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Mark Shuttleworth in space

Mark Shuttleworth wants you in space, with Ubuntu

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu and Canonical, has grand vision for his free and open source operating system. Though Ubuntu has not experienced the same kind of success that Facebook, which was created in the same time-frame and by a guy who shares the same first name, it has definitely made an impact on desktop Linux. To be honest it’s not about Linux at all; it’s all about business. There was no company with huge pile of money to invest in desktop (by desktop here I mean home users) Linux and actually present it to customers. The so-called failure of Linux on the desktop was all about the lack of a player to survive in Microsoft owned world where every competitor was nipped in the bud. Look at Google, they have made Linux the leading mobile OS and is now fast taking over the desktop landscape with ChromeOS.

While Google is invading Microsoft’s home-turf – desktop, Canonical seems to be heading in a totally different direction – putting desktop on the back-burner and shifting focus to mobile. One may think of it as as another massively missed opportunity by Canonical as Windows XP is reaching end of life and Canonical could have nabbed the opportunity had they planned it the way Google planned ChromeOS. Ubuntu could have become the obvious ‘upgrade’ path for Xp users.

So while desktop is on back-burner how is Mark driving the mobile development? With two manufacturers revealing devices recently, the drive towards mobile is of primary focus for Ubuntu. Mark is pursuing convergence at a time when the iron is hot for the Linux desktop. One then has to ask if this large shift in focus is leaving the Ubuntu desktop in the dust. Will this vision of convergence work for users who want the focus of the desktop experience separate? It had already been proven precision driven applications do not work well on a touch based OS. A user could care less about a convergent interface. What they want, is an optimized experience for whichever platform they are currently using, something ChromeOS has capitalized on. Many applications for the desktop will not work on a mobile device, much less a touch interface.

The topic of convergence is no small matter either. The concept of having one singular and cohesive OS that covers multiple devices, in a range of hardware and specifications is a bit far-fetched to me personally. Disagree with me if you must, but the similarity here from what Microsoft has done is striking. We all know how that panned out. While having a codebase between the desktop and touch interface that shares 95% of the codebase, soon to close on 100%, the majority of differences will lie in applications, not the core of the system. I do have a fear that the Ubuntu team will make this same mistake as Microsoft, but I will hold my tongue until the touch-based avenue of Ubuntu matures more. With 2 Ubuntu phones to ship later this year, expectations will be high, and the stakes even higher. With competition closing in from Sailfish OS and Firefox OS, the narrow gap for wide success is very small.

One can hope that bloatware is kept to a minimum, with Mark noting in an interview to The Next Web, “…what we’ve done is taken the bloatware and reduce it to what are the key retail or content experiences that the manufacturer wants you to start with.” Shuttleworth notes that users will be able to remove search Scopes, the integrated search platform for Ubuntu, but it is unknown what Scopes will be on by default, and if those can be removed. It is no secret the perceived privacy of Scopes is a concern shared by many users. Mark notes that the first batch of devices won’t impress or move everyone, noting: “For some people this [smartphone] will make them happy, for others, it will make them a little bit sad – and that’s not because it’s a bad product.” We will have to see how true these words ring this year, as the collective opinions of journalists and technologists worldwide asses Ubuntu’s initiatives laid out here.

While some big names have joined Ubuntu’s Carrier Advisory Group, none have been named or revealed yet to have plans for making a Ubuntu based phone. Mark hopes that the lack of commitment will turn around once this year’s phones debut, changing those device manufacturers’ minds for the better. For some, the lack of commitment at this stage is a bit concerning. Mark is doing his best to dispel those concerns, noting: “So, what we’ve done is taken the bloatware and reduce it to what are the key retail or content experiences that the manufacturer wants you to start with.” While this is quite a hopeful statement, I must air on the side of caution until this year’s devices are put through the test. With tablets, TV’s, and smartwatches planned to get the convergence treatment in the future, Shuttleworth is attacking all fronts. Such a monumental task is a huge undertaking, and so broad that I have to wonder if they can truly deliver.

Shuttleworth, concerning native application availability, says “We’ll have an app catalogue that’ll be as good as the one Microsoft launched with and it won’t have cost us $100m because we’re really trying to work to be great for developers.” With how small that base was, and still is in contrast to the mammoth iOS and Android application base, I have to be concerned a bit that cut won’t include some of the most popular applications gobbled up by today’s users. Relying on “developer love,” Mark forecasts application development as a non-issue. The controversial CLA arguments that pan the web cannot be ignored though, but I’m sure there are many developers that are excited to start a new avenue of mobile development.

With wearable technology rapidly passing by the Ubuntu team, Mark still believes Ubuntu will be able to carve out their own respective place in this sector, telling us “In the absence of a profound form factor disruption, the world will be iOS and Android. We could take share, we could do a classy job and have passionate followers and have ten percent of the market.” Those are hungry words, and as always, must be taken lightly. If Ubuntu is to take such a chunk of the market, they will need more than the charismatic words of Shuttleworth.

If the grand vision of Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu anywhere, anytime, any device is to be a reality, many things will need to take shape, a journey that is a sure to be quite a marathon in and of itself. But, as always, the upbeat Shuttleworth is not deterred, and pushes on with what he believes is the future of computing.

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Source: The Next Web

Michael T. DeGuzis

Whether it be contributing an article online, engaging with the community, or diving head first into unknown waters, Linux is the focal point of my computing hobbies