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Linux desktop domination "just a matter of time"
Nov. 17, 2006

South Africa native and current London resident Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical Ltd. and the Ubuntu Linux distribution, told Friday in an interview that widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop -- so long-awaited by many people -- "is just a matter of time, IMO."

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Shuttleworth has been in the news a great deal lately, due to the skyrocketing popularity of the Ubuntu distro and because of major partnership deals he has made with Sun Microsystems, MySQL, Intel, Google, and others to use Ubuntu Server Edition in enterprise systems.

Some background: Shuttleworth studied finance and information technology at the University of Cape Town and went on to found Thawte, a company specializing in digital certificates and Internet privacy. He sold Thawte to VeriSign in 1999 and founded HBD Venture Capital and The Shuttleworth Foundation. He moved to London in 2001, and began preparing for the First African in Space mission, training in Star City and Khazakstan. In April 2002, Shuttleworth flew in space as a cosmonaut member of the crew of Soyuz mission TM34 to the International Space Station. In early 2004, he founded the Ubuntu project based on Debian Linux, which aims to produce a free, high-quality desktop OS for everybody.

Following its general release in October 2004, Ubuntu and its sister distros Kubuntu, Edubuntu, and Xubuntu have become some of the most-downloaded Linux distributions in the world. In fact, other distros -- MEPIS and Linux Mint, for example -- are now available that are built with Ubuntu as base code.

Shuttleworth and's Chris Preimesberger talked recently at the Ubuntu developers conference on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., where team members were busily building the next edition of Ubuntu. They corresponded for some additional questions via email shortly thereafter.

Here is a brief Q&A; between Preimesberger and Suttleworth:
Q1: When is the next edition of Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Edubuntu due out?

A2: April 2007, the "Feisty Fawn" release.

Q2: Do you think the public in general will eventually realize what the advantages are to using Linux desktops? Why or why not?

A2: This depends on whether or not we can attain critical mass. That's still an open question, but I do believe that Linux will establish a foothold, and once that's in place it will continue to grow in adoption unless Microsoft themselves embrace an open approach.

Q3: We are creatures of habit -- once we get used to a certain thing, it's hard for us to be swayed to something new to replace it, unless the new thing is WAY better. Does Linux have to be WAY better for people to switch?

A3: Yes, it does, but it can be "way better" in any number of senses -- including economically, or because of alternative deployment approaches like thin client, or because of killer apps on the desktop. Just being "a polished Windows-like OS" won't cut it.

Q4: Are younger users the right target market for Linux desktop companies -- perhaps because they are more open-minded about such things?

A4: That's what's happening in practice, and it's the reason we see Microsoft waging a heavy war in education departments around the world, to try to keep those departments on Windows.

Q5: Quality usually works its way to the top. But if something like Windows is "good enough," how does Linux compete?

A5: Linux needs to reach parity on the desktop functionality that people take for granted. Then I think we will see an explosion of innovation on the free desktop. Time will tell.

Q6: What kind of future, in general, do you see for Linux desktops? Will they finally be able to break into the mainstream -- whatever that is?

A6: Yes -- I think Linux will be the dominant platform. It already defines the landscape in the server space (from supercomputers to YouTube). The desktop is just a matter of time, IMO.

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