Mark Shuttleworth: "Time for mass consumer sales of Linux on desktop has not yet come"

  • Mark Shuttleworth, driving force behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution
    foto: archiv

    Mark Shuttleworth, driving force behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution

The founder of the Ubuntu-project talks in an interview about the integration of proprietary drivers, the One Laptop per Child project and "great applications" from Microsoft

In the fall of 2004 a new distribution entered the Linux scene: Ubuntu. It's popularity grew quickly, making it the number one Linux distribution according to Distrowatch. Ubuntu was initiated by the South-African billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, who made a fortune by selling his own company Thawte to Verisign in the Nineties and was therefore able to guarantee the funding for the project. Till today Shuttleworth remains the "face of Ubuntu", Andreas Proschofsky spoke with him - amongst other things - about the current status of the distribution, the competition and the One Laptop per Child project.

This interview is also available in a german translation. When Ubuntu first appeared on the Linux scene, it was considered a cutting edge distribution. Do you think this is still true nowadays? For instance the current openSUSE seems to integrate quite a bit more cutting edge stuff for the desktop like Beagle / their own main menu / Compiz.

Mark Shuttleworth: Very much so. Of course I respect the stuff that the other distributions do, but I think Ubuntu has a very vibrant community and so some really innovative things happen here first. For example in our newest release Ubuntu is the first distribution to have a complete framework for detecting application failures and crashes and then inviting the users to send information about that failure back to us and we then pass that on to the developers. And that's a fantastic new innovation in terms of being able to raise the quality of the whole desktop experience.

Also we've the fancy 3D-effects, although they are not turned on by default cause we don't think they are yet mature or reliable enough to turn on everywhere.

So in a free software world we can very quickly integrate the good work that comes from other distributions and we also have a strong community to do work on our own. In relation to Novell or Red Hat, Ubuntu doesn't employ a lot of hackers. Does Ubuntu even have enough developers on its own to define their own releases, instead of just following the footpaths of the others?

Mark Shuttleworth: I think that's entirely untrue. We've 50 or so free software developers that are now working for the company, we continue to hire what we think are the very best guys from a variety communities from upstream, from Debian and from other places were innovation happens. I also think that our approach is specifically designed to work well with the free software community.

For instance if you look at our Milestone overview at you'll see the full set of features that were planned for this release and their various states of delivery, that covers all the work of the community and the folks that work on Ubuntu fulltime through Canonical, and I think you'll agree, that this is a substantial list of special features. And that's in addition to all the things that happen in GNOME, that happen in or at the kernel level. But still: Edgy Eft and Feisty Fawn are both more "conservative" releases than originally planned.

Mark Shuttleworth: Actually there is just one feature that I really wanted to land in both, that is Compiz or Beryl enabled by default. And the reasons not to do so was just they were not stable enough to be pushed out to the users. In Feisty Compiz is in fact installed it's just not enabled, but it's just a single checkbox to turn it on.

And also, I don't always get what I want. I'm just one person in a big community. Though in your original proposal for Edgy Eft, you encouraged the Ubuntu community to "go wild" and integrate all the "cool new stuff" and not a lot has come through from this.

Mark Shuttleworth: Well, I disagree. For instance in Edgy we rewrote the Init-System from scratch, for the first time in something like 15 years. So that was a very fundamental bit of engineering, that other distributions are now looking to adopt, like Debian or Fedora. Just because Compiz - which is done by Novell - was not ready, you can't say that either Edgy or Feisty were a failure.

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