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Tuesday, 27 October 2009 08:29

Ubuntu 9.10: confidence riding high at Canonical

There is a growing confidence evident in the Canonical camp as the countdown begins to October 29, the date for the official release of Ubuntu 9.10.

And there are reasons aplenty for this assertiveness - the company is set to unleash the best of all its releases to date. Karmic Koala will, much like its name, go a fair way to deciding the karma of the project.

The latest sign to indicate that the company thinks Ubuntu is now ready for prime time is the announcement that the programme to ship free CDs, ShipIt, will be scaled back.

Until the October 21 announcement by Canonical's chief operating officer Jane Silber, anyone who could not download an Ubuntu image could write or email the company ad request a free CD in the mail.

It was a useful way of spreading the word and increasing the use of the distribution. But it costs a penny and now, it appears, there is no longer any need to continue the scheme.

As with every marketing tactic, once it has either achieved its aim or outgrown its usefulness, ShipIt will be gradually thrown overboard.

Canonical does not choose names for its releases lightly. They may appear to be weird and attempts at alliteration, but such is not the case. The names convey the state of development of the project.

As the owner of the company, Mark Shuttleworth, explained to me last year, Warty Warthog, the first release, was going to have warts;  Dapper Drake - the first LTS release, was putting its best foot forward; Edgy Eft was playing rapid catch-up after Dapper, with its short cycle and new features, and Hardy Heron, the second LTS, was built to last.

After that came Intrepid Ibex, Jaunty Jackalope and now Karmic Koala. Those adjectives tell us what the particular release was, or is, trying to achieve. In April next year will come Lucid Lynx, the next long-term support release.

Recent moves by Shuttleworth to market Ubuntu through IBM are again an indication of his cleverness at trying to embed Ubuntu in the desktop space. His competitors under-estimate him at their peril.

He must be more than encouraged by Microsoft's growing, often clumsy, attempts to gain traction in the open source space. The latest indication of Microsoft's realisation that lock-in may just do more harm than good to itself is the announcement that it will be releasing documentation on Outlook Personal Folders.

This must be music to Shuttleworth's ears. Five years ago, one could not imagine an 800-pound gorilla practising  anything but total lock-in.


Right from 2004, Shuttleworth has shown the patience of the proverbial ox - and then some. He has even tolerated attempts to paint him as sexist by people in the open source community, people who appear to be jockeying for position.

And he is still plugging away to try and get releases coordinated with projects like Debian so that problems in the Ubuntu releases can be ironed out.

He is a shrewd businessman and, in many respects, exactly what Linux needs if it is to make bigger inroads as a desktop operating system.

As a company evolves, it needs different kinds of people in place to ensure growth. As tech journalist Robert X. Cringely once put it, there are commando types, infantry types and police types, and they are needed in that order.

The commandos make the first bold moves, the infantry secures those changes in place and the police then fuel growth by adding people and building economies and empires of scale.

Canonical is clearly in the third stage now. One characteristic of Shuttleworth is that he is a quiet operator; no-one can accuse the man of being flashy.

But then one cannot discount a man who was able to bank $US600 million before he kicked off this project, solely through his business and technical acumen.

People can talk about business models till they are blue in the face but every argument dies in the face of someone who has done it all and then come back for seconds.

The fact that Ubuntu lives at a .com domain and Canonical is registered in a known tax haven, the Isle of Man, are clear indications that Shuttleworth does not intend to keep having red ink on his hands. Those books will be balanced some time in the near future.

Five years after he did what many considered lunacy at the time - start a GNU/Linux distribution in 2004 - Shuttleworth and Ubuntu are set for takeoff. Perhaps the only mistake he made was in hiring the former GNOME media spokesman, Jeff Waugh, a self-publicity seeker. He must have been relieved when the man left.

But he has weathered several such small missteps to arrive at the point he is right now. Unless he does something really foolish, it is difficult to see Ubuntu going anywhere but up from here.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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