If you want to see desktop Linux finally get some traction with the unwashed public, Mark Shuttleworth is more likely to be the guy who’ll make that happen than anyone who’s come along so far. He’s a capitalist and for better or worse this is a capitalist world. He knows that nothing big is going to get done on this market oriented planet without the art of the deal and some hustle. He also understands something about fit and finish, which was always lacking in desktop Linux until he came along.
For too long, we’ve been sitting around wringing our hands, sometimes proclaiming this to finally be the year of the Linux desktop without doing anything to make it happen and sometimes bemoaning the fact that the world still hasn’t discovered Linux as the secret to computing happiness. The thing is, the world never knows anything about secrets until they’re not secret anymore. We’ve been wanting Linux to just “catch on,” while we’ve been blaming the OEMs for not automatically pushing our home grown geek-centric distros with the same elan they put behind their bread and butter Windows.
Windows is a success not merely because of Ballmer’s bullying. Whether we want to admit it or not, Microsoft has been putting in a lot of work pounding the pavement selling Windows, while none of our desktop distros have been making legitimate marketing efforts where it matters.
If we had real sales people wearing out shoe leather trying to get a foot in the door, long ago we would have realized that our superior operating system is only superior to computer savvy users who are able to fix what they break and configure what they buy and who have the patience to figure-out things like why a configuration made in the KDE UI disappears at reboot. Hint–it might be because that particular configuration in your particular distro must be made in the distro’s configuration panel which overwrites anything done in KDE’s panel, even though it’s a KDE configuration. How many grandmothers will figure that out?
From what I’ve seen of Canonical and Ubuntu, Shuttleworth understands all of this. He’s a business guy who’s also a computer guy. It helps that he’s filthy rich. When a rich guy raises his voice just a little bit, the world jumps as if being taken by surprise by a bullhorn from behind. Being rich also means you can pay your bills and keep people working while you’re waiting for your vision to manifest.
I don’t like Ubuntu. I won’t use it. It’s way too mainstream for this old hippie. But that’s just my personal preference. In truth, it’s a damn fine operating system, maybe the best consumer oriented OS to come out of Linux ever. I use Bodhi, which is built on Ubuntu, a fact that was almost a deal breaker for me. Since I’ve become a Bodhi user, however, I’ve become very impressed with the “Ubuntu inside.” Bodhi is a much better distro than it ever could be if it didn’t have Ubuntu DNA.
Shuttleworth, you see, seems to understand fit and finish.
You can go to the Yugo factory, give them the blueprints for a Cadillac and they’ll produce a vehicle that looks like a Cadillac but which is still, essentially, a Yugo. I don’t know about now, but in the old days a Chevy and a Cadillac were pretty much the same car. Same engine, same frame, same basic body design–but if you got behind the wheel of a Cadillac and rolled that baby down the road, there was no confusing the experience with that of driving a Chevy.
We don’t like the fact that Shuttleworth has dropped X and Wayland for Mir, or that he’s decided to go it alone with Unity instead of remaining true to GNOME. So what? We’ll get over it. It’s not our decision to make. If he’s not going to be able to mold his Linux distro into something he thinks he can market, why doesn’t he just take Debian out of the box, slap the Ubuntu brand on it and try to market that? Is that what we want him to do?
Let Mr. Shuttleworth do what the frack he thinks he needs to do. He’s pouring tons of money into R&D that’s helping us all. If he’s successful and gets the Edge to fly, then we’ll see HP and Dell crawling all over each other to be the first to bring out a Ubuntu desktop, laptop, tablet and anything else they can think up that might stick to the wall.
You and I still won’t have to use Ubuntu on anything. We can continue using Debian, Slack, CrunchBang, Bodhi, Arch–take your pick. We’ll still all gain from the R&D that’s being done. It’ll all end up being GPLed. We’ll all get to use any of it we want. Certainly, I’ll never use Ubuntu, but I’m already benefiting from the work the Canonical folks have done, just as I’m benefiting from the work done by Red Hat and SUSE, which I have also not used on a PC and probably never will.
The argument that Shuttleworth isn’t returning back to the community doesn’t fly. He’s not Steve Jobs. He’s not taking open source code and making it proprietary. He’s not stealing from us. He’s making stuff, he’s doing things and, by gawd, untold millions know about Linux now who’d never heard of us before he came along.
I don’t like big business. If it was up to me, the economy would run on the mom and pop level. But we don’t live in that kind of world. If we want Linux to succeed, we need people like Shuttleworth.