Ubuntu CEO Sees Shift In Service Models

Mark Shuttleworth says he's pleased with "Jaunty Jackalope" but is really excited about how his operating system has become a catalyst for IT services and other market changes.

Michael Singer, Contributor

April 22, 2009

4 Min Read

Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth is winding up his press junket this week to promote Ubuntu operating system version 9.04, or "Jaunty Jackalope," but he says the real work now begins: making sure companies continue to build services around Ubuntu's OS.

"I'm not slowing down just yet," Shuttleworth told InformationWeek. "We're seeing a real groundswell with Linux on the desktop, which makes it a pleasure when I talk to other executives about their strategies."

Shuttleworth may not need to do much in the way of convincing corporate America (or the rest of the world) that Ubuntu Linux is a stable operating system capable of displacing Microsoft Windows. Announced Monday and available for download on Thursday, April 23, the desktop and server operating system brings with it improvements to network connectivity and user interface, and a quick and easy way to tap into cloud computing services.

What Ubuntu has been able to excel at is conquering the desktop. Where Red Hat and SUSE focused on changing IT managers' views on server implementations and services, Ubuntu is starting to redefine what it means to interface with those services. Specifically, subcompact laptops, or netbooks. Ubuntu didn't push the market to netbooks, but now it finds itself with partnerships with Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel to power these devices.

"We ask ourselves if we can improve the experience so that it becomes more like a phone ... effectively a 24-hour device," Shuttleworth said. "We're seeing very-low-power devices on the horizon. I mean, is it possible for us to get to a point where the PC gets disposable and be fully productive?"

The suggestion here is that with price points reaching commodity levels, losing your laptop would not be the same big deal that it is today. The finance sector has already become an early adopter of this philosophy, Shuttleworth said. Canonical is helping foster that by keeping updates on a regular schedule and tapping into software-as-a-service models.

"The shift to services is essential," he said. "We are moving to a world where software is a tool to get to services."

Mark Shuttleworth

A Canonical-Ubuntu partner that understands this is Dell, Shuttleworth admits. Behind its commodity PC business, Shuttleworth said he sees a company with a client-side iTunes-like capability and a series of purchases of service-oriented software providers. After all, it was Michael Dell who was one of the first CEOs of a hardware company to admit his home computer ran Ubuntu.

"On the client side and server side, they have a very careful and strategic strategy that goes on the assumption that every device is online and every person is online all the time," Shuttleworth said.

But not all of Canonical's relationships are lovey-dovey. One of Shuttleworth's biggest challenges has been overcoming Microsoft Windows as the de facto standard for drivers, while Linux has been an optional extra. The cycle is complete, Shuttleworth joked, when Microsoft gives Windows away for free.

"What we're also seeing is curious tension between people who are developing Ubuntu and ISVs who want to deploy across [older] versions of the operating system. You can see the same problem with software makers like Adobe and many others," Shuttleworth said.

One bright spot has been Google, which seems a little counterintuitive considering the search engine's Android operating system is also being tested as a stable operating system for netbooks and handheld devices.

"Google is fantastic," Shuttleworth said. "It's still early in its reference design but because it is Linux-based, Google's work there is very congruent with our own. It really challenges people to think, 'What does it mean to have Linux supporting a device?' "

Amazon.com is another healthy relationship for Canonical and the Ubuntu OS. Jaunty Jackalope is the first commercially supported distribution that will let companies build cloud environments on an intranet or connect with an external cloud provider like Amazon. The server release is automatically compatible with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

And while Ubuntu is new to the cloud computing game, Shuttleworth said he's confident that Canonical will help define it.

"This feels like HTTP did back in the late 1990s," he said. "You had these massive silos of networks that could now be easily connected through a protocol. The main thrust of cloud computing was the server consolidation of the story, but the virtualization is still a higgledy-piggledy type of thing in which each vendor has their own way of delivering virtualization. What you get now is this massive scalability and those are the real benefits of the server side of the cloud."

And as those services start to mature, Shuttleworth hopes Ubuntu will be the common service architecture for desktops and beyond.

InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of Ubuntu. Download the report here (registration required).

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