Shuttleworth: Make Desktop Linux Better than Apple

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, calls on Linux developers to make the presentation layer of desktop Linux applications even more attractive to users than Apple's Mac OS.

PORTLAND, Ore.-Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, which makes Ubuntu Linux, called for desktop Linux to improve to the point that its presentation layer is more visually exciting than Apple's.

During a talk at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention here July 22, Shuttleworth issued a final challenge to open-source developers before he left the stage.

"The great task in front of us over the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something that is stable and robust and not so pretty, into something that is art," Shuttleworth said to applause from the audience. "Can we not only emulate, but can we blow right past Apple?"

However, he made no mention of whether Apple intends to simply sit idly by while desktop Linux catches up to and surpasses the user experience that Apple has become so well-known for.

"I see this [need] for free software-beautiful, elegant software. We have to invest in making this desktop beautiful and useful," Shuttleworth said of Linux.

Meanwhile, he also said changes in technology drive changes in the economy and thus changes in society.

"More than any other time in history, software matters," Shuttleworth said. Despite enrollments in computer science declining, he said, "We're not done yet; the opportunity is only getting better."

For instance, "the iPhone is effectively a pure software experience," Shuttleworth said. "It's no accident that over the last 10 years in technology many of the biggest brands have been built using free software."

He cited Google as a prime example.

"The real stimulus of innovation is disclosure," Shuttleworth said. "And free software is the ultimate form of disclosure. Free software is the scaffolding of innovation."

Open-source developers should architect their solutions to be innovation-ready, Shuttleworth said. "Make it extensible," he said noting that allowing for plug-ins is a key to extensibility.

"Another key thing for innovation is platform tolerance," he said. "It's essential that we figure out how to work with Windows."

Developers also need to enable users to have a choice of tools, Shuttleworth said.

He then launched into a discussion of software development methodologies, stating that while he likes the agile methodologies, he has been considering how free software is impacting how developers think about software development methodologies.

Meanwhile, Shuttleworth said he hopes to see the industry move to an environment of "permission-free development," where developers are free to jump in and write code off of core open-source projects without seeking permissions.

Yet, although ad-sponsored content is great for the Web and for search applications, it is not the answer for free software applications that are not strictly Web applications, Shuttleworth said.

"I don't believe advertising will power free software applications; I think the emerging emphasis on services will help support that," Shuttleworth said.