Listening to the Ubuntu UK podcast one thing really caught my attention 15 minutes into it. They’re talking about the Software Center, which is a new feature in the Karmic release. I’ve tried this myself in the Karmic beta, and it’s a good idea to try to unify what was previously a couple of different programs in order to simplify the user interface and add extra abilities, such as screen shots and user reviews. According to the Canonical guy after version 3 they will start selling “commercial software”, which is confirmed on the Wiki.
It’s unclear what “commercial software” means in this context, other than you’ll pay for it. Usually this means closed source, proprietary software where the source code is not available for independent scrutiny. If Canonical are planning to introduce blatantly proprietary applications into what is (very) arguably the flagship free operating system this will be quite a turnaround for them, and it would leave a doorway clearly wide open to all the worst aspects of software which runs on Windows, such as:
- Licence serial numbers (a real pet hate of mine)
- Freeware containing an undisclosed malware payload
- Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)
- EULAs which give the end user no rights whatever
- Forced software updates
- Nag screens
In short most of the reasons why I really wanted to get away from using Windows. Also increased use of closed source software inevitably means computer viruses and the abject horror of the “security circus”.
Of course there is already a certain amount of proprietary software within Ubuntu, in the form of drivers and codecs (the “bad” and “ugly” packages), but this had so far been considered a necessary evil and the need for these has been slowly reducing over time.
So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the Ubuntu Software Center. In the worst case it could spell the end for the popularity of that particular distro, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. One thing which would be a good addition, facilitating commerce but avoiding the negative aspects of proprietaryness, would be to add some feature to the user interface which allows you to make a donation to your favourite FOSS projects. If donating was very easy and simple I expect that more people would do it, and Canonical could take some percentage to sustain their own operations. A smart way to do it might be to monitor how many times an application is used, and then suggest donations to those projects, or have a generic donation value which is then automatically split up depending upon application usage history.