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Ubuntu Linux founder stepping down as CEO

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth will pass his CEO job to longtime executive Jane Silber. The company's vision won't change, but its operations could.

Ubuntu Linux backer Canonical is changing top management in an effort to become more operationally disciplined, with founder Mark Shuttleworth passing the chief executive job to Chief Operations Officer Jane Silber by March 1.

Shuttleworth will continue working at the company, focusing on the company's desktop Linux product, its cloud-computing efforts, and meetings with partners central to the company's business. Silber, who has worked for the company for almost all its five-year history, will spend more of her time on Canonical's enterprise products for business customers.

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth speaking at the Intel Developer Forum
Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth speaking at the Intel Developer Forum Stephen Shankland/CNET

"Within the company I can say very strongly everyone's expectations will be that Jane will bring a focus on financial performance as much as operational performance. It's something I want for the company," Shuttleworth said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Shuttleworth founded Ubuntu and Canonical in part as a reaction to Red Hat and Novell's Suse Linux, both of which are available as a free version that differs from the commercially supported product. With Ubuntu, the two versions are the same, meaning that those who want the better-tested and certified product need not necessarily pay for it. Canonical does offer support subscriptions and is working on gradually proving its server operating system's mettle beyond just test and development situations.

Canonical today has two other main lines of business besides its Linux server support: partnerships to help with operating-system technology for Netbook companies, including most recently Google for its Chrome OS; and selling support for Ubuntu's newer cloud-computing technology developed in partnership with Eucalyptus Systems. The Eucalyptus technology is compatible with Amazon Web Services options including the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3), but lets customers use the technology in their own data centers or in combination with Amazon.

Shuttleworth, who funds Canonical with wealth stemming from selling his Thawte Internet consulting business to Verisign in 1999, takes a long-term view of the company's finances.

"We are not profitable. But we continue to believe we're on the right trajectory," Shuttleworth said.

"Five years is a long time," he said, but Canonical wants to be a platform company on which others house or build their own technology. "Those take a substantial amount of time to get a foothold. We continue to invest in areas that make us a complete platform rather than focusing on the things that could achieve profitability fastest."

The company presently has more than 300 employees, he said.

Canonical releases new versions of Ubuntu every six months, the most recent being 9.10, called "Karmic Koala." Version 10.4, or "Lucid Lynx," is due in April. It will be one of the LTS versions that comes with long-term support for customers who don't enjoy upgrading their operating systems frequently. Canonical releases LTS versions every two years.