Ten commandments for Ubuntu

Ubuntu has a strong future, but not as a clone of RHEL or SUSE. Rather, Ubuntu's success stems from its unique community. That community must work hard to maintain its competitive differentiation, and not become just like everyone else.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I was fortunate to keynote this year's Ubuntu Live conference. I rarely give the same presentation twice, as I figure people are paying to hear something new. In UL's case, I spent a long time thinking through lessons I've learned from my time with Novell/SUSE and my interactions with Red Hat, and tried to come up with ways that Ubuntu could be successful yet leverage what makes it different.

In many ways, I find myself agreeing with Stephen O'Grady's Ubuntu Live keynote. Not surprising, since I think highly of Stephen. Stephen suggests that community defines the Ubuntu experience, and should be one of its primary differentiators:

To take the pebble, then, Ubuntu needs to reframe the debate. To do that, it must turn the conversation from basic operating system shootouts to the operating experience. A conversation that, in my opinion, favors Ubuntu.

I largely agree. As can be seen in my slides (Open Document Format)--or in these screenshots)--Ubuntu is making serious headway, not because it's the same as Microsoft, SUSE, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but rather because it's different from these. Each of these competitors does some things particularly well. I don't expect any of them to go out of business anytime soon. (Quite the contrary.)

I ended my presentation by suggesting that the Ubuntu community "make Ubuntu better, not simply a clone of yesterday's mistakes." To get there, I warned Canonical/Ubuntu to:

  • Not commit adultery, by which I meant doing things like spurious patent deals that undermine the trust and process of open source. Seems like a good idea at the time, but ends up being a terrible one.
  • Not create graven images (idols) of Mark Shuttleworth. I think the world of Mark, and find it hard to not venerate the work he's done. But Ubuntu is a community of many, not a cult of personality of one. Mark encourages the community--so should the community.
  • Not bear false witness against competitors. As I suggested, the real enemy for Ubuntu is not Microsoft. It's not Red Hat or Novell. It's nonuse. It's the thing that keeps billions of people from using computers, part of which is a cost question and part of which is an ease-of-use question. Remember my grandmother. Write code for normal people like her, not Silicon Valley geeks.

Obviously, there were seven more of those 10 commandments, but you can see those in the slides. I don't mean, incidentally, to suggest that Ubuntu is better than Red Hat or Microsoft or Novell SUSE. Rather, I mean sincerely that its opportunity is very different. Ubuntu is a true bottom-up community phenomenon. It's not about Mark Shuttleworth. I'm glad he's been able to fund it, but he has turned it into something much bigger than himself.

That's why 22 percent of Alfresco's Linux evaluations happen on Ubuntu. If our historical data shows anything, it's that today's evaluations become tomorrow's deployments. To get to that sort of traction without "looking corporate" is amazing, really.

But that's Ubuntu's big advantage. It plays by different rules. Community rules. It's not the distribution "du jour," as Tim O'Reilly queried Mark during the Executive Radar session. This one has a strong future. But not by becoming RHEL or SUSE, great as those distributions are. Rather, by continuing to be itself.

Picture courtesy of James Duncan Davidson.