Shuttleworth delivers death blow in Umbongoland dispute

Kubuntu chief’s head placed on cloud-based, open source spike

Axe, image via Shutterstock

A storm of accusations, claims, and furious counterclaims has hit the Ubuntu penguins, with a community cleaved of its head following allegations of unsavory behavior.

Long-time Kubuntu dev Jonathan Riddell has been dismissed as head of Kubuntu and removed from all positions of responsibility within the Ubuntu community.

The dismissal was issued by the Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) but executed by Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth after Riddell refused to relinquish his role.

The precise reasons for the dispute are not clear but seem to be rooted in a long-running dispute over licensing of Ubuntu packages, with Riddell seemingly pursuing the licensing question for at least three years.

UK-based Canonical, owned by South African Shuttleworth, leads the development of Ubuntu, the Linux OS based on free software.

Riddell, who developed Kubuntu, one of a clutch of Ubuntu derivative distros, is still allowed to contribute to development, though. Kubuntu is sponsored by Blue Systems, who employ Riddell.

According to a set of emails said to have been sent between Riddell, the UCC, Shuttleworth and community members — reproduced here by Kubuntu community participant Scott Kitterman — the UCC claimed there was a growing clash of personalities in the last 12 months.

In an email apparently sent to Riddell, the UCC claimed he’d become “aggressive and confrontational” in public and in private communications with the UCC. The UCC claimed Riddell was unwilling to accept decisions that went against him, had caused division in the community, and was “disrespectful towards the CC and Canonical".

The UCC did not say upon what issues it and Riddell had disagreed.

Both Riddell, and the Kubuntu Council he lead, rejected the UCC’s request. Riddell also rejected the UCC accusations of aggression, and counted that the UCC was being “insulting and bullying".

“I refuse your request to step down from the Kubuntu council because I disagree entirely with the accusations against me,” he wrote.

The Kubuntu council, meanwhile, rallied behind their man and requested evidence from the UCC to support its claims.

“Jonathan has always acted in our name,” according to a KCC email.

Riddell went on to post comments on his personal website stating that he had been re-affirmed by the Kubuntu community as chief.

Confronted with this standoff, Ubuntu daddy Shuttleworth called time. He has thrown his weight behind the UCC, raising claims from the aggrieved over an apparent lack of transparency in the workings of the UCC. Shuttleworth wrote in an email that the UCC’s decision is final:

It is ... not a question of whether or not you accept the CC request to step down. This is a statement from the CC that we no longer recognise you as the leader of the Kubuntu community.

This decision has been rather painful, but is judged necessary. Whether or not you agree with the position, it is the final position of the CC.

Based on Kitterman’s emails, it seems Riddell had been pushing the UCC for some kind of clarification on the licensing of Ubuntu packages. In February 2014 there was concern that fellow Ubuntu derivative distro Mint had been asked to sign a licence in order to continue using the Ubuntu packages.

The matter is a raw issue for distros, dependent upon Canonical for the core bits and bytes to continue building their services.

Riddell had apparently taken to the Community team mailing lists on the subject. Kitterman has, in the past, called failure to resolve the licensing issue a “massive failure” on the part of the UCC. ®


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