Shuttleworth: Desktop Linux can be better than the Mac

For Ubuntu to beat the Mac, it has to beat the Mac at a user experience. Mark Shuttleworth understands this, and is investing appropriately.

Mark Shuttleworth addresses a range of interesting things in a recent interview, but there are two, in particular, that strike me. First, Mark acknowledges the obvious: The Mac is a superior usability experience. Second, however, while placating his upstream developer communities, he also notes that improving on their work is going to be critical to beating the Mac:

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has historically been very, very deferential to what we call our upstream communities - GNOME, KDE, and so on - in the definition of the desktop experience. Our view, very strongly, is that they hold the real expertise in defining that. And that, as a distribution, our primary job is to be a very efficient conductor of their good work into the hands of users....

Because we've increasingly been engaged in the definition of the desktop experience for some of these consumer electronics products, however, we're now in a position to actually start engaging with those upstreams and investing in that desktop experience....

And so we started to build out a team that will focus on the specific user experiences..., and our goal, very simply, is to make sure the Free software ecosystem can deliver a Mac OS-like experience, or an experience that will compete with the Mac OS. We see Apple as the gold standard of the user experience. We believe that, while it can be a challenge, the innovation inherent in the Free software process can deliver an experience that is comparable and in many ways superior.

Mark is a wonderful diplomat, but I'm glad to see that he also recognizes the deficiencies of his upstream communities, even if he would never articulate it like that. Put baldly: The upstream developer communities that he references are developer communities, often without the expertise or interest in developing an average user-focused experience .

To beat the Mac for usability, the emphasis can't be on developers. It has to be on users. Too often open-source developers forget the user. I'm glad that Mark has not.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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