A long, long time ago, you asked questions of Mark Shuttleworth -- astronaut, entrepreneur, activist, and now chief of Debian-and-GNOME based distribution Ubuntu Linux. Mark's been understandably busy running the world of Ubuntu, especially considering the imminent release of the group's newest version, Hoary Hedgehog. He's answered below questions on everything from what makes it worth paying for a trip to space to how software offered with source, for free, and under a liberal license (aka Free software) can sustain itself and its creators. Read on for his answers.
Ubuntu target is... ?
by ewanrg (446949)
I'm curious who you see as the Ubuntu target user/audience. It seems that from the ease of use, and "price", that you are trying to target the audience that doesn't care for Microsoft, or that is trying to do things and can't afford Microsoft.
With that, I'm a little curious as to why Ubuntu has chosen Gnome as the desktop? On older machines (such as my HP Kayak), Ubuntu runs passingly well, but simply having an option that probes the machine and then picks a desktop like XFCE or IceWM using a similar theme to the Gnome one would help refurbished/recycled machines really shine.
Similarly, it would seem that there are some software choices that could be tuned as well. As much as I like to use Open Office on my newer machines, selecting a more modest office offering for lower specification machines seems like a reasonable option.
Interested in your thoughts on this...Mark Shuttleworth: The Ubuntu project is all about creating a free, high quality OS for everybody -- home, office and data center. So we've tried to choose the best mix of desktop apps in terms of functionality and compatibility rather than optimising for low-end hardware. So, off the single install CD, you get a Gnome desktop with Firefox, OpenOffice, Gstreamer for multimedia and other well-known favourites. We include some other favourites on the ISO, like Thunderbird, as well as the most popular server apps (Apache, Samba etc) so that they are all available without having to go to the network during the install.
Pretty much everything else in the known universe is available off the network archives, so you can apt-get anything that would also be in Debian or an many of the other independent repositories that have .deb packages, we bring them all together in our network repository so it's easy to find and install almost anything that won't send you to jail.
It's hard to pick favourites, but as Thom May blogged this week, it's not something one can avoid. One of the nice consequences of working in the open source world is that people have taken matters into their own hands, have picked their own favourites and are working on Kubuntu (Ubuntu but with a KDE desktop default install). It should be released with KDE 3.4 on April 6, the same day we release Ubuntu with Gnome 2.10, and will rock.
I'm keen to see an XFCE-buntu too, so come along to #ubuntu-devel or #kubuntu on irc.freenode.net if you'd like to work on that. I'm also keen to see flavours of Ubuntu that are tuned for LTSP or embedded environments. And some folks were talking about Enlightenment E17 on Ubuntu too, so we may see a bunch of these flavours emerge for our next release, its up to the Ubuntu community. Ubuntu is, and always will be, entirely FREE in every sense, so it's a perfect playground for people to build on and innovate with.
What's so special about Ubuntu?
by Fished (574624)
This is a question that's sure to come up in many different ways, but I'd really like to know what is so special about Ubuntu that its purposes could not be as well served by contributing to the Debian tree? I'm assuming you have your reasons -- is it about having control of the packaging, more frequent releases, what? Do you see Ubunutu supplanting Debian someday, or will it just be a branded form of the more open Debian (akin to Fedora/Redhat)?
Also, becoming aware of your financial resources, I can't help but wonder whether Ubuntu is intended to be a money maker, or it seen as a gift to the community?
(My new Athlon 64 system is coming any day now, and I've decided to try Ubuntu first. So far, it looks very nice from afar.)MS: Well, I hope your Ubuntu amd64 system has been working very well since you posed the question, and you're ready to update to Hoary Hedgehog after it releases [this] month :-)
Ubuntu won't replace Debian. If people love it's Ubuntu, it's because it's built on such great engineering. Debian/sid is an awesome asset to the world of free software, even if it is the boy that breaks your toys.
