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Mark Shuttleworth: Walking the line between idealism and pragmatism (<i>Economist</i>)

Mark Shuttleworth does an excellent job of marrying free software idealism with pragmatic business sense.

Mark Shuttleworth is on a quest to control the British media. Or maybe he isn't, and it's the British media that is on a quest to give him maximum coverage. Whichever it is, my recent trip to London had Mark on the BBC and in this Economist article about free software, and Ubuntu's role in it.

Mark does an excellent job of balancing idealism and pragmatism in how he approaches open source, which comes across perfectly in the article:

...[O}pen-source software tends to polarise opinion. It has vociferous critics who suspect that software written by idealistic nerds, and made available free to anyone who wants to download it, must be some kind of communist plot. Zealous believers, meanwhile, long for open source to triumph over the evil empires of commercial software. This clash is often depicted as an epic struggle for supremacy between Linux and Microsoft's proprietary Windows operating system. But the truth is that most computer users do not know or care about the politics of open-source software. Mr Shuttleworth says most people simply want to read their e-mail, browse the web and so on.

?It's very easy to declare victory,? says Mr Shuttleworth, describing the smug attitude of some open-source supporters. ?There are big chunks of the software world that depend on free software.? But Ubuntu's aim is not to conquer the software establishment and replace its products. Rather than seeing open-source software as one of two competing ideologies and focusing on the struggle, Ubuntu thinks about the user. Ubuntu is a complete bundle of software, from operating system to applications and programming tools, that is updated every six months and, says Mr Shuttleworth, will always be free. Taking the hassle out of open source is intended to move adoption beyond politically motivated enthusiasts and encourage mass adoption of the software on its merits.

I got this same impression from Mark when we met up in London a few months back. He's not interested in cloning the existing world. Mark is interested in creating a new software world, both in terms of what software can do and in terms of how his company profits from that innovation. I found his thoughts on "single-purpose" PCs (the computer serves up information and possible applications relevant to the application you happen to be running at a given moment in time (A bit like what Nat used to be working on with Dashboard, I think, as well as some work going on at Red Hat right now in its desktop work).

And then there's Launchpad, which I think has the potential to be very, very big....

At any rate, great to see Mark getting the attention he (and Ubuntu) deserves. I'm looking forward to Ubuntu Live to see what others in the Ubuntu universe are up to.