As many people who know me are aware -- my core belief to push Free Software into the future is the identification and creation of audience specific design patterns. The number one design consideration taught on page one of most design theory texts has yet to be understood by the majority of the culture driving Ubuntu.
That might sound like mumbo jumbo to many out there, and I appreciate that. What is an audience? How specific should that audience be? How are we going to manage this in the context of a global Free Software movement? Very valid questions, and each that must be addressed with implementation trials.
Ubuntu has always suffered from a lack of audience. Period.
Boldly stating "Linux for Human Beings" creates the fictional idea that Ubuntu is for the layperson. Unfortunately, this bold statement has probably betrayed many people who wanted to believe in Ubuntu but were met with the adversity of the actual product.
I just recently read an amazing piece of mail to a list by Havoc Pennington. It was one of those fragile moments that made me believe that, albeit slowly and in an evolutionary manner, we stand the potential to finally get to the masses. The post is here. Unfortunately, the post is from February 2006. I encourage everyone to read it and read exactly what Havoc is saying.
If you are truly a believer in Ubuntu (and Ubuntu being the main flagship despite what everyone would like to believe -- when a person downloads Ubuntu to try Free Software -- they go straight to the default Ubuntu and judge all of Free Software accordingly) you should carefully consider what is noted in that mailing.
Ubuntu has yet to choose an audience and runs a real risk of marginalizing every single person who "tries Free Software". Remember, to the masses, there isn't this wonderfully large landscape of culture -- there is a single solitary "thing" known as Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the messenger."There _is_ a default audience if a project doesn't find a way to choose
one deliberately, and it's what I've called "by and for developers.""
As I see it Ubuntu has two choices in front of it. Ubuntu can either fess up and realize that it is nothing more than a platform for developing customized varieties off of or it can embrace exactly what it appears to want to be -- a full fledged operating system that desires to stride out in front of the Apples and Microsofts of the world.
If it chooses the latter, it had best figure out exactly what audience it wants and why it wants it. Apple sees this very clearly.
On one side we have a certain culture that rallies around bug #1. Is this a good thing? Do we really seek to pull away from that market share? Do we really want an audience that believes Ubuntu is a game?
So, after all of this ranting, what is my ideal audience then? I'll go with an archetype that I have believed in from day zero.
I want many of the people who are already using Ubuntu -- the intelligent, brilliant, and crazy types. I want the artists. I want the musicians. I want the creative zealots. I want the writers. I want the bleeding edge engineers.
I want all of the brilliant minds. We will only be as strong as the brilliantly creative and innovative people that we will surround ourselves with.
How old? I want the twenty and thirty somethings. Why? I want our culture to gain those critically brilliant people that everyone in the firm knows as "that brilliant woman on floor two" or the "amazing guy in our library". I want our culture to be those people who can implement long lasting change for the right reasons and have the respect and position to execute it within their respective companies.
How would I go about doing this? Start by figuring out their needs. Once we have a decent selection of needs, we should support those needs in a manner that allows those people to have their needs addressed fluidly and quickly. Much of the foundation is already laid with many of our applications. The demon is in the details.
How is this relevant? Have a look out our Ubuntu. Does it speak of innovation? Does it typify an environment that the above audience would be drawn to? Does it provide a seamless experience to get work done or does it still have a fair degree of elements that would stymie the audience?
In the end, Ubuntu needs to lead the way. Develop interfaces within GNOME or KDE that push toward a chosen audience. It needs to light a fire under both of those camps and explore alternatives. If not, we risk much of what is presented in this wonderful post by Andy Wingo. Yes we will alienate some. As Havoc states in the above mail:
In the end, as Ubuntu simply refuses to choose an audience for fear of alienation, we end up exactly where Havoc so intelligently cites -- a product by developers for developers. At this crossroad, Free Software (and Ubuntu in particular) needs to grow past this mentality. I would like to believe that the developers who participate in Free Software are among the best in the world. I would also like to believe that with a little understanding, we may be able to attract the rest of the best as well.btw, choosing an audience and effectively making something for them
*will* alienate other audiences, possibly even losing the support of the
Linux distributions. That's the reality. Don't think you can move in a
direction without *not* moving in a different direction
Peace to all of the brilliant minds.
Postscript: I'd add that I firmly believe we face many cultural challenges. We should resist and vehemently disagree with the notion of a global culture. There is no such creature. Rather, we should seek to provide computing by and for the people of a given culture. It should be on their terms, not Westernized invented-here-and-everyone-does-it-now rubbish. Tricky stuff, but if anyone can negotiate those complexities, it is most certainly Libre culture.