The Ubuntu team takes Sid, every six months, and makes a secure, tested, and supported release of it. Hopefully many of the patches (published continuously at http://people.ubuntu.com/~scott/patches/ but don't let Scott tell you he personally made all of those patches :-) we make in the process are adopted by the Debian maintainers, so Sid gets better as a result of Ubuntu, it is designed to be a two-way street.
Then, hopefully, people take that regular, predictable release and do awesome things like Kubuntu and GuadaLinex with it.
Over time there may be some ongoing areas where we take a different route to Debian because of different priorities and scheduling, like X.org, Gnome 2.10 and possibly OpenOffice.org2 in Hoary, and that's why we are investing in Bazaar and baz-ng, the free/libre revision control system that I hope will make it easy for us to share code with upstream and other distros in a sane fashion.
by renelicious (450403)
I read that you guys are rebuilding your own version of all the debian packages you use instead of using vanilla debian. Apparently this means that Ubuntu will not work with general debian apt repositories. Is this true? If so, what is the reasoning behind this and will you in the future be considering changing this policy?MS: Yes, we import every package from Debian as well as .deb packages from a lot of other sources that you can find on apt-get.org. So if you enable the "universe" and "multiverse" repositories in your /etc/apt/sources.list file on an Ubuntu system you immediately see everything that you would find in Sid, and most anything else in deb format too, in one shot.
This allows us to reduce the time people spend looking for backports and packages, and to ensure that they actually all build from source at release time. it also allows us, if we get time, to create some sanity in library version dependencies across all 16,000 packages.
Our core team focuses its attention on the server and core desktop apps (in "main"), and then a separate team called the Masters of the Universe (an inside joke) manages everything in universe and multiverse. That team's work on KDE packages resulted in KDE being moved into main, and the creation of Kubuntu for our next release in April. If you're interested in bringing even more packages into universe or multiverse, join #ubuntu-motu.
by Daengbo (523424)
After I installed your distro recently, I was impressed by the attention to graphical detail. The gdm login screen, the default theme and the wallpapers chosen for the desktop were all very nice.
One thing that stood out was the choice to eliminate desktop icons and change the required trash icon into a panel applet. Why was this choice made?MS: Because I'm the SABDFL -- and a Virgo? It just seemed like the Right Thing to do, in keeping with the Ubuntu philosophy of keeping it simple and making it Just Work. A user is free to clutter up her own desktop as much as she likes, we shouldn't be doing that for her :-)
That doesn't mean it wasn't quite a debate at our Oxford conference last year... and I guess we'll be having similar debates at our Sydney community conf in late April, where we'll be laying out the roadmap for Breezy Badger, our October release.
Making the desktop efficient and great to use is a lot of fun. If you have stong thoughts on the subject, come along to Sydney or another Ubuntu conf and join the debate.
by TheFlu (213162)
I've been a Red Hat/Fedora user for years now, but I decided to give Ubuntu a try, as it had some of the most recent packages included (Gnome 2.8 and Evolution 2.0) by default. Needless to say, I was very impressed by the polish of a pre-release version, and I have switched my workstations at work, and my Linux boxes at home over to Ubuntu.
I was, however, disappointed by the lack of "corporate" tools currently included with Ubuntu. All of our client machines here are currently running Fedora with a customized install script written using kickstart, so when a machine dies,I can pop in the custom install CD and have a blank machine back on the network in 5 or 10 minutes. Are there are plans to include kickstart-like features and NIS support inside of Ubuntu's installation routines? I would switch our entire company over to Ubuntu in a flash if that were the case. I'm sure other companies would enjoy seeing the addition of such features as well.MS: Hoary Hedgehog, due April 6th, will have kickstart support thanks to the great work of Colin Watson. I can't speak to NIS, if it's something we could integrate cleanly and elegantly then put a specification together on the Ubuntu wiki at http://www.ubuntulinux.org/wiki/ and link to it from the BOF planning page at http://www.ubuntulinux.org/wiki/UbuntuDownUnderBOFs -- then we'll discuss implementing it for Breezy Badger.
