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Q&A: Canonical’s Jane Silber says upcoming Ubuntu Linux to be enterprise-ready

The June release will be supported for three years on the desktop

By Eric Lai
April 25, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The first release of Ubuntu Linux, whose name comes from an African word meaning “humanity to others,” arrived in October 2004. Since then, the always-free Linux distribution has won 2 million to 3 million users worldwide, most of them individual desktop users, according to Canonical Ltd., the privately-held company behind the Ubuntu distribution. At the 4th annual Linux Desktop Summit in San Diego yesterday, Jane Silber, the chief operating officer of Canonical, sat down to talk to Computerworld’s Eric Lai about how the upcoming June release of Ubuntu 6.06 might appeal to corporate users, too.

Ubuntu has won over many individual users since its first release 18 months ago. How about among businesses? One of the reasons we delayed the release of Ubuntu 6.06 by six weeks til June was because we plan to support it for three years on the desktop and five years on the server. And that decision was driven by requests from businesses. Both the PC vendors and business users wanted a longer support cycle.

We see interest growing. Our entree into the market are the technical folks, the people who know the strengths of Debian [a Linux distribution upon which Ubuntu is derived]. From that, we’ve seen significant uptake among [small and midsize businesses], governments and schools.

Our biggest customer is the Andalusian regional government in Spain, which is using an Ubuntu derivative we helped create. That’s hundreds of thousands of desktops. We have some deals with banks and retailers I can’t disclose right now.

Did you decide to create what you’re calling your first enterprise-ready version of Ubuntu now because Microsoft is just about to release Windows Vista? In theory, it’s important. When people are thinking about whether to upgrade to Vista or choose an alternative, we want to be out there. It really is a decision point for users. There are studies out there that say the learning curve associated with businesses transitioning to a new version of Windows is as big as transitioning to a Linux desktop. But I can’t take credit that we had this all planned out. It’s really because the technology was ready, and the users wanted it, and our corporate partners wanted a longer release so they can do the right certifications.

We will still release a new version every six months. Those we will support for 18 months. It’s just that we will occasionally pluck one of those out as one we will support for a longer period of time.

The new SUSE Linux Desktop 10 from Novell Inc. sports some impressive graphics capabilities. What are your plans in this area? We felt we weren’t quite ready for this 6.06 release, so I expect we’ll have similar graphics features in the fall release. Our mantra throughout this development cycle was “rigid and boring.” Someone would say, "This feature is really shiny and cool; let’s put it in," and I’d say, "Nope, we need to be rigid and boring."

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