Making a Difference; Selling a Difference

See the difference?

A few days ago, Mark Shuttleworth took some time to address critics who scoff at Canonical's contributions to GNOME and the Linux kernel itself by sharing his thoughts on the subject in his personal blog. The post, titled "Reflections on Ubuntu, Canonical and the march to free software adoption", reflecting on Canonical and Ubuntu's contributions to the world of free and open source software. There are a couple of interesting stories, some obvious rationalization, some genuine insights, and more than a few nods to the various forces that come together to create a Linux distribution.

These include not only the people behind the Linux kernel, but GNU and the Free Software Foundation, Mozilla, KDE, GNOME. (aka Oracle and SUN Microsystems before that), Sendmail, Apache, the Internet Systems Consortium, IBM, Google, Red Hat, Novell (and SUSE), etc, etc, etc. In his post, Mark Shuttleworth named a few. I've added a bunch of others. The point being that Ubuntu isn't just Linux and Linux isn't just GNU, and so on. There are many thousands of people and a huge number of companies that contribute to FOSS.

For years now, I've wrestled with the question of how free software, and Linux, makes it into the hands of the average person. I have written about Linux and hundreds of packages in magazines and in books. I've given talks and presentations, taught classes, and done radio and television trying to show people how free software is ready to do what they need to do, with the added bonus that the world is a better for place whenever open source and open standards are strong. It's a message I believe in and one I've never stopped giving, but . . . I am thrilled by all the strides that have been made by FOSS and Linux but . . .

There's always a huge "but" attached to the end of those statements. Linux pretty much rules the world of supercomputers. Ditto for big blockbuster type imaging and rendering of movie special effects. Linux is the fastest growing operating system in the mobile marketplace and will surely take its place as top dog there as well. In the server room (inasmuch as there are still server rooms), Linux takes all comers. The "but" falls firmly on the Linux desktop.

Sure there are millions of Linux desktops out there. Canonical claims 20 million of them are running Ubuntu alone. Argue for or against those numbers, but it's paltry compared to deployments of the leading operating system (Microsoft) and it barely registers with the general population when compared with the other small player in the OS marketplace (Apple). With Ubuntu Linux and all the other distributions combined, we, the free and open source software community, have made little more than a scratch on the surface of the desktop landscape.

Some will argue that the desktop no longer matters or if it does, it won't for long. They will tell you that the age of mobile technology is here, that Web apps do it all, and that since Linux, in its Android persona, is on its way to ruling the mobile roost, that we should all sit back happily and congratulate ourselves on finally achieving Linux World Domination.

They are wrong.

Sure, mobile devices are cool. But for the foreseeable future, the desktop will continue to be the place where the real work gets done. It's the place where large scale productivity applications will continue to dominate. It's still where you're going to do your accounting, write letters, create cool graphics, edit video, and so on. Try to imagine creating a complex marketing presentation on your iPhone just for fun. See if you can find many businesses out there that have plans in the next 5 years to dump all their desktop systems in favor of everyone typing on their smartphone touchpads. Uh huh. The desktop matters as much as it ever did and there's a damn good chance that it's never going away, at least not anytime soon. Barring some truly revolutionary *ahem* paradigm shift in the way we interface with computers, of course. That revolutionary shift hasn't happened. Not yet anyhow.

Mark Shuttleworth goes on to say, "I didn’t found Ubuntu as a vehicle for getting lots of code written, that didn’t seem to me to be what the world needed. It needed a vehicle for getting it out there, that cares about delivering the code we already have in a state of high quality and reliability."

And this is where I have to stand beside Mark Shuttleworth.

We credit our fellow FOSS advocates for attending Install-fests, for burning distribution CDs or DVDs and handing out to all and sundry. We credit them even when they aren't coding because getting free software into the hands of more and more people is necessary for free software to grow and thrive. That's what Canonical does. Yes it's a business. Yes, there's a profit motive (whether profit is being generated at this point or not). There's nothing wrong with that. Linux and FOSS can use all the help it can get. That includes coders, designers, documenters, and even marketers and salespeople. I'll go even further. What Linux and FOSS need more than anything now is marketing and sales. I applaud any company that is willing to support desktop Linux in this way.

