Ubuntu founder urges Linux desktop to rival Apple

Shuttleworth also pushes services as a new revenue model to fund free software

Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth urged development of a Linux desktop to rival what Apple Inc. has done and aired a vision of software changing the world.

Shuttleworth, speaking at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (Oscon) in Portland, Ore., yesterday, also urged development of a new revenue model to fund free software and set his sights on a services-based mechanism. He also stressed the importance of interoperability with Windows.

Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical Ltd., emphasized development of the Linux desktop as well as mobile development.

"Can we go right past Apple in the user experience we deliver?" Shuttleworth asked the audience. "Certainly, on the desktop experience, we need to shoot beyond the Mac, but I think it's equally relevant [in] the mobile space," Shuttleworth said.

"The challenge for us is to figure out how to deliver something which is crisp and clean" without sacrificing the community process, he said.

An audience member mentioned issues that would emerge in developing an Apple-like desktop in the free software world.

"It would be hard to do from a free software point of view, I think, because so many people have so many different opinions," said Brad Cavanagh, data reduction software engineer at the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii.

"That's not to say you can't get good things out of open source. Obviously, you can, but it's going to be tough," Cavanagh said.

Shuttleworth cited the need for new business models beyond advertising for free software.

"We had the Web for quite a long time before we figured out how [to do] ad-funded Web businesses," Shuttleworth said. But he said he didn't see how advertising could fund Web-based and free applications. He instead noted an emerging emphasis on services, calling them the engine for funding investments in free software.

"I think advertising works very well in the search case, but I don't think it's the sort of final solution in terms of business models to drive investment in free software," Shuttleworth said. "A more general view of services is required."

There will be tremendous innovation and experimentation with services, he said.

The free software world is in a quest for a complementary economic model. "When we look back at this era, we'll be looking at economics" as much as factors such as technology, Shuttleworth said.

Technology, he said, provides the opportunities to drive economic change, create wealth and change society. "The way we run our lives today, software determines more and more of it," Shuttleworth said.

"In a very real sense, everything is becoming software," he continued. "There have never been better opportunities to create wealth, better opportunities to change the world."

Recent wealth creators such as Google Inc. have been built on free software, Shuttleworth said. Free software, meanwhile, is "the ultimate form of disclosure" and serves as an engine for innovation, he noted.

"The question we should be asking the free software world is how can we stimulate that? How can we drive innovation faster?" Shuttleworth said.

He also promoted the notion of cadence in free software releases. "The idea of establishing a regular rhythm or regular, predictable release schedule for free software is, I think, gaining prominence," Shuttleworth said, and it helps to stimulate the free software development process.

Society needs a "pipeline of innovation," according to Shuttleworth. A free software platform must be made accessible and architected for innovation, he said. For instance, Firefox has been effectively made a platform for innovation through extensions and plug-ins, he said.

Linux must link up with Windows, added Shuttleworth. He stressed his belief that "Linux is the platform of the future. But I think it's essential that we learn how to work with Windows."

Extensible software must work across both operating systems, he said.

Shuttleworth also asked how free software changes the perception of software methodologies. He suggested extending agile programming. "If I look at the innovation story, the methodology story, the common thread on both of those to me is collaboration and participation," he said.

This story, "Ubuntu founder urges Linux desktop to rival Apple" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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