Ubuntu should be great in a corporate environment. We will never include proprietary tools like CodeWeavers, but it's just a matter of time before someone creates an Ubuntu derivative that includes those too.
How do you get support for the less popular work?
by cheros (223479)
Hi Mark, as with any (F)OSS project you're almost entirely depending on volunteers. That's OK for popular projects, but to work on, say, an admin or accounting back-end someone still needs to do the heavy lifting without the promise of the kind of glamour and street cred that the likes of Firefox offer.
Have you found a way to get support for the less sexy projects and if so, how?MS: I wish there was a good answer to this. There are so many wonderful things that open source could achieve in the world if we could draw talent to less sexy projects.
For example, I've been funding work on SchoolTool for two years now, and we're only JUST starting to see a community forming around it. I think the answer is that open source depends on having some core working product to work with in the first place -- it's very difficult to sustain a community unless the tool is already in widespread production use.
To get from the concept to that point requires either an individual with the skills and passion and energy and time to build it, singlehandedly, or funding from philanthropy or commercial interests.
Another thing I'd like to see are open source administration systems for government -- local councils all around the world have the same problems, they should be using the same tools and sharing them freely. Then Kinshasa and Paris could both benefit from open source. But YOU try motivate someone to hack on a sewerage management system in their spare time.
What do you think of this idea?
by xutopia (469129)
I switch from distro to distro whenever I find one that is better than the current one. I just moved from Slackware (with dropline gnome) to Ubuntu because of the latest gnome and kernel. My brother is so impressed with Ubuntu that he's switching from Windows. Well he's also partly unimpressed with Windows security. He's currently backing everything up and the transfer of files and all is rather tedious. We thought of an idea to make the process faster and would like your opinion on it.
Would it be possible to have an Ubuntu install CD which checks a Windows or Linux installation, migrates its users/files and "converts" their system to Ubuntu? I realize there are some hurdles to overcome this in the Windows world but it seems feasible from one distro to the next. What do you think of the idea?
Thanks in advance.MS: I think that's a great idea! With Gnu Parted reaching the point where I might trust it to resize my Grandma's NTFS partition and create a new ext3 partition for Ubuntu, the next step will be to move as much of her data into the new Linux partition in a sane way, as possible.
There's low-hanging fruit that you could pick, like desktop backgrounds, fonts, home directories and other useful stuff which could be moved across to preserve her working environment and keep it as familiar as possible.
Everything free -- what's the business plan?
by HoserHead (599)
How does Canonical plan on making money? Ubuntu seems to be completely and utterly free, in both senses of the word. In my mind at least, the 'services will pay for development' business plan for Free Software went out of style when the dot-com bubble burst. How will your company be different?MS: You're right that the "services pay for development" model is unlikely to work very well for single applications. An entire distribution, though, is slightly different, because the number of users is potentially much, much greater than the number of users for, say, a web server or database app.
Canonical provides support for Ubuntu, but more importantly we provide support for companies that provide support for Ubuntu. The idea is to create an ecosystem of people who collaborate on the free software. You can see the beginnings of that ecosystem on this page of Ubuntu service providers, and I hope it will continue grow as fast as it has since Warty hit the streets.
Part of being sustainable is keeping the costs down, so we focus resources on development and support, not marketing or office waste. The guys will tell you I'm a cheap bastard when it comes to the frills (Canonical One doesn't *actually* belong to Canonical :-).
I'd very much like to make the distro project sustainable, because I've never had the privilege to work with such talented guys who work as hard as this team, and they deserve to be rewarded and to know that people appreciate the value they add every day. If it doesn't work utthat way, though, I'm honoured to consider it a gift back to the open source world, which played such a critical role in helping me build Thawte. So I hope it's commerce, though it may turn out to be philanthropy. Either way, it's still cheaper than going back to space, or hooking up with fast planes/boats/women, which I supposed would be Plan B.
my question for Mark
by Recovery1 (217499)\
I'm curious to know how business and individuals have responded to the open source campaign you started. Has there been any interesting success or failures that have encouraged/discouraged your campaign?
