The Linux Desktop Will Have Its Day: Q&A With Canonical Founder Mark Shuttleworth

Canonical founder and CEO Mark Shuttleworth, developer of the Ubuntuopen source operating system, announced in December that he wasstepping aside to develop cloud product design and curry new partners.

He named Chief Operating Officer Jane Silber to take his place as CEO.Several weeks ago, Silber announced the hiring of open source industryveteran Matt Asay to fill her old job as COO.

Canonical, the London-based commercial sponsor of the Ubuntu Linuxdistribution, set high performance standards with its commitment fornew distro releases for its popular desktop and server editions everysix months.

LinuxInsider discussed with Shuttleworth the rise of adoption ofUbuntu Linux and how Canonical is adapting to the demands of winningconverts from other operating systems.

Listen to the podcast (27:20 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Linux Insider: Given the growing reach of the Ubuntu server and desktop editions, what do you see as the driving factors for their acceptance?

Mark Shuttleworth:

I think the most powerful drivers of the historicaland wonderful adoption rate of Ubuntu have been the combination of therelentless focus we’ve put into the delivery of the system and theterms under which we do it. On the delivery front we recognize thatthe distributions play an important but ultimately quite a humble rolein the formation of the open source ecosystem.

People think of Ubuntuas Linux, or Red Hat as Linux, or they think of Debian as Linux. Butactually the real work gets done in many upstream communities. Thedistributions get a lot of credit. And our focus has been to reallytry to serve those upstream communities well by delivering their codeto users on a very predictable schedule with the highest levels ofquality and integration.

So what that means to users is they get on avery predictable schedule a high-quality drop of the very best ofwhat’s available from the open source ecosystem which they canembrace with confidence.

LIN: What about developers?


For the developers it means that their code landson peoples’ desks with us bearing the full brunt of interaction of endusers around that code. There is nothing stunningly insightful inthere. But by really focusing on the art of delivering a complete andeasy-to-use system, that represents the very best of what’s going on inthe ecosystem and is quite impartial in its assessment of that. Ithink we’ve really given users something that they really want.

LIN: What will take Ubuntu to the next level?


In terms of looking forward and breaking into newareas of production, we are seeing sort of a real shift in the waypeople think about at Ubuntu in two different environments.

On theconsumer front, we’re seeing a shift in the way people think aboutalternative platforms to Windows amongst the PC companies. It used tobe a kiss of death to present yourself as a genuine alternative toWindows. But the success of the Web and the success of Apple havereally made the PC companies think that it is possible to offersomething that is perceived to be valuable even if it is not Windows.

So we’re seeing a rapid ramp-up of the number of PCs that ship aroundthe world with Ubuntu, which is good for us. And those are going tofolks who are not Linux enthusiasts and are not Linux specialists. Soit has really raised the bar on the quality and crispness of theexperience you have to deliver in order to keep those people happy.


  • Should have asked the hard questions like "Why won’t B&M stores carry PCs with your product?" or "Why do you think even the little stores and chains avoid Linux?" and then maybe they would have gotten somewhere. As a PC retailer I have had great hopes that Ubuntu would actually become a "Third way" but after 9.10 frankly I have given up, as I have seen NO real progress there, just the same old problems repackaged.

    Want to know what will give Linux its day on the desktop? Solve "the Walmart problem" and you may have a real shot. Right now at your local Walmart only 30% of the devices are "supported", if you count support as three pages of CLI gibberish that often have to be tweaked by the users to work, which I don’t. Remove those and you are down to 22% or so. Quick, without spending days trawling forums or researching like it was the ACTs, which IRL customers are NEVER gonna do, and just by looking at the boxes alone, tell me….Which items work, and which are paperweights?

    You can’t answer that question, because you honestly don’t know. You don’t, I don’t, and the poor kid getting minimum wage behind the counter don’t know either and THAT my good friends is "the Walmart problem" and why retailers like me wouldn’t sell Linux PCs on a bet.

    If I sell Windows my after sale support because of the Walmart problem drops to zero, because every single device in the store ATM has XP,Vista, and Windows 7 drivers. If I sell Linux the first device they pick up that is a paperweight, which since we are talking only one in five fully supported is more likely than not, and the PC is brought back to me to "fix" which of course I cannot. So I either give the customer their money back and eat the cost on what it cost new VS what it can sell for used, or burn the customer and eventually go out of business from a bad reputation. Boy gotta love that "Free as in freedom!"

