Why Ubuntu matters

Jono Bacon posted a challenge of sorts to members of the Ubuntu community recently, which was this:

If you have a blog or use Twitter or identi.ca, I would like to ask you to take five minutes to write down why Ubuntu is important to you, and what aspect of our ethos attracts you and motivates you about Ubuntu.

It wasn’t until this morning – just now in fact – that I knew what my particular answer to this question was, and I was starting to worry that maybe I wouldn’t be able to articulate why I care as much as I do about Ubuntu. But now I know. What matters to me most about Ubuntu can be boiled down to two words:

Daniel Holbach.

Now, I’m being glib, of course. Much as I love the happiest German who ever lived, he’s not the only reason that I’m involved in Ubuntu. However, Daniel illustrates what I mean so fantastically that I couldn’t not name-check him.

What I actually mean is the ethos, espoused especially by Herr Holbach, of "Be excellent to one another."

Sometimes, software development can be a thankless task, especially in the open source world. You spend hours toiling away at a project as a labour of love so as to get it as right as possible and then what happens? People find bugs in it, that’s what.

You want to be grateful to the bug filers, of course. You need them to file bugs because you’d never find all of them yourself and because, like a proud parent, you want your application to be the best it can possibly be, which means learning from its (and your) mistakes.

But it’s not always that easy. The people who file bugs aren’t always going to sandwich the bad news between two slices of awesome. They can be passive-aggressive, whining, thoughtless morons at times, starting bug reports with "this project sucks" and ending it with "I only use your application because there’s nothing better available." In any other community you’d be sorely tempted to tell them to fuck off, thank you very much, and take their attitude somewhere else.

But people like Daniel Holbach mitigate all this. Just this morning, when I, tired and more than a little crotchety, saw the style with which a particular set of bugs had been filed against Launchpad, I was pretty much ready to throttle the bug reporter. At the time, Daniel was talking about having some Launchpad sessions at the next Ubuntu Open Week, and the following exchange took place.

<gmb> dholbach: Can we include something about requiring them not to be arseholes, even when they find security bugs?

gmb just woke up and is punchy.

dholbach hugs gmb

dholbach adds gmb to the schedule: "Graham Binns: Being excellent to each other… hugging developers when it’s most difficult"

And there it was. In two seconds flat, Daniel had made me go from annoyed, tiny-fists-of-fury Graham to cheerful, well-theres-a-bug-there-to-fix Graham with one virtual IRC hug (incidentally, if you’ve never been hugged by Daniel in real life you should give it a shot some time).

The Ubuntu community is full of people like Daniel Holbach (though there is only one Holy Holy Holbach, of course). The Ubuntu ethos of "Humanity Towards Others" is one of the most important reasons for my being involved in Ubuntu. Is it an excellent distro? Of course. Does it have some of the best people working to make each release better than the last? Sure. Does it have its share of detractors and complainers, even within the community? Of course it does; that’s what happens when you write software. But the difference between the Ubuntu community and the others I’ve been part of, the reason why I love working with this group of people so much, is that at the end of the day the vast majority of us do our utmost to be excellent to each other with each and every passing moment.

That’s not something you get for free with a community, and I for one count myself bloody lucky to be a part of it.