The vision thing

The Linux Foundation posted this on Facebook this morning: “TODAY’S NEWS: Torvalds, Shuttleworth and other Linux/OSS visionaries to be in Barcelona Nov 5-7. Will you be there?” Of course, it links to the press release here.

I would grant you that Linus Torvalds is a visionary — perhaps, arguably, an accidental visionary in the sense that he never expected the kernel he developed would grow into what it has become. But fortunately for everyone involved, Torvalds is a visionary who has kept a significant degree of humility amid the vast contribution to society he has made.

Looking at the lineup in the press release, I would have put Marten Mickos on the release as a “Linux/OSS visionary” instead. Mickos is the MySQL guy, despite the fact that it has gone through a couple of, um, changes since he sold it to Sun in 2008, and is now in the evil clutches of Oracle. Regardless of what it has become now, MySQL is an important piece of FOSS history, and Mickos deserves the visionary label, along with a degree of gratitude for fostering such an important project.

But Shuttleworth? I’m not so sure how he ranks as a visionary. Doing great work in promoting Linux/FOSS in financially backing Ubuntu is commendable and worthy of praise, but this is hardly “visionary.” Add to this going off on his own to develop things that are generally not used by the wider FOSS community — Unity and HUD come immediately to mind — and arguably he has done more to stifle progress in the wider FOSS world rather than contribute to its advance. How this is visionary remains to be seen.

Further, I think I can put Shuttleworth’s contributions to the wider FOSS paradigm better in perspective with a little help from The Oatmeal here. If Linus Torvalds is Nikola Tesla, then Mark Shuttleworth is Thomas Edison.

No, Linux Foundation, I won’t be going to Barcelona for the European version of LinuxCon. But thanks for asking.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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  1. July 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

    If Linus Torvalds is Nikola Tesla, then Mark Shuttleworth is Thomas Edison.

    You know when you read something and think to yourself: “Man, I wish I had written that…”?

    This is one of those times.

    The oatmeal piece is now not only bookmarked, I saved the entire HTML in the event Oatmeal ever gets eaten.

  2. July 26, 2012 at 12:05 am

    The spread and awareness of Linux via Ubuntu in mainstream is visionary alone, more so than anyone in Linux world period. Persons who wouldn’t touch Linux with a 1000ft pole now consider and happily run Ubuntu Linux and that furthers the cause of Linux than geeky Arch, RH, Fedora et al.

    • July 26, 2012 at 7:40 am

      I have always commended Canonical/Ubuntu for their marketing skills, but there is nothing visionary about marketing or advertising. In fact, arguments can be made for the position that marketing and advertising run opposite to vision, since you’re persuading people to buy/use/consume something they may not want in the first place. Also, people who are smart enough to look for digital alternatives — those are people who see their hardware as more than a toy or an appliance — will use a variety of distros, not just Ubuntu.

  3. Colonel Panik
    July 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    At one time Shuttleworth WAS very visionary. Then something went wrong.
    The early Ubuntu was the most successful distro, when it went south
    I was ready for something that was in keeping with the “spirit” of Linux.

    Having lived long enough to witness many “visionary” people I have also
    witnessed many fine people who lost their vision. Mostly due to ego overdose.

  1. July 26, 2012 at 10:21 am

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