    Solve the Walmart problem, preferably with a stable ABI that allows drivers on CDs as with Windows and Mac, or remain a niche so tiny as to be below the margin for error. You NEED retailers and shops to support you as we do Windows, but as long as shopping for something as simple as a printer or wifi stick is a minefield for consumers we will not go anywhere near your OS. Sorry but we are in business to make money, not to support your agenda.

    • I get it shopping for Linux compatible hardware is a pain. But I don’t understand why you drop the driver issue a its feet. In general Linux has far superior OTB support for peripherals, all built in. Windows has drivers installed by OEM’s and any third party peripherals come with a cd, Microsoft does not make or install any of them. So if your products lack Linux support, you should be talking to the your suppliers.

      Linux already has excellent methods for installing extra drivers in kernel modules and package management. To go one step further nothing is stopping, say Brodcom or whoever from submitting patches upstream. Then their drivers would be there automagicaly you can’t do that in Windows.

      You are never going to solve the "Wallmart problem" as you put it, because the bigbox stores don’t give a lick about support. They have their own hidden deals and agendas, and Linux doesn’t help their bottom line. Since no one comes back to buy that antivirus software or drop 200$ on an Office suite.

      A consumers voice is one voice, often falling on def ears. But you sir are a retailer, your voice is the voice of all your customers. If more people like you spoke with your buying power, supporting only products that work in Linux, selling OEM style configured Linux desktops, things would change faster than you think.

      • And not go out of business? And don’t say Bundle, because unless your last name is Dell (which mine isn’t) you will quickly go bankrupt trying to bundle. So again i’m faced with the same problem-no ABI means no penguins on boxes, no penguins on boxes means no way in God’s green earth for a normal human being to simply walk into a B&M and shop without getting burned, customers getting burned means I eat the costs of 400%+ retuns, or quickly go out of business from the bad reputation.

        So explain to me oh wise one, how exactly AM I supposed to sell your product and stay afloat? Because that is what Linux is, it isn’t some belief system, or mantra, it is a product you have to sell to me, the retailer. because I AM going to be the one that has to deal with all the PO’ed customers when they can’t even buy a lousy AIO printer or USB Wifi stick without playing paperweight roulette or getting told with a straight face they better learn how to tweak three pages of CLI commands and stop being a noob.

        sadly this is why linux will never be anything but a niche, you Linux guys have lots of pie in the sky dreams, but when it comes to actually getting your hands dirty down here in the tranches all you can say is "vote with your wallet" like that is some magic mantra that will make all the badness go away.

        When my customers buy a Windows box, all they have to do is look for the Winflag on the box. That’s it, takes all of 5 seconds. same thing with OSX. Your OS, which I hoped for years would be a "third way" is stuck in the stone age of DOS, where someone had to bust their butts doing research because they were never sure if that device supported IBM, or commodore, or Tandy, or what. but times have changed, and it ain’t 1985 anymore. Your average shopper doesn’t give a diddly about your "free as in freedom" and just wants easy, fast, and convenient. Sadly without even penguins on boxes Linux will stay a joke, a tiny niche on desktops so small as to be below the margin for error. it will stay that way because retailers like me can’t sell your product without going broke.

        A new copy of XP is $100, of Windows 7 is $150. I can quickly burn through that AM ount of money trying to navigate the minefield that is Linux consumer device support in less than a day. So explain to me, your potential customer: Why should I carry your product, if all it will do is cost me money?

        • I think you are bit mistaken…

          1st. as far as "bundling" goes….

