I like the idea of an edition of Ubuntu for scientists. I like the idea so much that I wrote a blog post about it a while back.

So I was very pleased to see that there is a project called Ubuntusci that is moving along nicely and that may fill in this niche.

But, when I went to look at the web site to find out more about it, I quickly discovered that there are two things wrong with the project that I’d like to suggest that they fix.


First, the distribution is committed to OpenSource Software (OSS). Well, so am I, as a person, but that does not mean that I use only OSS. Were that the case, I would not have a working printer right now, because the current edition of Ubuntu does not support an OSS drier that operates my rather run of the mill printer. I have to install something that is free, that works fine, and that is closed source, to make it work.

I love the politics of OSS and all, but a science distribution that is pure in its OSS philosophy will suffer the difficulties of purity movements in general, and possibly more. It could become irrelevant.

When I install a fresh distro, I need to do two things: 1) Install all the sciency (and other) stuff that I like, and 2) install or turn on the non-OSS stuff so things (like my monitors, printers, etc) work. If I was given the choice between two distributions …. one with the non-OSS stuff already in place and ready to go and one without the non-OSS stuff but a lot of software some other guy thought would be what I would want … I’d pick the non-OSS version in a millisecond. I love the fact that there are purist distros, but I want a distro that works and is a little impure. That is what makes sense to me. Use what works and agitate and endeavor to change the world so one can do all one’s stuff with OSS only, in an ideal, future world.

I’ve never heard of a scientific project that is 100% OSS and that will refuse non-OSS software if such software is needed to do the science.

The second thing I didn’t like is the apparent lack of commitment to universally readable formats. That is actually a bit funny given the OSS commitment. So, when I found the “mind map” on the sites’ wiki, which was supposed to tell me what they were thinking, my standard Ubuntu distro was unable to read it. I go this:

i-f0ae79c993d6c6a7372a63b9691be17b-Ubuntu_sci_breakdown-thumb-500x233-50852.jpg

And, until I hit cancel, all my java stuff was frozen.

Ubuntusci needs to address the needs of the scientists first, including universal readability (so the key philosophy and plans for the project need to be in a simple text file) and support OSS to the extent possible. But use non-OSS software (mainly, drivers) when necessary.

I love the whole idea of this project. I love the fact that it is based in South Africa, where I do some of my own science. And I will support this project in any way I can. But I will also agitate for Teh Text, and for non-OSS deployment where it is necessary to make it work.

Here is the link to the Ubuntusci wiki. Check it out, and give them link love.

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