On the last episode of UUPC, we mentioned “Shuttleworth’s Law” our very own adaptation of Godwin’s Law. In a nutshell, Shuttleworth’s Law is

As a discussion about Ubuntu grows longer, the probability of a user threatening to stop using the distribution approaches 1

Ciemon described the concept of Shuttleworth’s Law as “the mark of the bug” that sets it apart from others, in a similar way that Godwin’s Law suggests a conversation should probably be stopped (or already have been) once a comparison to Nazis or Hitler occurs.

Let’s look at some examples!

In the show, we mentioned 2 current discussions where the Law rings true. The first is during Popey‘s post on askubuntu.com, the new StackExchange site for Ubuntu-related questions. Popey wanted more information on why Ubuntu 10.04 would be switching to Unity for the default interface rather than working with the GNOME project to develop the desktop environment. Popey got his answer in the form of references to an ArsTechnica interview with Mark Shuttleworth. However, the conversation didn’t stop there. People took the question as an opportunity to vent their feelings about the announcement, and before long, we saw this post from Scott Evans. This may not be a perfect example of the Law as he talks about why he stopped using Ubuntu, rather than threatening to stop. However, the fact that he’s reading and posting on an Ubuntu Q&A site leads be to believe that he hasn’t stopped entirely.

The second example that we found on the show was during a discussion about the Launchpad trademark. Canonical hold a trademark over the Launchpad name, which is used for it’s open source bug tracking/project hosting site. Apple has recently announced that Mac OSX Lion will ship with a product called Launchpad, an iPad-style full screen application launcher. A bug was filed on Launchpad stating that Canonical should sue Apple for infringing the trademark. Canonical responded stating that the legal team was aware of the issue, and since it wasn’t a bug in the Launchpad software, the bug was marked as invalid. However, the responses continued, and yes, the user Tralalalala threatened they would “immediately remove Ubuntu from [their] PC and won’t use it again.” if Canonical were to sue.

Shuttleworth’s Law certainly isn’t a recent phenomenon. Shortly after Launchpad was open-sourced following pressure from the Ubuntu community, a bug was filed against the Ubuntu One Server project, stating that the server component of Canonical’s cloud storage service should also be open sourced. It was stated that Ubuntu One would remain a proprietary product, and that Canonical was doing so in the interests of getting a commercial return. This concluded, the bug was marked as Won’t Fix. Job done, right? Wrong. The comments continued, and sure enough user balleyne chimed in with this gem: “Ubuntu One makes me want to leave Ubuntu.

As for the reasons behind this pattern, I’d suggest a few hypotheses. An obvious one is simple Internet trolls who rock up to a controversial discussion and like to stir the pot a bit.

A second and slightly more worrying possibility is that it’s a desperate cry to be heard. If the community really feels that Canonical doesn’t listen to the needs of the users, is the only way they can get them to pay attention by threatening to vote with their feet?

Personally, I suspect it’s more a show of immaturity and arrogance than anything else, if there’s a belief that a company (or indeed a community) is going to change it’s strategy because one user is throwing its toys out of the pram. Once a decision’s been made, we need to live with it. If you don’t like it, voting with your feet is fine, but just do it! Popping your head round the door afterwards to make sure everyone knows your leaving is akin to threatening to go home and take your football with you if your team isn’t winning.

If you’ve seen another example of Shuttleworth’s Law in action, please post a comment. I might be fun to do some analysis of the occurrences (or is that just me?).