I'd also be curious to hear from fellow slashdotters who may be from South Africa. How has his push for open source made inroads in the computer community?
I am interested because I recently find myself in a situation where I will be promoting open source in my own community.MS: The Go Open Source campaign, which the Shuttleworth Foundation funds together with HP, the CSIR and Canonical, has had a great response in South Africa. I hope it's gone some way towards helping put South Africa at the front of the open source revolution, in terms of getting everyday computer users interested in open source.
Perhaps other countries will run their own Go Open Source campaigns -- they would be welcome to use the TV show we put together, or any of the other ideas like the Freedom League and the Freedom Toaster, or maybe they'll make a bigger deal of Software Freedom Day in September.
I get tons of people stopping me in the street in Cape Town again, but instead of asking "what's weightlessness like" they want to know about Open Source. The answer to both questions? "Liberating" :-)
Was it worth it?
by jmichaelg (148257)
1) Asking you "was it worth it?" is going to get an affirmative answer regardless of how you really feel so let me ask you, what happened on the flight that made the trip worth $20 million?
2) How much would you pay to go up a second time?MS: I don't know how much space and spaceflight interest you, but for me they've always been areas of great fascination and imagination. Even if you're a believer in reincarnation you have to admit that it makes sense to make the most of this life, and for me that means tackling the biggest and scariest and most audacious projects I can.
Space was like that.
I remember flying into Russia for the first time, into a stunning sunset, and wondering why on earth anyone would want to spend months on a Russian military base fighting bureaucracy and physics to get into orbit. It seemed silly to take a life of certain luxury and put it at risk. But at the same time, I knew that if I didn't make a real effort to do it, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what it's like to feel the power of an orbital launch, see the exquisite beauty of the earth floating in space, and experience the violence of capsule re-entry.
Looking back I can't believe how lucky I've been. That hard year in Russia, with it's on-again off-again negotiations, taught me a lot about patience and strategy. The physical demands of training, together with having to learn conversational and operational Russian as well as the job of being a cosmonaut are unique things for a geek like me to have experienced. I can't imagine another project that would have been as daunting and ultimately as rewarding. I was lucky to be in Star City at the same time as a great crop of cosmonauts and NASA/ESA astronauts were preparing for their own missions, making friends with people who's lives I would otherwise have envied for eternity. I still envy them, but that's because they get to go back regularly :-) I was lucky to get there in time to catch the last Soyuz TM, because the next generation Soyuz, the TMA, has very little hands on requirements from the guy in the right-hand seat. Flying the TM meant I had more opportunity to work with the crew and could take on more responsibility in-flight.
The actual flight itself is such a gift I can well imagine that people will be queuing for sub-orbital flights when they really come onto the market. The sight of the earth from space is breathtaking, and life changing. 3 minutes in space will change your perspective, I guarantee, on the way we treat one another and the world. So imagine ten days in orbit, the first few on the tiny Soyuz, which rotates end-over-end to maintain solar attitude thus giving you the entertaining experience of being both weightless and inside a tumble dryer on slow-motion. Imagine learning to live and work in an environment that is at once dangerous and peaceful. Imagine using a VOIP connection to call your best friends from orbit in between science experiments and time conducting earth observations. It was ten days, but it passed in a blur.
