A couple of weeks ago you had a chance to ask Canonical Ltd. and the Ubuntu Foundation founder, Mark Shuttleworth, anything about software and vacationing in space. Below you'll find his answers to your questions. Make sure to look for our live discussion tomorrow with free software advocate and CTO of Rhombus Tech, Luke Leighton. The interview will start at 1:30 EST.The Next Frontier?
We've seen Linux go from servers to supercomputers to smartphones in a very explosive manner but not as pervasively on the personal computer. What, in your opinion, is the next frontier for Linux and is that frontier part of Canonical's future?
Shuttleworth: The really interesting opportunity is to unify all of these different kinds of computing. Let's make one OS that runs on the phone AND on your supercomputer. We're close to that now - we know Ubuntu makes a great cloud OS and a great server OS and a great desktop. So I think the next frontier is to create a seamless experience from the embedded world to the cloud. And yes, that's very much what we are focused on at Canonical.
How to succeed on the desktop?
Linux is a huge success in mobile. Linux is a huge success in servers (and Ubuntu in particular seems to be doing very well in servers, congratulations). But Linux on the desktop seems to be going nowhere fast as far as market share is concerned. In your opinion, what would have to happen in order for Linux to start gaining ground in the desktop?
Shuttleworth: The mobile world is crucial to the future of the PC. This month, for example, it became clear that the traditional PC is shrinking in favor of tablets. So if we want to be relevant on the PC, we have to figure out how to be relevant in the mobile world first.
Mobile is also interesting because there's no pirated Windows market. So if you win a device to your OS, it stays on your OS. In the PC world, we are constantly competing with "free Windows", which presents somewhat unique challenges.
So our focus now is to establish a great story around Ubuntu and mobile form factors - the tablet and the phone - on which we can build deeper relationships with everyday consumers. All the major PC companies now ship PC's with Ubuntu pre-installed. So we have a very solid set of working engagements in the industry. But those PC companies are nervous to promote something new to PC buyers. If we can get PC buyers familiar with Ubuntu as a phone and tablet experience, then they may be more willing buy it on the PC too.
Hi Mark! It seems based on your blog and other sources that an Ubuntu tablet is definitely planned and should be in the works at least sometime in the next year. When do you think consumers will be able to walk into any decently-sized electronic store and pick up an Ubuntu-based tablet?
Shuttleworth: No pre-announcements here, sorry!
But yes, we've said clearly that the phone and tablet are key stories we need to tell by 14.04 LTS. So I hope that by then you'll know when and where to expect it in-store :)
Will Ubuntu ever be a certified platform for running Oracle databases?
Shuttleworth: That's not really something I can say "yes" to ;)
We do know that there are some very large Oracle databases running on Ubuntu, and the people running them get all the support they need from Oracle. If you're a large Oracle shop, call them up and ask for support on Ubuntu. But of course, with Oracle's own Linux now in the market, Oracle is unlikely to promote another Linux until they change strategy.
Nowadays, we get asked about this very rarely - people seem to have moved to care a lot more about Hadoop and some of the newer big-data options than they do about traditional SQL. And of course Ubuntu is by far the most popular OS for large big-data deployments. Perhaps for that reason we are not pushing Oracle very hard ourselves - we've met a few times and their reaction has been some corporate equivalent of .
Re:A couple of questions
Why doesn't Ubuntu include Android emulation so people can run their vast catalog of Android apps on their laptop, tablet or the like?
Shuttleworth: Because no OS ever succeeded by emulating another OS. Android is great, but if we want to succeed we need to bring something new and better to market.
If we said we aimed to run Android apps, then two things would happen. Every developer that potentially cared about Ubuntu would feel it was OK to just write an app for Android. And every bug that would be specific to our implementation of Android's APIs would of course be a bug for us to fix, not a bug for the app developer. So, we won't do that.
by Count Fenring
Unity, like most other operating system visual shells, is moving in a decidedly touch-oriented direction. Has this actually proved beneficial in pushing forward an OS that's primarily in use on servers and workstations? Have users (as a percentage of total OS users, or as a percentage of total Linux users) risen or declined since Unity was introduced?
