Defining success

Launchpad’s notorious bug 1 was closed last month. This is long overdue. Not because free software now has majority marketshare, but because the bug has set the wrong tone for Ubuntu and Canonical.

The bug is as follows:

Microsoft has a majority market share

While the description goes on to to talk about the importance of there being more free software in the market, ultimately the bug comes down to beating Microsoft.

I’ve never liked bug 1. It was meant as a pithy way of setting out a mission statement for Ubuntu and Canonical, but it has served only to define the success of free software in terms of the failure of another agent. It defined free software by what it’s against, rather than what it’s for.

This limits any real chance of success, and creates a toxic attitude. Rather than striving for excellence in its own right, this sort of attitude requires a project to root for the failure of their rivals. It takes away genuine pride in achievement and in its stead provides only schadenfreude.

Mark Shuttleworth, in closing bug 1, had this to say:

it’s better for us to focus our intent on excellence in our own right, rather than our impact on someone else’s product. In the (many) years since this bug was filed, we’ve figured out how to be amazing on the cloud, and I hope soon also how to be amazing for developers on their desktops … I would rather we find a rallying call that celebrates those insights

Redefining success in terms of the project’s own excellence is the only way forward. This isn’t just true for Ubuntu and Canonical, or even just for free software. Any project, any endeavor, should be focused on doing its best, and beating its best. There’s room enough in domain for many ideas, and they should all hone themselves to the best they can be.