Well, at least Greg Kroah-Hartman thinks so. He gave the keynote speech at the Linux Kernel Hackers conference. Greg is a key hacker on the Linux kernel.


Greg ended up by stating (indirectly) that Ubuntu employees should quit and go to work for companies like RedHat and Novell.

Let’s take a quick look at his numbers. They certainly do look bad for Ubuntu (Canonical). But, let’s add a data point and normalize patch counts by the number of employees in the company:

  • RedHat - 5.4
  • Montavista - 4.3
  • Mandriva - 1.8
  • Novell - 1.8
  • Canonical - 0.5

Well, ok, so Novell and RedHat have a lot of employees. Maybe they’re just inefficient. How many patches by revenue?

  • WindRiver - 1286473
  • Novell - 129119
  • Canonical - 100000
  • RedHat - 33766

Canonical’s is a guess since they don’t release revenue. They admit they aren’t profitable as well. The owner of the company put $10 million into the company so that’s the revenue figure we’ll go with.

This makes things look more even by employee count. And even more even by revenue.

Given that, what’s Greg’s real beef? Popularity. Mind share.

Google search trends show Ubuntu is far and away the biggest distribution. And Ubuntu is moving to replace Linux, that’s right, Linux, as a more popular search term.

So the guys who pour vast amounts of development into the kernel are understandably miffed. From their perspective Ubuntu is a leech on their hard work.

Is it? That depends on your perspective.

One of the “problems” that Linux has is that it doesn’t cross that final chasm from the alpha geek to the standard geek. Ubuntu has managed to jump that chasm. They’ve done it by focusing on the user, not the kernel. They’ve attempted to polish off the rough spots and get the components to “just work”. They’ve clearly accomplished that goal to some extent as evidenced by their popularity. On top of all of that, they’ve engaged in effective marketing within the technical community.

Is that worth anything? Greg doesn’t seem to think so. Unfortunately for Greg it also doesn’t appear to be a situation Canonical has any interest in changing. The owner, Mark Shuttleworth, is financing an effort to rework the UI of the most central GUI applications in Ubuntu. All of that potential kernel development work is going to go to the UI layer where it doesn’t help the kernel. It could even, horrors, help to benefit free operating systems like FreeBSD or Solaris.

Maybe kernel hackers like Greg need to advocate for a GPL4 that requires all users to contribute patches in direct correlation to their popularity.