Mark Shuttleworth & the Software Mercenaries of Ubuntu

The Ubuntu founder gets the NYTimes treatment.

This week’s Sunday New York Times featured an article on Canonical CEO and founder of Ubuntu, Mark Shuttleworth titled, “A Software Populist Who Doesn’t Do Windows.” It starts off… well — let’s be frank — a little rough.

They’re either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing Windows. Take your pick.

In December, hundreds of these controversial software developers gathered for one week at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. They came from all over the world, sporting many of the usual signs of software mercenaries: jeans, ponytails, unruly facial hair and bloodshot eyes.

I get the feeling the mainstream press has been reusing some version of a single intro for all Linux articles since 1999. Who are these strange people? What is this… Linux? How can it be free? These people must be CRAZY!

The second paragraph isn’t without its entertainment value, however. The description of, ahem, software mercenaries calls to mind the painting by John Singleton Copley entitled “Watson And The Shark.” Looking at the painting today it is fairly clear Copely had never seen a shark in life and was going off second-hand accounts. One wonders just how much unruly facial hair the author witnessed firsthand in the drafting of this article.

There’s not much new here as it’s largely a retread of Shuttleworth’s bio, however, on page three something interesting pops up when comparing Canonical to Microsoft

All told, Canonical’s annual revenue is creeping toward $30 million, Mr. Shuttleworth said.

That figure won’t worry Microsoft.

But Mr. Shuttleworth contends that $30 million a year is self-sustaining revenue, just what he needs to finance regular Ubuntu updates. And a free operating system that pays for itself, he says, could change how people view and use the software they touch everyday.

“Are we creating world peace or fundamentally changing the world? No,” he said. “But we could shift what people expect and the amount of innovation per dollar they expect.”

Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop operating system, for five years. The result of this multibillion-dollar investment has been a product late to market and widely panned.

10,000 developers? That is a staggering number of human beings to throw at a piece of software. You have to wonder just how sustainable that development model is in the longterm.

Read the full article here.

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