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Mark Shuttleworth Talks Dell, Hardware, Ubuntu 7.10 & More
Phoronix: Where do you feel the maturity of Linux is in the commercial market place? If the Windows PC market would be "middle aged", where is Linux?
Mark: Linux is a bit of a dorky teenager. It's pretty good at some things, it surprises people all of the time, it has some rough spots and acne, and it's showing a tremendous amount of potential. The PC desktop market is a very complex market and so I don't think it's going to be a rapid change like the server market, but Linux has one huge thing on its side and that is it's tremendously flexible and customizable. One thing we are seeing is that with new and innovative products that just aren't the standard PC, but something different, like with a TV personal video recorder they choose Linux due to the flexibility.
Phoronix: While Ubuntu 7.04 educates the users about alternatives to binary drivers, Ubuntu has been criticized for its use of restricted modules. Do you have any response to this criticism or if Ubuntu has been lobbying to any manufacturers for more open specifications and drivers?
Mark: It's very valid criticism as we see ourselves as part of the free software movement that tries to bring free software to a wider audience and then there we are sticking some proprietary software onto the CD. It's a very hot painful thing for us to do and we don't do it just because we think it's cool. There are some other Linux distributions that just happily throw binary stuff in and binary stuff that is illegal to redistribute like Flash and Adobe Acrobat Reader. We draw the line at the level of hardware enablement, but won't make it for applications. It's a very clear line for us. Having said that, we are actively working with vendors to get them to understand why it's in their interest to ship free software drivers. Now that we have the level of traction that we do, we have a much greater ability to have that conversation with them. I think we are taking the right course and in addition to that, we give strong preference to free software drivers and have taken steps to try to raise the level of conversation so people know when they are running proprietary drivers. We put the restricted driver manager into Feisty as it's a great way to show the people what proprietary hardware they are running and what the problem with that is. You're potentially vulnerable to security updates, not having this functionality on a different architecture, and things like that. We try to make it a more practical debate that ordinary people will get excited about and many people don't know why it's important for free software drivers from their vendors.
Phoronix: While you may not be able to answer this, what manufacturers have you been working with to provide open drivers?
Mark: All manufacturers we interact with, which includes the video card manufacturers and that includes folks doing stuff on the server side. We are very straightforward, our policy of engagement is that we will work with you but our specific goal is to move you towards taking these steps and we consider each small step a victory. We worked with Intel in framing their thinking of what they need from firmware, drivers, and so on. Ultimately, I would like to see it all being free including the firmware. You can disable it, you can code it, you can change it, and there might be reasons why you would want to. We are very satisfied that we are making a good contribution to that movement.
Phoronix: Now that Sun has nearly finished open-sourcing Java with the availability of the OpenJDK, do you see the usage of Java picking up in Linux and the open source community?
Mark: I hope so and Sun hopes so as well. I think they are a long ways behind things like Ruby on Rails and PHP and Python in terms of general developer awareness in the free software community. Java is great technology and what we really need to see is some deep thinking about how the underlying ideas in Java can morph into these more applicable ideas. We now have Microsoft .NET with the CLR and that's potentially more interesting in the 21st century than Java was in the 20th century. I think a big challenge for Sun is going to be how open are they going to be with people running with ideas they first expressed and how paranoid they will be about the pace of change that it might imply.