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Canonical flip-flops on Ubuntu's controversial Amazon feature

After holding their ground for quite some time, Canonical decides to make the controversial Ubuntu Unity Dash an "opt-in" feature.

I like Canonical. I really and truly do. They do their own thing, pave their own trail. They take Ubuntu and re-work it to run on TVs, phones, and tablets. Any day now I expect them to announce Ubuntu for Toasters. And that is awesome.

But sometimes Canonical makes me facepalm.

Case in point - the feature of Ubuntu's Unity Dash, which searches Amazon.com. This feature, which is turned on by default, has been a fairly controversial one for quite a long time now. Back in 2012, Richard Stallman went so far as to call it “Spyware.”

But Canonical kept the feature.

Then, in 2013, Canonical won the “Big Brother Award.” This “award” is given to companies and organizations that the judges feel are acting especially “Big Brother-y.” Needless to say, this is an award that you do not want to get. And to be honest, I don't feel that Canonical deserved it - a stance with which many people disagreed.

And, still, Canonical kept the offending feature.

Ubuntu is their baby. If Canonical wants to keep this particular feature, no matter how controversial it is, they can do that. They could have, at any point, made this problem go away by simply making this feature disabled by default – make it an “opt in” feature for the users. But no. Canonical wants the feature in there and turned on right from the first boot. So that is how it has stayed.

In fact, part of me wants to applaud them for standing their ground despite the unrelenting waves of criticism and concerns from users and industry luminaries alike. When it seems like 99% of the Internet is against you on something, it takes real guts to hold firm and stay the course.

Flash forward to today, and reports come out that this feature will become “opt in” in coming versions of Ubuntu's Unity user interface.

Which... I...but... huh?

So Canonical endured nearly two years of relentless criticism over a feature that they weren't going to be keeping anyway.

There are two possibilities I see here, both of which cause the aforementioned facepalm.

1) Canonical knew, at some point over the last two years that this feature was likely going to become “opt in,” which would mean that Canonical just loves it when people are mad at them, I suppose.

2) Canonical just decided on this, rather distinct change, on a bit of a whim, which would mean that the team behind Canonical's Unity user interface continues to not really be sure how they want Ubuntu’s user interface to work.

Of the two options, I'm not sure which one is the most worthy of an epic-level facepalm. One means that their public relations and marketing is in shambles; the other means they're still not really sure how their user interface – the one that has been shipping by default for some time now – should function.

I'm inclined to think it's the second possibility. Unity has been averaging a complete re-write about once a year (Unity first rolled out a bit over three years ago... and has been re-written three times) – which tells me that the team is still deciding what Unity should be or how it should function.

Now, I've spent a lot of time over the last few years defending and promoting Ubuntu – even on this very issue. And, in all reality, I will likely continue to do so. I truly like a lot of what they do. But, come on guys, get it together.

If this keeps up, the handprint on my face is going to become permanent.

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