Ubuntu Chief Mark Shuttleworth Responds To FOSS Leaders in Asia
Ubuntu has bling. It has caught the attention of many FOSS developers and users both in India and Asia. And its popularity is growing at breakneck speed. Is it technology, is it community or is it just Mark Shuttleworth’s charisma that brings Ubuntu its name and fame. In this interview, our goal was to capture what, regarding Ubuntu, is on the minds of the FOSS leaders in India and South-East Asia. So I went and asked these leaders from the community and industry what they would like to ask Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu. Here are the Ubuntu chief’s responses to a selection of the best of our questions.
Q: Given that Red Hat is a pure play FOSS company, and Ubuntu is striving to be the same, would it not make sense for the Fedora and Ubuntu projects to have more cooperation and collaboration?
Mark: Yes indeed! And there have been a couple of success stories in that line – where developers from both communities have figured out how to make things work in a standardised fashion that suits both projects. However, I think we could go further. We realised early on in our project history that our tools needed to support that kind of collaboration, so we adopted Launchpad.net. It allows us to interact with other communities on bugs, for example, so we can have one conversation with upstream, Ubuntu, Debian and Red Hat if needed, rather than multiple conversations. It also handles our online translation of Ubuntu and many upstream projects too.
Q: How do you compare India with China, Brazil and the other developing countries you have visited. What is unique about each of these BRIC countries? Where do you see their contributions fitting into the global open source community?
Mark: They are all quite different of course! However, I get the same feeling when visiting them – smart, young people who have a good sense of what’s going on globally and want to play at the cutting edge. This is a great time to be growing up in those countries, because you really can “get ahead” if you work hard and stay focused on the things you are passionate about. We have global media, but local opportunities, and people from BRIC countries are best positioned to capitalise on their own local opportunities.
Q: Ubuntu is a great product, especially on the desktop, where it has many fans. But Canonical has yet to show signs of making money. Do you see Ubuntu remaining an enthusiasts’ product forever?
Mark: Ubuntu could certainly stay a purely philanthropic venture. It’s very important to me personally that there be a high quality free software platform that’s usable and free for the world. But I also like a challenge, and I see it as a very interesting challenge to find commercial opportunities around Ubuntu.
Of course we will not compromise the values of the project:
a. Ubuntu will always remain free software
b. Ubuntu will always be available free of charge, with security updates free too
I think the key is that so many more people are interested in Linux today, that the market for services like support is much bigger today that is was previously.
Q: Is there any special interest within the Ubuntu engineering team about virtualization? It would be great to see an initiative which makes setting up virtual servers or on-demand storage/compute services like Amazon EC2 and S3 easier in Ubuntu.
Mark: Yes, the kernel team has done a lot of work to make Xen, KVM and VMWare perform really well in Ubuntu 7.04 (feisty), and that work will only improve over the next releases as we prepare for a Long Term Support (LTS) release, probably in April 2008.
Q: You have said in your blog that “Microsoft is not the real threat” because they will come to see the benefit of fighting along side the Linux community against a broken patent system. How are you helping to change today’s unfair patent system to make it safer for Linux developers to continue innovating and to create new business opportunities?
Mark: I’m supporting the people who lobby in the European Parliament to keep software patents out of Europe. Its very important, I think, to have a large Western region take a stance against patents, because it sends a message to the BRIC countries that there is no consensus on patents and they should not necessarily unthinkingly pursue the US agenda.
Q: What do you think could be the tipping point that would enable FOSS to take over the healthcare, education and retail markets? Maybe we could see a MedUbuntu or SMBUbuntu along side Edubuntu?
Mark: First I think we need widespread adoption of FOSS in universities, so that future generations of CIO’s are comfortable with both free and proprietary offerings, and make smart decisions about the right tools for any particular job.
Second, I think we want local business to start to invest in FOSS-based solutions for those markets. We can’t create those centrally at Ubuntu, all we can do is point to them when they are created in a particular market.
Q: Do you see Ubuntu being a consumer and mass market distribution? If so, why not nip Microsoft in the bud and announce a low cost, fully functional, supported distribution for India that can pair up with the various low cost PC efforts underway?
Mark: Yes, I do see Ubuntu as a consumer and mass-market distribution, and we are in fact working with Intel on the ClassmatePC as well as with other low-cost PC providers.
Q: When will the Dell-Ubuntu offerings be available to Indian customers? At that time, will Canonical provide support locally in country?
Mark: Dell will make that decision – so call them and ask for it! In the USA they offered Ubuntu because their customers voted heavily for it. So if you can find a way to collectively petition Dell, and do so convincingly (i.e. they need to believe you will actually buy machines!) then you will have Ubuntu pre-installed on Dell in India.
If that happens, Canonical will probably partner with a local company to provide local-language support, with escalation in English to our global support operation.
Q: I am an entrepreneur who needs technical support for my organization and my customers. But I cannot bolster customer confidence in Ubuntu without an India-based sales and support team that I can call. Do you have any plans for a local presence by Canonical in India to provide that support?
Mark: We should talk – because there are plenty of companies in India doing good work with Ubuntu, and one of them may be in a position to provide the support you need.
Q: You have emphasized the potential of developing markets and mindshare in India and China as well as Brazil. What are your plans to invest in growing the FOSS community in India?
Mark: I’ve always found that community is a spontaneous thing – not something that can be created artificially. Ubuntu is a project that has certain values and aspirations, and if those resonate in India as they have resonated in Brazil, the US, Europe and China, then I have no doubt a strong community will form around it.
Q: India is fertile ground for recruiting Ubunteros. Do you have any India-specific initiatives like scholarships to help engineering colleges across India to grow developer mindshare?
Mark: None! We do of course support folks who are actively contributing in Ubuntu to attend our developer summits, no matter where they come from.
Q: Ubuntu is holding its first conference in the US this July as a meeting place for its users, contributors and partners. When are you going to hold an Ubuntu Live in India?
Mark: Only when there is sufficient demand from business users.
I would like to thank Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. I also thank the following FOSS leaders for their thoughtful questions – Harish Pillay, Niyam Bhushan, Sandeep Menon, Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, Sudhanwa Jogalekar, Vamsee Kanakala, Venkatesh Hariharan