The Ubuntu community got so large because Ubuntu was something that people found very useful. Then a few years ago, questionable decisions started being made. They brought a very poor experience to a huge number of people, without offering any benefit.
The criticism is valid, and it should be voiced loudly and often.
It's not isolated to Ubuntu, either. There are other major open source projects that have started to actively defecate upon their existing user base. Firefox and GNOME are two big ones. We see the same kind of widespread, large-scale anger from their communities, too.
The leadership of Ubuntu, GNOME and Firefox have all chosen to essentially ignore the ever-growing disillusionment within their existing communities. I think it will cost them dearly. We've already seen a lot of people moving to alternatives.
More importantly, these are the power users who are moving away. These are the very people who are needed by any project that really wants to succeed. They're the ones who help drive others to use the given product. Without them, the project is nothing. It may take a few more years, but I do think that we'll see GNOME, Ubuntu and Firefox go the way of XFree86, if things don't change today.
I know we live in the age of hyperbole but statements like this "There are other major open source projects that have started to actively defecate upon their existing user base." are not constructive in any way. Ubuntu adoption is growing not shrinking, Firefox market share while not growing is holding steady. Claiming that these projects are going down is nothing but FUD. (I know many people would love to see Ubuntu and Firefox go down just so they can have a chance to see their pet distro on top and Chrome on top but alas it ain't happening any-time soon)
The level of anger and displeasure within the Ubuntu community is at an astounding level. It's not a healthy community these days.
Clearly, the growth isn't there. Android has become the most popular Linux distribution around. DistroWatch shows more interest in Linux Mint, and a declining interest in Ubuntu. The general sentiment when following discussion online is that people are unhappy with Ubuntu, and trying alternatives, including Windows and OS X.
The same goes for Firefox and GNOME. The sentiment within the existing user communities is not pleasant. The only "positive" (more like non-negative) articles are coming from the leadership of these projects, and they often read much more like advertising or propaganda than informative articles. Much of the user-generated discussion is some expression of displeasure.
Contrast this to some of the other major projects. We see people openly happy to use Chrome or Opera. We see people happy to use Xfce and KDE. We see people happy to use Linux Mint or Debian. The difference is like light and day.
Ignoring, or even denying the existence of, the simmering tension within the Ubuntu, GNOME and Firefox communities just isn't helpful. It's going to boil over at some point, unfortunately.
>> How exactly have their decisions "paid off"?
The main complaint over the last year and a half against ubuntu esp in 11.* days was Unity. At this stage in its life can anyone with a straight face claim that Unity on 12.04 is a substandard experience? I highly doubt it, and if there is that person is most likely still holding on to the bitterness of their initial experience with it rather than any substantial criticism against how it is currently.
>> Clearly, the growth isn't there. Android has become the most popular Linux distribution around. DistroWatch shows more interest in Linux Mint, and a declining interest in Ubuntu. The general sentiment when following discussion online is that people are unhappy with Ubuntu, and trying alternatives, including Windows and OS X.
Saying that Android is the most popular Linux distro out there is grasping for straws, our discussion here is obviously in context of desktop OSs, bringing up Android is a non-sequitur and like comparing apples and oranges.
>> The same goes for Firefox and GNOME. The sentiment within the existing user communities is not pleasant. The only "positive" (more like non-negative) articles are coming from the leadership of these projects, and they often read much more like advertising or propaganda than informative articles. Much of the user-generated discussion is some expression of displeasure.
Once again this is all anecdotes. It's funny you mention Firefox, I use both Chrome and Firefox but the strongest criticism I see against Firefox is something as trivial as version numbers. In pretty much every Firefox related thread there is atleast one person complaining about the rate at which new versions are being churned out all the while not appreciating the irony of being a Chrome user and making that complaint. I read an article today with some guy ranting and leaving Ubuntu for Windows after his web-cam stopped working in a newer release, I consider this kind of trivial criticism to be irrelevant and sadly that's the kind of criticism that is directed at these projects these days.
I have called you on this above, and I will call you on it again. You make this statement as if it is fact, yet you have provided no justification.
The only noises of displeasure come from those who don't use Ubuntu anyway. You might argue that they left when Unity was created, except that real community members (edit: who don't like Unity) still use Ubuntu through Xubuntu, Lubuntu or simply a stock Ubuntu installation with GNOME added. Every argument made against Ubuntu does not apply to these users. Thus the arguments cannot be being made by members of the Ubuntu community.
> ignore the ever-growing disillusionment within their existing communities
You assume that the voices of dissent come from within their existing communities. I don't think that's true. I think they come from people who wish their own favourite project/fork were as popular, but fail to see why it isn't.
I got the impression that they were second-class citizens within the Ubuntu world, whether they're intentionally held down, or just neglected and without as much attention.
I have consistently found that the integration of Xfce and KDE with Debian, for example, is much more robust and sound than what's offered by Ubuntu "flavors" like Xubuntu and Kubuntu.
Deny it if you wish, but the anger within the Ubuntu, Firefox and GNOME communities is coming from long-time users who have known better times. It's much more about people who now suffer from a far worse experience when using said software. People who have seen their productivity drop because they've been forced to use Unity, or because Firefox's UI has been screwed up, or because GNOME 3 embodies just about every bad decision that can possibly be made.
I think it's an extreme minority of people who complain out of some ideological want for their chosen project or variant to be more popular.
Then please spend some of your time making it better. Your contribution will be welcome.
With fewer people helping, any open source project will suffer from being horrible and unpolished.
> whether they're intentionally held down, or just neglected and without as much attention.
There is definitely no intentional holding down that I'm aware of. It is clear that the flavors do receive less attention, but that's just down to popularity. Those who care about them more than the Unity route should contribute!
> People who have seen their productivity drop because they've been forced to use Unity
Nobody has been forced to use Unity. Xubuntu has existed for a long time, and more recently so has Lubuntu.
If anything has been forced, it is the dropping of GNOME 2. But that has happened upstream (including in Debian) and Ubuntu cannot reasonably be held responsible (even though this seems to be an unfortunately common misunderstanding). AIUI, difficulties with GNOME upstream is one of the reasons that Unity was created.
Then there are the performance issues. They remain to this day. We constantly hear from Firefox advocates that it doesn't have poor performance, or that it doesn't use excessive memory. Yet somehow the release notes for each major release talk about "fixing" such problems.
At some point, one just gets tired of being strung along. The alternatives aren't necessarily perfect, but at least they're better in some way. If Firefox is going to try to look and behave like Chrome, yet have far inferior performance and consume more memory, we might as well just use Chrome.
I don't really know what to say about the performance issues though, as I don't have any. Also, Firefox uses far less RAM than Chrome on my PC. I don't understand why people worry about RAM use so much anyway. If it's not it use, it might as well not be there.