Shuttleworth: Unity positions itself to be *ready* for touch-only platforms like the tablet and phone, but the desktop flavour of Unity is optimized for the desktop. That's why we have such great support for keyboard navigation and hotkeys, why we have menus and indicators that you really need a mouse and keyboard to use. Yes, we have big app icons. But so have some desktop shells for 15 years (before the NextStep Dock, even).
On balance, I think Ubuntu's share of users has continued to rise, based on trends in hard-to-fake sources like Wikipedia traffic logs. Unity is by far the most widely used shell on Ubuntu, despite the depressed-hipster "can't live with unity" meme. And the fact that the other DE's that are shooting for the future are adding bits and pieces of the Unity design suggests that we're on a good track. I'm rather proud of introducing several ideas before they showed up in MacOS and Windows, and I think we have more in the pipeline like that.
Unity was TWO big changes. First, there was the set of changes themselves. That's always hard - there's no way to change huge chunks of the big open source desktop in one fell swoop and get it all perfect in less than six months. So 11.04 was hard, it got better steadily, and it's really fantastic now. And second, there was a cultural shift. Ubuntu shifted towards leadership rather than simply integration. We thought design was important, we talked to the folks responsible for all the current DEs at the time, and they didn't seem to understand what was going to be the reality of personal computing - a highly mobile oriented world. So we led, and I'm glad we did, even though it is hard to do that.
It was very frustrating for us to essentially feel blocked from contributing - design or code - in the existing free desktop communities. It was weird when it became more productive to collaborate with KDE than with the core GNOME maintainers. But we couldn't let petty politics stop us - we're the only company that really cares about the desktop, and even though it hurt to be pushed out of the nest of existing partner communities, sometimes you have to decide to fight for what you believe in. And we did.
Losing its Lustre
Do you feel that Ubuntu might be losing its way amongst the more technical users with some of the decisions that are being made? For example, forcing a beta-level UI onto users for 3 versions of Ubuntu from 11.04-12.04, integrating paid search results from Amazon etc. Linux Mint, which is rapidly growing in popularity, would seem to be a backlash against Unity and is a splintering of Ubuntu (in fact the vast majority of packages are identical to Ubuntu). Do you therefore feel that Ubuntu's popularity has reached its peak and is at risk of stagnating or declining?
Shuttleworth: We are all at risk of stagnating if we don't pursue the future, vigorously. But if you pursue the future, you have to accept that not everybody will agree with your vision.
The raw numbers suggest that Ubuntu continues to grow in terms of actual users. And our partnerships - Dell, HP, Lenovo on the hardware front, and gaming companies like EA, Valve joining up on the software front - make me feel like we continue to lead where it matters.
The Linux distro market has always been highly fragmented and ideological. Nothing new there.
Do you get tired of all the bickering?
It's evident Canonical and you personally as dude-in-charge have received a lot of flak over the past years, especially as you have started producing more software in-house rather than relying on upstream. Linux seems to attract a horde of vocal fans that aren't afraid to complain when things aren't going their direction. Does that get on your nerves or have you learned to live with it? Are you happy as dude-in-charge-of-product?
Shuttleworth: Yeah, I've been quite astonished at the level of vitriol and paranoia that pervades some of the opinion-fests that pass for discussion and debate in the FLOSS community. And quite disappointed that more folk don't appreciate that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift the world towards a much more open platform than ever before, but that nasty flaming of individuals who lead that effort, whether its me or anyone else, is totally counter-productive.
I made the commitment to Ubuntu because I had opinions about how free software should steer itself to being the standard way people to software, and I felt that it was pointless to have opinions and not be willing to stand by them with personal skin in the game. If you're not willing to do real work to achieve the outcome you believe in, then you're just another empty vessel with an opinion. And as the saying goes, opinions are like assholes - everybody's got one. What matters is the people who are willing to knuckle down and do real work to make a difference.
And Ubuntu has attracted a very large number of those - not just the folks who you'll find in the headlines, but an astonishing number of great people who just help out because they can and they care. If FLOSS does get over the hump of common acceptance, it will be because of those (often unsung) heroes, not because of the big mouths of ideologues.
Balance between software freedom and usability?