From a shake-your-bones point of view, the re-entry in a Soyuz can't really be beaten. You are coming in at mach 25 when the atmosphere first sucks you in. You see the blackness of space turning a dull red as the heat builds up around your vehicle. The Soyuz is designed to orient itself correctly for re-entry even if it's a dead craft with no attitude control, so you feel the craft swinging around to ensure that the heatshield will take the brunt of it. Then you watch your spacecraft disintegrate and burn up around you, and the G forces build up till you are in the middle of an inferno with the spare hard drives you brought back on your chest weighting a ton, and the Soyuz spinning like a top to try and spread the heat load out evenly on the shield. You watch bolts and other pieces of metal on the outside melt and run liquid across your window before it blisters and blackens. It's an unbelievable display of forces entirely outside of your control wil you, an ant, in the middle of the fireworks display. You know that your survival is totally dependent on the people who put this machine together, that there is nothing you personally can do if it comes apart. It's a hell of a ride.
How much would I pay to fly again? First, I wouldn't simply repeat what I've done before. I would want to take on new challenges, perhaps flying in a different vehicle or with different responsibilities in a Soyuz. And I'd likely want to take the vehicle through a different mission profile -- which would mean that it wouldn't be the sort of trip you can book on Expedia. Like everything, I'd negotiate the best price I could for the project, and deal with the best people for the job, whether that's Burt Rutan or RosAviaKosmos and Energia.
Is $20m affordable? It depends on what you can afford, and what your alternatives are.
Going to space or fixing Earth?
by gspr (602968)\
As an astronaut, you must been drawn to the mysteries of the universe outside our own planet. But as a South African, you must also feel drawn to the problems facing your home continent (I KNOW this sounds very ignorant and Western, and I'm not trying to say "Africa is a place full of problems", I'm just referring to the huge problems that exist for a large portion of the continent).
Do you think space exploration can be justified when so many people here on Earth suffer? And why? This is an important question to me, as I dream of space, and definitely think Mankind should explore all we can. However, I am having a moral problem (which I'm just ignoring at the moment, for the sake of continued dreaming) justifying spending huge amounts of resources when billions of people right here on Earth lack access to clean water, and millions are infected with HIV.MS: I love Africa much as I think an American loves America -- despite her problems. And yes, there are plenty of problems, they are easier to see than those that face developed countries. But there's more to Africa than Darfur and Zimbabwe, much as there's more to America than McDonalds and Shock-and-Awe. And I can heartily recommend that you take the time to travel to Cape Town, or Zanzibar, or the Ruwenzori or Ethiopian Highlands, and find out for yourself.
What's interesting about Africa is that it presents tremendous opportunity. In 50 years time the 2 billion inhabitants of the continent will, I believe, be in a strong economic position, and geographical position. The continent has everything it needs to survive and thrive, given good leadership, fair treatment by the rest of the trading world, and time. So I'm pretty confident that we will see Africa shed it's image of tragedy and travesty in our lifetime, and replace it with an enviable mix of prosperity and soul.
You ask whether we can justify spaceflight when the world still faces basic problems feeding and educating and employing billions of its people, and when we're busily destroying the homes of thousands of other species with which we share the planet. That's a tough question. The standard answer speaks to the way space exploration has changed our world for the better, in every field from materials engineering to food science and geography. But I think the more important answer lies in the fact that much of what's holding the world back is willpower, not resources.
I've seen schools in South Africa that have nothing, yet manage to turn out first class graduates year after year while the school down the road, which is equally poorly funded, doesn't get a single pass. It's the willpower of those staff members that makes the difference. And a big part of willpower is having something to aspire to, something to live for. Space, and man's exploration of the solar system and universe, are extraordinarily powerful motivators. I learned this first hand before I flew, when an old man who had experienced the worst of apartheid through his life hugged me and begged me to take him to space with me, then told me his kids were working extra hard on maths and science so that they too might one day have this opportunity. I hope they do, too.
by meggito (516763)
How are the nations of Africa working together to promote technological growth? Are there any common intiatives in place or will there be or are the nations still working independantly instead of building a common infrastructure? Are the current methods succeeding or do you beleive there should be change to the way the continent is approaching their technological challenges whether they are seperate or cooperative.MS: Unfortunately, there is not enough being done within Africa to make the most of the extraordinary technological changes we've seen over the past few years. Nepad showed some promise, but that appears lost to bureaucracy. I think it will be up to the smaller countries to innovate and lead the way in regulation to attract investment in telecomms and innovation, especially with regard to VOIP, Wi-Max and other breakthrough technologies. I wish I had a more upbeat answer.
