‘We positioned Ubuntu as a version of Linux that was personal and non-technical’
Mark Shuttleworth, Founder, Canonical and Ubuntu Linux on why he thinks Ubuntu will succeed on the desktop, where other equally famed competitors have failed
Having earned the distinction of becoming the first African to take a flight into space, Mark Shuttleworth undertook a voyage into another unchartered territory. He started the Ubuntu Linux project, with a goal to creating a high-quality desktop and server OS. ‘Ubuntu’—named after an African word which means ‘humanity to others’—has since then become the most popular GNU/Linux distribution. Ubuntu Linux has been positioned as a platform for the masses rather than being confined to the specialists.
Mark Shuttleworth, Founder, Canonical and Ubuntu Linux shared his thoughts with Srikanth RP on the increasing significance of open source, the roadmap for the cloud and why he thinks Ubuntu will succeed on the desktop, where other equally famed competitors have failed.
From an era when open source faced a lot of antagonism, now even competitors are opening up their code. How do you see this shift in terms of the future of IT?
I have no doubt in my mind that open source represents the future of the software industry. This can be clearly seen from the number of customer engagements involving Linux, and from the backing of huge companies such as IBM and Oracle. Even Microsoft today has backed away from its earlier rigid stance. The driver is clearly the success of open source. Today, end-user companies are skeptical of those companies that suggest that open source does not encourage innovation.
Unlike other Linux distributions, Ubuntu has managed to achieve a significant presence on the desktop. What have you done differently?
While Linux as a community has done extremely well in the server and data center space, the real challenge lies in taking Linux to the desktop. When we started the Ubuntu project, we quickly realized that distribution only plays a limited role in the success of the platform.
We focused on substantially improving the experience of the Linux desktop by making it more visually appealing and easy to use. We positioned Ubuntu as a version of Linux that was personal and non-technical. In a way, we have been pioneers in bringing the benefits of Linux to a larger audience. The results—as tracked by independent websites—show that Ubuntu has been steadily increasing in popularity over the past five years.
While Ubuntu is one of the most successful products in the desktop Linux space, it still has a long way to go before it can even think of upsetting the apple cart of a dominant vendor such as Microsoft. Why do you think Ubuntu will succeed (in the long run) where other equally strong competitors have failed?
With our platform, we believe we have significant opportunities to play on the server, cloud and the desktop space. By putting the user at the heart of our design, we have significantly enhanced the user experience.
For example, we have taken initiatives such as the innovative ‘100 Paper Cuts’ initiative organized with the Ubuntu Community which allowed users to nominate minor annoyances that impacted their enjoyment of the platform.
Till date, over 50 fixes have been committed. Industry leaders such as Dell have partnered with us to put Ubuntu on some of their desktop and laptop models. And evidence suggests that the percentage of users that do not replace Ubuntu on the device is growing. This is a time of great change in the IT industry, and we believe that we are in a
position to surprise established players.
How is Ubuntu performing on the cloud landscape?
On Amazon EC2—which is the dominant public cloud offering—Ubuntu is the Number One base OS for organizations building workloads to deploy in the cloud. With our enterprise cloud offering the same APIs as Amazon EC2, you can build your applications to run on either platform.
This means that applications that run on your private cloud can be seamlessly put into the public Amazon cloud, and vice versa. You can even configure the system to ensure that overloaded applications on a private cloud can expand to use resources from the public cloud. We are focused on simplifying user experience—be it the
desktop or the cloud.