I thought I’d share my source of motivation for working on Ubuntu in the hopes that it might inspire others too! (Note that this is my personal opinion; I don’t speak for Canonical in this blog.)
I believe that the world is moving in the direction of widespread technical savvy and ubiquitous technical companions (think smartphones or tablets).
I want such technology to be a force of empowerment, and thereby a force of good for humanity. To me, empowering means cheap, trustable, adaptable, and easy to use.
Open source software trivially fulfills the first three, in ways that proprietary software cannot. And Ubuntu is doing it’s best to fulfill the last.
Yes, technically Open Source doesn’t have to be free. But in practice, it is. Proprietary software can be too, usually through ads. But Open Source always is and, more importantly, always will be.
With Open Source, it’s easy to have complete confidence even without being an engineer. As a consumer, Open Source means it won’t spy on me and will do only what it says on the tin.
Proprietary software can be adaptable, no question. Not all adaptations require source access, though it does help.
But importantly, Open Source reduces the opportunity cost for creating or even using software. You can stand on the shoulders of giants. Anyone can provide support or contract work.
There is no barrier to entry to modify Open Source software. And most such software is designed specifically to interoperate with other software, so it’s easier to mix and match.
By way of example, think of a fictional school system in India that wants to create a customized version of Ubuntu. Very trivial to do, and they don’t need to seek anyone’s permission.
Ease of Use
This last point has generally eluded the open source community. But it’s the most important in my mind. What good is the most capable technology in the world, if it never improves lives because it is so hard to use?
My goal is empowering, in a utilitarian sense, as many users as possible. I rarely write code for me alone.
This, more than the rest, is why I support Ubuntu. Ubuntu specifically focuses on users and expanding Open Source beyond the chasm. And more than that, Ubuntu has the best chance of all the current efforts to cross the chasm.
When I think of empowering, I don’t tend to dwell on the modern first world. They don’t especially need empowerment. I’m thinking of the less-franchised or even our own sci-fi future, when our relationship with technology becomes even more important. Do you think Geordi would run code on the Enterprise for which he doesn’t have source access?
Also note that this is not a moral argument; I don’t especially consider Open Source a moral directive for these purposes. Users won’t flock to us because Ubuntu is open source, but rather because Ubuntu delights them.
I understand why people work on splinter efforts or other projects, but for me, I think the work that Canonical does with pre-installs, enterprise support, for-purchase apps, Ubuntu One, and user testing is an invaluable addition to the main Ubuntu project. These are how we reach new users.