|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Seen this?
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Date: Wed, 14 Jan 2009 22:53:11 -0500
Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Seen this?
"A Software Populist Who =?utf-8?q?Doesn=E2=80=99t_Do?= Windows." From
Sunday's (1/11/09) NYT. About Ubuntu Linux.
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By the way, I just read the paragraph below. I never saw this before. Can I
get arrested? Please don't call a cop!!!
The New York Times
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Printer Friendly Format Sponsored By
January 11, 2009
A Software Populist Who Doesnâ€™t Do Windows
By ASHLEE VANCE
THEYâ€™RE either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing
Windows. Take your pick.
In December, hundreds of these controversial software developers gathered for
one week at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. They came from
all over the world, sporting many of the usual signs of software mercenaries:
jeans, ponytails, unruly facial hair and bloodshot eyes.
But rather than preparing to code for the highest bidder, the developers were
coordinating their largely volunteer effort to try to undermine Microsoftâ€™s
Windows operating system for PCs, which generated close to $17 billion in
sales last year.
All the fuss at the meeting centered on something called Ubuntu and a man
named Mark Shuttleworth, the charismatic 35-year-old billionaire from South
Africa who functions as the spiritual and financial leader of this coding
Created just over four years ago, Ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too) has emerged
as the fastest-growing and most celebrated version of the Linux operating
system, which competes with Windows primarily through its low, low price: $0.
More than 10 million people are estimated to run Ubuntu today, and they
represent a threat to Microsoftâ€™s hegemony in developed countries and perhaps
even more so in those regions catching up to the technology revolution.
â€œIf weâ€™re successful, we would fundamentally change the operating system
market,â€ Mr. Shuttleworth said during a break at the gathering, the Ubuntu
Developer Summit. â€œMicrosoft would need to adapt, and I donâ€™t think that
would be unhealthy.â€
Linux is free, but there is still money to be made for businesses flanking the
operating system. Companies like I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard and Dell place Linux
on more than 10 percent of the computers they sell as servers, and businesses
pay the hardware makers and others, like the software sellers Red Hat and
Oracle, to fix any problems and keep their Linux-based systems up to date.
But Canonical, Mr. Shuttleworthâ€™s company that makes Ubuntu, has decided to
focus its near-term aspirations on the PCs used by workers and people at
The notion of a strong Linux-based competitor to Windows and, to a lesser
extent, Appleâ€™s Mac OS X has been an enduring dream of advocates of
open-source software. They champion the idea that software that can be freely
altered by the masses can prove cheaper and better than proprietary code
produced by stodgy corporations. Try as they might, however, Linux zealots
have failed in their quest to make Linux mainstream on desktop and notebook
computers. The often quirky software remains in the realm of geeks, not
With Ubuntu, the devotees believe, things might finally be different.
â€œI think Ubuntu has captured peopleâ€™s imaginations around the Linux desktop,â€
said Chris DiBona, the program manager for open-source software at Google.
â€œIf there is a hope for the Linux desktop, it would be them.â€
Close to half of Googleâ€™s 20,000 employees use a slightly modified version of
Ubuntu, playfully called Goobuntu.
PEOPLE encountering Ubuntu for the first time will find it very similar to
Windows. The operating system has a slick graphical interface, familiar menus
and all the common desktop software: a Web browser, an e-mail program,
instant-messaging software and a free suite of programs for creating
documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
While relatively easy to use for the technologically savvy, Ubuntu â€” and all
other versions of Linux â€” can challenge the average user. Linux cannot run
many applications created for Windows, including some of the most popular
games and tax software, for example. And updates to Linux can send ripples of
problems through the system, causing something as basic as a computerâ€™s
display or sound system to malfunction.
