Linux == MacOS with Ubuntu $$$?

In Friday's IT Blogwatch, we watch Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth promise cold, hard cash to improve Linux's usability. Not to mention one of the dumbest conspiracy theories ever...

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is gleeful:

Mark Shuttleworth
Some people hate Ubuntu. I know, I know, far, far more people love Ubuntu, but that doesn't change the fact that others really dislike it ... usually Debian Linux users, who think Ubuntu, which is based on Debian, has 'stolen' their work and that its developers haven't contributed enough back to Debian or the other open-source communities that create Linux-related software.

That's about to change. Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu ... recently said he wanted the Linux desktop to be better than the Mac's interface. He's now putting his money behind this idea. Shuttleworth knows that achieving such a goal won't be easy ... [and he's] well aware that some people see Ubuntu as not being a contributor ... So, starting now, Ubuntu is going to contribute in a big way to desktop Linux.


I was one of those that doubted that desktop Linux could ever equal the smooth, graceful integration of the Mac OS. Now, between the driving pace of open-source development, and Shuttleworth's millions, I can see it happening. Why not?

Ryan Paul adds:

Shuttleworth ... will hire professional designers and interaction experts to improve the usability of the Linux desktop software ecosystem. They will work closely with upstream developers to bring a better experience to users of the open source operating system.


He emphasizes the importance of making usability enhancement a community-driven effort. He acknowledges that improving usability across the entire scope of the desktop software ecosystem is a daunting challenge, but he believes that the collaborative spirit of the open software development model can get the job done.


It reflects an expansion of Canonical's commitment to contribute back to the open source software community. Although Ubuntu is widely recognized as the front-runner in the desktop Linux market, Canonical itself is still a relatively small company. Historically, Canonical has not had the resources to make big upstream code contributions on the same scale as other players like Red Hat and Novell.

Here be the horse's mouth:

When you present yourself on the web, you have 15 seconds to make an impression, so aspiring champions of the web 2.0 industry have converged on a good recipe for success: Make your site visually appealing, Do something different and do it very, very well, Call users to action and give them an immediate, rewarding experience.

We need the same urgency, immediacy and elegance as part of the free software desktop experience.


When I laid out the goal of “delivering a user experience that can compete with Apple in two years” at OSCON, I had many questions afterwards about how on earth we could achieve that ... the free software desktop is often patchy and inconsistent. But I see the lack of consistency as both a weakness ... and as a strength ... [I] have a deep belief in the power of the free software process to solve seemingly intractable problems ... we can harness the wisdom of crowds to find corner cases and inconsistencies across a much broader portfolio of applications than one person or company could do alone.


Canonical is in a position to drive real change in the software that is part of Ubuntu. If we just showed up with pictures and prototypes and asked people to shape their projects differently, I can’t imagine that being well received! So we are also hiring a team who will work on X, OpenGL, Gtk, Qt, GNOME and KDE, with a view to doing some of the heavy lifting required to turn those desktop experience ideas into reality ... and of course submit their work upstream.

Nicholas Killewald is intrigued:

That's a considerable amount of work he's planning on hiring up for. This intrigues me greatly, to be honest. And, with any luck, this all comes back to the community so that not-Ubuntu users can get in on it, too.

Though I give it five minutes before we hear complaints that they're not helping out some obscure toolkit or DE. :-)

But Mad Cyril is dubious:

I'm sorry, but even Bill Gates doesn't have the money to get Enlightenment even to the next full release.

And 93 Escort Wagon agrees:

Red Hat has invested a lot of money to improve the Linux desktop experience as well. They've made great strides, but still - they still have a ways to go, at least in the opinion of this user of both OSes. So spending more money does not guarantee they'll reach the goal.

I think, in order for Linux to really break through here, they probably need to have teams of actual designers rather than have the coders do most of the design themselves. They also probably need to "think different" and come up with their own usability/interface ideas, rather than keep mimicking Apple's (which Gnome seems to frequently do, if discussions on the developer email lists are any indication).

Brain Damaged Bogan sends mad props, anyway:

Mark Shuttleworth is the uberGeek. We should all aspire to be like that guy, he's worth millions but he chooses to give back to the community by paying for FOSS development out of his own pocket. Sure, Canonical is a business and I'm sure the publicity and improvements he's paying for will help get some more license fees, but the geek points he's scoring are worth so much more.

And finally...

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 22 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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