The Digital Divide
by Rico_za (702279)
Ubuntu, SchoolTool,Translate.org.za, are some of the projects you support that seem to tackle the digital-divide head-on. Do you have any views or ideas on how to make Internet access cheaper so more people in developing countries can have access to it? More specific, any plans on convincing the South African government that not over-regulating the telecoms industry will be good for everyone?MS: Whenever there is substantial change in an industry there are opportunities for new leaders to emerge. The global shift to open source is just such an opportunity. I'm really hopeful that South Africa will grab the chance to lead the in the open source revolution. There will be a big shift in IT skills requirements, and any country that takes the initiative now will benefit significantly, from investment, outsourcing and internal efficiencies.
I'll answer the telecoms part of your question along with the next one.
Internet Access in South Africa
by kobus (544780)
This is a question combo suggestion.
I'm a programmer from South Africa, working in the Bay Area.
I had dialup Internet in South Africa already in 1994. However since then not much has changed. In fact Internet access is appalling. Its very expensive compared to the average income of middle class, and ISDN or ADSL is just too expensive and at the same time pathetically slow.
Internet access is really holding our country back! I believe it is critical to schools and families to have access to better Internet.
As a South African entrepreneur and someone who is successful in the IT world, have you ever given this problem any thought, or considered starting an initiative to provide better access to the Internet?MS: Clearly, with one of the world's most expensive and profitable telecom monopolies still firmly entrenched in South Africa, we need to act firmly. Last year the South African government took some big steps towards deregulation, then they de-fanged those initiatives at the last minute. I expect there is ongoing debate internally as to the right plan of action, and unfortunately it's taking a long time for those in favour of bold deregulatory moves to get their point across.
Critical issues in the coming year will be the pricing of international traffic on undersea cables, which continues to be a very secretive monopoly, as well as control and pricing of access to the last-mile copper currently entrusted to Telkom. I certainly hope that SATRA, the SA telecoms regulator, will allow new operators access to existing last-mile copper for a low price, as has been done very successfully in France, where I think the maximum line rental the incumbent operator can charge is around EUR 10.00 per month. In SA, it should be lower. In addition, I'd like to see SATRA selling off international bandwidth that is currently a monopoly in an annual open auction.
In addition, I'd like to see proactive work done on Wi-Max, WiFi and general spectrum liberation to stimulate investment in the possibilities of a wireless broadband world. The opportunity is there, whether or not the regulatory authorities have the skills and the willpower to lead is unknown.
Health care open source?
by mspohr (589790)
I do a lot of work in South Africa and other parts of Africa with health care information systems. There is a pressing need for open source information systems for AIDS treatment and also health system management. The existing proprietary solutions are expensive, not suitable, not customizable, and don't build local capacity.
Would you be willing to branch out from education into health care open source projects? I know people in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, and other countries who would be willing to participate.MS: I certainly encourage the use of open source in government wherever possible. And there is in fact a pilot project in the SA ministry of health which turned into an accidental open source success - I say accidental because I don't think the officials in charge realised the potential, but they agreed to let the developers work on that basis and now this small tool is being used in several countries on the continent.
I hope that's an indicator of what the future holds in store.
I don't fund health care work in SA, as a rule, because I want to build the Foundation team steadily over time, and think education is a big enough elephant to swallow first. Once we have a good track record in education (TuxLabs, SchoolTool and other projects are a good start) we can expand to other areas of social entrepreneurship and innovation.
Thanks everyone for these questions -- apologies for taking so long to answer them!