Canonical has tried to smooth out many of the issues that have prevented Linux
from reaching the mainstream. This attention to detail with a desktop version
of Linux contrasts with the focus of the largest sellers of the operating
system, Red Hat and Novell. While these companies make desktop versions, they
have spent most of their time chasing the big money in data centers. As a
result, Ubuntu emerged as a sort of favored nation for those idealistic
software developers who viewed themselves as part of a countercultural
â€œIt is the same thing companies like Apple and Google have done well, which is
build not just a community but a passionate community,â€ said Ian Murdock, who
created an earlier version of Linux called Debian, on which Ubuntu is based.
Mainstream technology companies have taken notice of the enthusiasm around
Ubuntu. Dell started to sell PCs and desktops with the software in 2007, and
I.B.M. more recently began making Ubuntu the basis of a software package that
competes against Windows.
Canonical, based in London, has more than 200 full-time employees, but its
total work force stretches well beyond that, through an army of volunteers.
The company paid for close to 60 volunteers to attend its developer event,
considering them important contributors to the operating system. An
additional 1,000 work on the Debian project and make their software available
to Canonical, while 5,000 spread information about Ubuntu on the Internet.
And 38,000 have signed up to translate the software into different languages.
When a new version of the operating system becomes available, Ubuntu devotees
pile onto the Internet, often crippling Web sites that distribute the
software. And hundreds of other organizations, mostly universities, also help
in the distribution.
The technology research firm IDC estimates that 11 percent of American
businesses have systems based on Ubuntu. That said, many of the largest
Ubuntu customers have cropped up in Europe, where Microsoftâ€™s dominance has
endured intense regulatory and political scrutiny.
The Macedonian education department relies on Ubuntu, providing 180,000 copies
of the operating system to children, while the Spanish school system has
195,000 Ubuntu desktops. In France, the National Assembly and the Gendarmerie
Nationale, the military police force, rely on Ubuntu for a combined 80,000
PCs. â€œThe word â€˜freeâ€™ was very important,â€ said Rudy Salles, vice president
of the assembly, noting that it allowed the legislature to abandon Microsoft.
Without question, Ubuntuâ€™s rapid rise has been aided by the fervor surrounding
Linux. But itâ€™s Mr. Shuttleworth and his flashy lifestyle that generate much
of the attention Ubuntu receives. While he favors casual attire matching the
developersâ€™, some of his activities, including a trip to space, are hardly
â€œLook, I have a very privileged life, right?â€ Mr. Shuttleworth said. â€œI am a
billionaire, bachelor, ex-cosmonaut. Life couldnâ€™t easily be that much
better. Being a Linux geek sort of brings balance to the force.â€
The first installment of Mr. Shuttleworthâ€™s fortune arrived after he graduated
from the University of Cape Town in 1995 with a business degree.
He had been paying bills by operating a small technology consulting company,
setting up Linux servers for companies to run their Web sites and other basic
operations. His business leanings and technology background inspired him to
try to capitalize on the rising interest in the Internet.
â€œIâ€™m more of an academic than a cut-and-thrust wheeler-dealer,â€ he said. â€œI
was very interested in how the Internet was changing commerce and was
determined to pursue it.â€
Mr. Shuttleworth decided to start a company called Thawte Consulting
(pronounced like â€œthoughtâ€) in 1995 that provided digital certificates, a
security mechanism that browsers use to verify the identity of companies. As
a 23-year-old, he visited Netscape to promote a broad standard for these
certificates. Netscape, then the leading browser maker, bought into it, and
Microsoft, which makes the Internet Explorer browser, followed.
As dot-com mania surged, companies became interested in this profitable
outfit, based in South Africa. In 1999, VeriSign, which manages a number of
Internet infrastructure services, bought Thawte for $575 million. (Mr.
Shuttleworth had turned down an offer of $100 million a few months earlier.)
Having owned all of Thawte, Mr. Shuttleworth, the son of a surgeon and a
kindergarten teacher, became very wealthy at just 26.
So whatâ€™s a newly minted millionaire to do? Mr. Shuttleworth looked to the
stars. Paying an estimated $20 million to Russian officials, he secured a
10-day trip to space and the International Space Station on the Soyuz TM-34
in 2002 and became the first â€œAfronaut,â€ as the press described him.