Ubuntu has made decisions that have been less than popular with the Free-software only crowd. Personally, I benefit from these decisions, for example, via easy access to Nvidia and Broadcom drivers on my laptop, but I also see the importance of the other side of the argument. What is your short- and long-term perspective on including restricted drivers and non-free software in Ubuntu? Is your approach simply pragmatic, do you hope to bring long-term change in industry practices by making free software a viable and important desktop platform, or something else entirely? Thanks!
Shuttleworth: Well, I feel the same way about this as I do about McCarthyism. The people who rant about proprietary software are basically insecure about their own beliefs, and it's that fear that makes them so nastily critical.
If your way of seeing the world IS genuinely more productive, effective, efficient, insightful and usable, then you should be confident that you will win in the long term, and folk who dabble in a different way of working will come to realize that you're right eventually. If FLOSS really is a better way for Oracle to do their thing, then the more we get them doing with FLOSS, the more likely they are to promote the people who are successful around that approach.
So I think Linus has been very smart to have a broadly permissive attitude to proprietary drivers in Linux, for example. He can still give a company the finger for being uncollaborative, but note that he was not being ideological about licenses, he was focused on the quality of engagement - about getting stuff actually working. That strikes a good balance in the kernel, where we want the core to be pretty definitively copyleft, but its good to let hardware companies dabble in non-free drivers if that's what they think is best. If we're right about the benefits of FLOSS, they'll get there in due course. That's why I was so happy to have Canonical leading a lot of the work around ARM Linux - those guys were all investing a lot, inefficiently, and we thought that if they tried a better way, they would like it and grow around it, and now Linaro is a lovely success story.
If you think you'll convince people to see things your way by ranting and being a dick, well, then you have much more to learn than I can possibly be bothered to spend time teaching.
Describe a hack that you personally participated in that you find cool. Not you paid someone to ... or I once saw someone else ... or you bought something cool that ... I mean traditional hack like "identify problem" "flash of insight in ur brain" "minutes to days of sweat using techie tools" "something cool now exists, lookit". I don't care about the subject as long as its vaguely slashdot style technical and you think its cool and the slashdot audience would think its cool. The coolest hack is not necessarily the biggest or most famous, either. Maybe you have a hobby where you personally programmed the worlds coolest Christmas light display on your house, or you handmade a truly elaborate model railroad fully articulated draw bridge, I donno, whatever floats your boat. TLDR just tell your hack story, and make it cool.
Shuttleworth: I love design - and especially in combining ideas in ways that make them both better. A recent project was figuring out how we want to fit our phone, tablet and desktop stories into one coherent whole. I quite like the solution we came up with. Tell me if you like it after 14.04 LTS ;)
Governmental Roles In Space?
Since you like to comment on both government interaction with businesses and seem to be interested in space travel, what is the appropriate level of the government's role in space? Can you define what is too little and what is too far? What, if anything, should each nation regulate? Are nationalistic programs and races good for space travel or should it just all be privatized and given a sort of 'international waters' anything goes freedom?
Shuttleworth: The national space missions should be exploratory and seeking to push back boundaries, not crowding out the basics. I think the agencies failed to recognize that they could facilitate private sector activity in areas they pioneered, so we got stuck in agency-monopolized access to low earth orbit for decades. That is changing now, and the real win will be that agencies get lower-cost lift and certification and training options that let them plan the really pioneering missions of tomorrow - Mars and the outer planets.
Regulation is good for established markets - I generally like to see governments regulate hard to achieve efficiency and level playing fields in markets. What gets broken is government actors that participate directly, as Fannie and Freddie do in real estate in the US, for example. But I'm not a libertarian (apart from a brief spell in student days) - I've seen far to much corrupt and nasty behavior by corporates that act in a very narrow set of interests.
So, when you take that trip to low-earth orbit, or parabolic firecracker ride courtesy of one of the space tourism operators, you'll be glad of a regulatory framework that aims for passenger safety. And the professional astronauts, who don't really give a hoot about personal safety beyond the obvious "don't be an idiot with my life", will be glad for the access to deep space that they would get courtesy of a vibrant market in the "easy" stuff.