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Ouster of Kubuntu founder leaves its future in doubt

Jon Gold | July 8, 2015
A disagreement between the founder of Kubuntu and the Ubuntu Community Council has roiled the Linux community and left the project rudderless, as Jonathan Riddell left Kubuntu's governing body late last month.

Finally, and most critically, the fact that Riddell had been trying to raise questions about Ubuntu's licensing behavior and its handling of nearly $50,000 in donations from users make it difficult to avoid at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

First, he said, a clause in Ubuntu's intellectual property policy incorrectly limits the rights of those, like Kubuntu, who create and distribute a modified version of Ubuntu, in violation of basic open-source principles. It doesn't seem to have caused many problems for those distributors in practice many Ubuntu-based distros, including rival Mint, co-exist peacefully with the parent distro but the language remains in the policy.

Another clause reads "this does not affect your rights under any open source license applicable to any of the components of Ubuntu." It's unclear whether that language has been added since the dispute, but Canonical has stated that it is working with the non-profit Software Freedom Law Center on the issue. (The SFLC would not comment on the ongoing discussions.)

Riddell's other issue has to do with what happened with the $48,000 donated by Ubuntu users via a download page on Canonical's site the page contains several sliders that allow donors to offer monetary support to various areas of Ubuntu development. An early version, which went online in October 2012, had a slider labeled "better support for flavors," like Kubuntu.

Riddell says the page may have deceived donors into believing that money donated via that slider would be earmarked for development teams like Kubuntu's directly, rather than for its actual destination the Canonical teams responsible for making sure Ubuntu works well with the flavors. Ubuntu has since changed the page to make it less ambiguous, but has only partially accounted for the money, tracking when it came in but not where it went.

Hall and the rest of the UCC have been consistent in their statements that Riddell's ouster had nothing to do with the fact that he raised the issues and it's worth pointing out that one of Riddell's own messages to Shuttleworth, publicized by Kitterman's blog post, indicates that Riddell has since been satisfied that Canonical has addressed both issues. But what public relations professionals might call "the optics" remain unpleasant for the UCC.

Morale at Kubuntu, in the wake of Riddell's removal and subsequent resignation from all governance roles at the project, is low, he said. The team plans to publish version 15.10 in October, but could decide to stop work on the project after that.

"[T]here's little fun in working in a project where the leadership of that project don't want to work with you," he told Network World.


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