          Apple already did this with Unix, what do you think OSX really is??? It’s a hybrid of unix mixed with mach(microkernel). they don’t have hardware issues(for the most part) because it is bundled!!! and yes, dell does it too with linux, as well as many netbooks that are migrating to linux…

          2nd. as time passes more and more people are sick of windows, and it’s general design flaws. $150 win7, for something that not only has hardware compatibility issues, but a crap load of software compatibility issues as well. I get paid to fix Windows related problems. i hear people’s frustration daily about the hours they spent trying to get rid of virus’ or fix something, meanwhile they have already paid for anti-virus software – that end’s up getting infected itself. or they install software that turns out doesn’t play nice with vista or 7 and screws up there registry! this doesn’t equal "easy, fast, and convenient". I deal with Zero issues of this nature both in MacOSX and linux. apple has done a wonderful job of making a unix-type system easy to use, with good support Out-of-the-box. this is happening with linux too, although not production ready for the average user, yet.(in my opinion, and in a round-about way – also in your opinion)

          3rd. Win7 it’s an improvement over Vista, but Microsoft burnt a lot of people with Vista and also their "paid upgrade" from Vista to windows7, it can lead to all sorts of problems(just google it!).

          i’d feel pretty ripped off, if i was one of those folks! one would think as a retailer you might know or consider things like that!!! ***the fact of the matter is: 95% of retailers no jack about what they sell as far as support or the product in any "great detail" – WINDOWS and MacOSX alike!!! every time i go shopping and have "real" questions that are specific, i end up with some idiot retailer/salesman scratching his head, not knowing either what i AM talking about, or doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about!!
          even worse than that, he is just trying to make a quick, easy sale and through his/her own ignorance is misleading a customer about a product..(if intentional or not, the result is the same. i’ve had to correct people in the past,
          dealing with some other customer, while i happen to be shopping and hear the bad advice being given.)

          4th. "you can quickly burn through that AM ount of money trying to navigate the minefield that is Linux consumer device support in less than a day."

          – do you actually realize how dumb that sounds??? that would be like going and buying hardware for MacOSX without checking to see if they had supported drivers…that is just plain moronic…

          5th. **** i think Linux as a desktop is still premature for the average user. (but not for the power-user) – which tells me—> linux will mature as far as desktop usage and ease of use. that’s not some pipe dream! Windows is badly written at the core, and will never be fixed or secure. Apple doesn’t allow you to modify it’s source-code not for the OS anyway, or most, if not all apple software ****

          – linux at the core is very good. it’s modular by design, allows deep modification, customization and has complete flexibility…

          6th. as far as "vote with your wallet"…
          more and more, we are seeing manufacturers of hardware releasing linux drivers, and open-source drivers – and lots of them are hi-quality and very good. but it takes demand to have them supplied, and people to design and impliment them – that is a fact! it doesn’t happen overnight. it takes time, and no one believes "the badness" as you put it, will just go away, that takes development. look at Microsoft’s mess over the last 2-3years…!

          – how many businesses/people switched to vista only to drop it and switching back to XP?? or never bothered at all.. microsoft ended up extending support for winXP, they had no choice cause vista was so badly written, and required significant overhead(in terms of hardware – CPU,RAM,etc) they somewhat fixed it by re-writing the kernel, but it’s still pretty bad. probably to be blamed by it’s DOS roots, even though some people claim otherwise…

          – microsoft tries it’s best to keep things in a closed-box, and "the ball in their court". Bill Gates is the king of Monopoly! and a monopoly is never good for the market or growth in software design…

          hell didn’t they want to tax AM ericans through the Gov’t – to fix their own crappy security flaws??? directly blaming the user – that’s brutal!

          – so while, i can sympathize with your perspectives to a degree, i think you don’t have much of a clue as far as the future/direction of linux, or what it’s really capable of doing or what it is really all about.

          in conclusion:

          – Linux is young in terms of "production-grade" desktop usage. but professionally Linux is used everywhere! from the most advanced super computers on the planet, to the majority of cell-phones and smartphones. from servers to hi-end specialized hardware, such as pro-audio gear, to being integrated all over the automotive industry. it can be very very solid and reliable, it has scalability like no other OS, and runs on more Architectures than anything else..

          ***this spells a bright future for linux. it is just a matter of time, before linux becomes a "standard in the desktop" with a certain ease of use in mind(for certain distributions – like Ubnuntu. it will take time, and a cetain "threshold of user base" to tip it over, so to speak…

          – while you may like being spoon-fed software, but there are millions and millions of people who don’t AND many-many companies/corporations who don’t.

          – they would like a little more control over their software/systems that they use, implement and/or depend on – while also to take advantage some of the unique possibilities that linux & open-source software provides….

          – in the long-run Linux and open-source software
          have value, even if you as a retailer are too short-sided to see that.

          the times are changing…


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