Because the desktop does matter and will continue to matter, it's the place where we need the average user to understand that they are using free software and reaping the benefits of open standards. That's why we need Canonical and Red Hat and SUSE and Mandriva and anybody else who is willing to step up to the plate and get free software into the hands AND desktops of the everyday user. That's why Linux needs some solid marketing, partnering, and sales. That why Mark Shuttleworth is right.

Until next time . . .


Strength in our Diversity

Hello Everyone

I would like to see the 3 major Linux distros: Redhat, Ubuntu, Suse to pool their
resources into one good TV commercial, that would advertise the choice that
consumers have with Linux. IBM made some good commercials before, we can see them on

So with the combined forces of the 3 Linux distros. and IBM can chip in; I think that we
can make gains in the desktop.

This should have happened during the Vista fiasco. It is still not too late.

John Kerr
Guelph, Ontario

Look at it this way...

Not to sound pragmatic or anti-anything. Let's separate desktop Linux from Linux on the server for a second. What's getting people upset (not me, I'm happy) is the possibility in the future when you download an app or go to BestBuy to purchase software, the package will be labeled "versions available for Windows XP/Vista/7, MAC OSX 10.4 or greater, and Ubuntu 10.04 or later. NOT "versions available for Windows, MAC, or Linux... This is inevitible. The different libraries, moving API/ABI targets in the kernel. Don't be surprised if in the future Shuttleworth decides (not on the server, but on desktop versions) to package applications in one big executable installer that installs ALL libraries and app files in a subdirectory within /opt... It's the piece that's missing..

Gotta agree--we need what Canonical is doing

I've got to agree with both Mark and Marcel on this. Nobody else is doing what Mark is doing with Canonical--marketing and pushing desktop GNU/Linux to the masses, and actually having some success. That's because Canonical's chosen work is to take Debian and make it friendly to Ma 'n' Pa Kettle. Ubuntu is becoming a household name now. The way you do that is by making it slick and easy for the end user.

The shame is that some folks at Red Hat also want to criticize Canonical for this. Red Hat is great, and I thank them for what they do. But this time, they're wrong, and when they are, I'll call 'em on that, too. This is one of those times.

We need Canonical's work. They're not coders. They're integrators. All the great code in the world won't mean a hill of beans unless the end user can easily use it. That's why Steve Jobs is so successful with his Macintoshes. His code isn't the greatest. But it's among the easiest to use. We have better code, and with a slick user interface and good marketing (like Canonical is doing), we will continue to make desktop gains.

So, thank you Canonical, and keep on sailing FULL STEAM AHEAD!


I think the issue is Control

One of the traditional weaknesses of the WIndows operating system is/was that the end user basically needs the authority to do system administration. He's got to have this just to get certain business applications working... So, sysadmins have constantly complained that this makes their life harder and windows is just screwed up.

But... the thing is... there is something tremendously powerful in giving this level of power away to end users... and that is, the tool becomes theirs. The tool is theirs to configure how they will -- whether that be loading piles of crap-ware, or games, or that tremendous new tool that IT hasn't thought of yet... what have you... the tool is theirs to fashion as they see fit. It's their sandbox to build or to completely screw up.

And, that's the thing. End users need that freedom. End users need root/sudo on their own boxes. End users need the freedom to experiment outside the bounds of what IT is willing to "support" & to develop their own tools and on methods to get their jobs done in the most efficient means possible.

So, what happens first when Management/IT pushes Linux to the desktop? Management migrates attempts to limit the end user and attempts to migrate the more locked-down server strategy to the desktop. The freedom that they once had on Windows goes away, and end users are locked into asking IT for them to install some experimental thing on their boxes (for the which, of course, they will be either too slow to respond, or they will be reluctant to support).

Desktop Improvements

I'm a Linux user since Ubuntu 4.10 and a full time user for about 5 years. The desktop has greatly improved. Linux is much easier to install and use.

I converted some to using Ubuntu because it usually installs and works without a problem. Ubuntu made "test before install" popular.

Much of the increase in the use of Linux is due to Ubuntu in my opinion. Ubuntu set standards in usability and interface attractiveness other distributions are following or in many instances surpassing. Installation, network connection, etc. have greatly improved.

People are becoming interested in using Linux on the desktop.

Ubuntu might be lacking in lines of code contributed (I haven't personally counted so am going by what I read) but it has contributed many new users. Linux has benefited, in my opinion, greatly from Ubuntu.

I am totally Windows free which I don't think would have happened without Ubuntu.


The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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