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Mark Shuttleworth and the Grand Linux Vision

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Mark Shuttleworth and Matt Zimmerman of Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu Linux, hosted a telephone press conference this morning. The official occasion is the upcoming release of Ubuntu 8.10, Intrepid Ibex. Mark and Matt gave a lot of good release information, but the main impression I came away with was the breadth and depth of Canonical's vision for Linux. Mr. Shuttleworth seems to see Linux as a launch pad for all kinds of useful tools and activities. Not a prefab path to riches (all that free code!), nor the biggest free candy store on the planet (free as in freeloader, mine all mine!), nor even a way to lock in the suckers and then make them pay and pay and pay, but a platform for building cool productive tools for everyone.

Let's get one thing out of the way right now-- Mr. Shuttleworth does not believe that anyone will ever make money selling desktop Linux, and that the era of selling software is winding down. He's not the first person to say this, I just mention it because desktop Linux is such a hot topic, and there is so much demand for OEM and Tier 1 Linux desktops. He sees desktop Linux not as a standalone product, but as a content gateway. This assumes Internet connectivity, of course.

Which he addresses with the "pervasive connectivity" theme. This means wireless connectivity for computers that is like using a wireless phone-- you can roam thither and yon and stay connected. Which is a good-news bad-news scenario, because it makes it harder to get away from work, and the nattering chattering hordes with no self-restraint or manners never seem to decrease. But that's not the fault of the technology. Canonical has been working with 3G providers in a number of countries to test and develop 3G support for Linux. Netbooks and phones are having big growth, and seem to trying to morph into each other.

Among other cool and interesting-sounding features, Ibex's Gnome will include an easy, secure guest account. This promises to let you share your computer on an ad-hoc basis with friends without compromising your own stuff. It sounded like an SELinux hack plus a click-pointy administration tool.

Network Manager, which always annoys me to the point that I rip it out and replace it with Wicd, has many good improvement such as 3G support and better management of multiple interfaces.

Demand for USB images is huge, even more than LiveCDs. Users are moving to LiveUSB distribution, both for hard drive installs and running from a USB stick, which is a lot faster than a CD.

He talked about something that goes against the conventional wisdom for running Linux servers: that Ubuntu server admins want new releases rather than old (and presumably stable and well-tested) software, because they want the functionality in new software. Especially power saving, as the cost per watt is a big factor these days.

Virtualization and cloud guff are big deals to certain users, though they make me fall asleep. Lalala. But. The interesting bits that Ubuntu Ibex brings to the table are easy setup and administration; they claim in five minutes you can have a fully-assembled and read-to-rock virtual machine. They're approaching virtualization from a number of fronts: KVM, Xen, and

VMWare. No mention of Microsoft's Hyper-V, which is fine with me, because a day without hearing about Microsoft is like a day without burning dog doo on the porch.

For those who are into cloud thingies, Canonical has developed a proprietary Web-based administration interface called Landscape. Which highlights one of the trends mentioned during the press conference: give away server software, sell support services and management tools. Canonical does not charge for Landscape itself, but includes it for their support customers.

The busy folks at Canonical are building relationships will all kinds of partners, such as Sun for Java, Amazon's C2 cloud thingy, and the BBC for a media player that supports BBC streams and doesn't suck. More on this later.

Canonical currently has 200 employees, and they expect to start turning a profit within 3-5 years, for those who are curious about such things. How does a person make money from Free software? The old-fashioned way, apparently, by delivering attractive goods and services, and charging fair prices. Oh I know it's not as fun as bullying and lock-in, but it works better.

So even though I'm sometimes guilty of whining "OMG, can't we hear about something besides freaking Ubuntu just freaking ONCE??" I am mightily impressed by their reach and breadth.


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