In an ideal world, free-software developers would happily get along and cooperate towards the same ends. But the world's far from perfect, as rising tensions between the Ubuntu and Fedora camps have made clear recently in the wake of the founding a new website intended, ironically, to promote "respect" within the open-source ecosystems.

The site,, was launched about a week ago by Ubuntu community member Jono Bacon, who announced the new initiative on his blog.  The domain currently doesn't host much besides a brief blurb titled "The OpenRespect Declaration" and some tools designed to help socialize the OpenRespect concept.

While the site's content may be minimal, it nonetheless elicited a response from the community surrounding the Fedora Linux distribution, perhaps the second most popular open-source operating system among desktop users, that was less than enthusiastic.  Several Fedora users expressed dissatisfaction with the site--or at least Bacon's decision to publish it without first seeking input from other groups--in a board meeting last week.  Their objections ranged from concerns over whether the OpenRespect statement inappropriately equates politeness with respect, to complaints that it seems to be designed to benefit Canonical and as such leaves at least one Fedora user feeling "uncomfortable."

The Fedora community wasn't the only center of negative reaction to Bacon's initiative.  KDE developer Aaron Seigo also criticized it on his blog, arguing, in short, that the free-software ecosystem is comprised of too many individual communities, each with its own unique culture and values, to be compatible with a single statement on promoting respect.  (The longer version of Seigo's reaction to OpenRespect contains some very interesting observations on the sociology of the free-software world and is certainly worth a read.)  Seigo declined Bacon's request to become an "advocate" for the initiative.

Bacon vs. Fedora, or Canonical vs. Everyone Else?

I won't weigh in on whether the OpenRespect site is good or bad or how Bacon might have executed it better.  That's what comments are for, and a wide range of opinions and suggestions have already been expressed on Bacon's blog and elsewhere.

But I will observe that this recent controversy underscores tensions between the Ubuntu community and other groups that have been growing more virulent for a long time. These feelings of ill-will, moreover, have consequences not only for geeks directly involved in the projects in question, but also for the corporate players which are indirectly implicated, as well as casual end-users.

These tensions first came to a head back in the summer, when former Red Hat employee and Fedora leader Greg DeKoenigsberg charged Canonical on his blog with failing to provide its fair share of contributions to upstream projects.  DeKoenigsberg later apologized for being "disrespectful," but the episode had already given rise to a variety of nasty shots between defenders and critics of Canonical and Ubuntu.

Canonical's recent decisions to break with GNOME by adopting Unity as its new interface also caused tempers to flare, and the announcement shortly afterwards that Ubuntu developers plan to abandon in favor of Wayland--a project to which Red Hat has currently contributed much more than Canonical--elicited similar reactions from some quarters.

These controversies, meanwhile, reflect the competition between Canonical and companies like Red Hat and SUSE in the commercial marketplace, as the former endeavors to steal server marketshare.  Discourse in the corporate realm, fortunately, is generally more civil than that which tends to dominate on personal blogs, but that fact doesn't obscure the reality that Canonical is engaged in a bitter struggle against competing companies which, ironically, help to fund some of the key technologies on which Ubuntu relies.

Whether criticisms of Canonical reflect disagreement with its practices, jealousy at Ubuntu's success vis-à-vis other Linux distributions or a fear that the company exercises too much unilateral influence over the open-source ecosystem, they don't appear likely to disappear anytime--especially if efforts intended to restore goodwill, as Bacon ostensibly hoped to do, only engender more hard feelings.

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