnome and Wayland. And it’s where we see a faultline between a business with predominantly commercial interests and a community more interested in development and growth. I can understand both sides of the argument. But the continued success of companies like Canonical is essential for the future of Linux, and while there are enough distros and alternatives to make room for everyone, we need to accept what open source is built on: given enough time, only good ideas flourish.

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