â€œAfter selling the company, it wasnâ€™t a blowout yachts and blondes situation,â€
he said. â€œIt was very clear that I was in a unique situation where I should
choose to do things that were not possible otherwise.â€
In the following years, Mr. Shuttleworth set up venture capital and charitable
organizations. Through investments in the United States, Africa and Europe,
he says, he has amassed a fortune of more than $1 billion.
He spends 90 percent of his time, however, working on Canonical, which he
considers another project that challenges whatâ€™s possible.
â€œI have done well with investing, but it has never felt very fulfilling,â€ he
said. â€œI fear getting to the end of my life and feeling you havenâ€™t actually
built something. And to do something people thought was impossible is
CANONICALâ€™S model makes turning a profit difficult.
Many open-source companies give away a free version of their software that has
some limitations, while selling a full-fledged version along with
complementary services for keeping the software up to date. Canonical gives
away everything, including its top product, then hopes that companies will
still turn to it for services like managing large groups of servers and
desktops instead of handling everything themselves with in-house experts.
Canonical also receives revenue from companies like Dell that ship computers
with Ubuntu and work with it on software engineering projects like adding
Linux-based features to laptops. All told, Canonicalâ€™s annual revenue is
creeping toward $30 million, Mr. Shuttleworth said.
That figure wonâ€™t worry Microsoft.
But Mr. Shuttleworth contends that $30 million a year is self-sustaining
revenue, just what he needs to finance regular Ubuntu updates. And a free
operating system that pays for itself, he says, could change how people view
and use the software they touch everyday.
â€œAre we creating world peace or fundamentally changing the world? No,â€ he
said. â€œBut we could shift what people expect and the amount of innovation per
dollar they expect.â€
Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop
operating system, for five years. The result of this multibillion-dollar
investment has been a product late to market and widely panned.
Canonical, meanwhile, releases a fresh version of Ubuntu every six months,
adding features that capitalize on the latest advances from developers and
component makers like Intel. The companyâ€™s model centers on outpacing
Microsoft on both price and features aimed at new markets.
â€œIt feels pretty clear to me that the open process produces better stuff,â€ Mr.
Shuttleworth said. Such talk from a man willing to finance software for the
masses â€” and by the masses â€” inspires those who see open source as more of a
cause than a business model.
In his spare time, Agostino Russo, for example, who works for a hedge fund at
Moore Europe Capital Management in London, created a program called Wubi that
allows Ubuntu to be installed on computers running Windows.
â€œI always thought that open source is a very important socioeconomic
movement,â€ Mr. Russo said.
Ultimately, however, parts of Mr. Shuttleworthâ€™s venture continue to look
quixotic. Linux remains rough around the edges, and Canonicalâ€™s business
model seems more like charity than the next great business story. And even if
the open Ubuntu proves a raging success, the operating system will largely be
used to reach proprietary online services from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and
â€œMark is very genuine and fundamentally believes in open source,â€ said Matt
Asay, a commentator on open-source technology and an executive at the
software maker Alfresco. â€œBut I think heâ€™s going to have a crisis of faith at
Mr. Asay wonders if Canonical can sustain its â€œgive everything awayâ€ model and
â€œalways openâ€ ideology.
Canonical shows no signs of slowing down or changing course anytime soon.
â€œWe already have a sense of where we need to compete with Windows,â€ Mr.
Shuttleworth said. â€œNow the question is if we can create something that is
stylish and stunning.â€
In his personal life, he continues to test what is possible, requesting that a
fiber-optic connection be installed to his house on the border of Londonâ€™s
affluent Chelsea and South Kensington neighborhoods.
â€œI want to find out what itâ€™s like to have a gigabit connection to the home,â€
he said. â€œIt is not because I need to watch porn in high-definition but
because I want to see what you do differently.â€
He says Canonical is not just a do-gooder project by someone with the time,
money and inclination to tackle Microsoft head-on. His vision is to make
Ubuntu the standard for the next couple of billion people who acquire PCs.