Dell will not include open-source software such as Wine, which lets users run Windows programs on Linux, with the PCs it plans to bundle with Ubuntu Linux, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu and its commercial sponsor Canonical, said May 3.
“I do not want to position Ubuntu and Linux as a cheap alternative to Windows,” Shuttleworth said in an interview with eWEEK following the May 1 announcement that Dell plans to preload Ubuntu on some consumer machines.
“While Linux is an alternative to Windows, it is not cheap Windows. Linux has its own strengths, and users should want it because of those strengths and not because its a cheap copy of Windows,” he said.
Shuttleworth said he could only imagine running a Windows application on Ubuntu as a temporary strategy—part of a migration platform and not as the way of the future, “which could well be free software.”
He was also upbeat about the idea of a boot camp for Ubuntu, noting that there are some interesting possibilities for virtualization on the desktop, and that there are many permutations and combinations on that front that remain to be explored.
There are some really good candidates for virtualization under Linux, Shuttleworth said, adding that he has been impressed with the approach of VMwares engineers to Linux.
“Often we see proprietary software companies just completely fail to understand not only the motivations of the Linux community, but also the processes. Its very practical, theres a way to get things done, and its different. The VMware guys have really engaged with us completely and worked to the agenda set by the Linux community, which is not an ideological agenda but a practical one,” he said.
There are also two free software options on the virtualization front—Xen and KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) —that are being driven by Intel at a hardware level, he said.
“While Xen is the poster child of free software, and I would very much like for them to succeed, they need to step up and make their stuff available through the same framework as KVM and VMware have done. I expect them to do that within the next six months,” Shuttleworth said.
Asked whether Dell should be offering dual-boot Windows/Ubuntu Linux systems, Shuttleworth said it was an interesting idea but not something he imagined would happen anytime soon as it would probably conflict with existing contractual obligations.
“As soon as you try to fit two people into one chair so to speak, you run into contractual issues, and those issues are not from our side. But Im not at all averse to the idea. I dont mind if someone wants to run Windows next to Ubuntu,” he said.
While he said Linux is not yet ready for the general consumer market, he added that Dells decision to preload Ubuntu Linux on some of its consumer machines is an important milestone for the entire open-source community.
“This was a genuine response by Dell to their customers through their IdeaStorm Web site. It was not prompted by us … So, Im sure they will do other Linux distributions because everyone has their favorite one and thats fine. Im just very honored that they launched with us,” he said.
The deal is also good for Linux as a whole, said Shuttleworth, because one of the key challenges for those who want to advocate free software generally “has been device compatibility, and the key there is market pressure more than anything else.”
“Interestingly enough, I dont think we need to have an enormous share of the number of shipping PCs to still have an enormous influence on the selection of components by the biggest vendors. So, for all versions of Linux—Ubuntu, SUSE, Red Hat, Gentoo, Debian—this is a very important milestone,” Shuttleworth said.
He also acknowledged that the deal was initiated by Dell and not Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, and that Canonical will supply all the software support, while Dells staff will make sure that any issues that arise are not hardware ones.
“So support will be available as a commercial option, while folks will still have the option of getting support from the community at no cost, and theres a very large community around Ubuntu, or they can buy it from us,” Shuttleworth said.
The Dell deal will also drive revenue for Canonical, which makes its money from support services. It also gives Ubuntu and Canonical a lot more exposure at the point of purchase. Until now, customers have largely had to look at their Linux needs separately: hardware, software and then a support contract. “Now we can be right there when they are provisioning. Thats great,” he said.
In response to comments from a Novell official that questioned the significance of the deal, Shuttleworth noted that the history of Linux has involved a series of battles for credibility in each category.
“So there was a time when people pooh-poohed Linux on the server. Microsoft spent some time doing that and, of course, the free software community decided to take on that challenge and do what needed to be done to make it scalable, reliable, all of the things that you look for from a higher-end Unix. So now the consumer-oriented PC is another field of battle. But, to be fair, I dont think Linux is ready for the general consumer market as yet,” he said.
With regard to Microsofts dominance on the desktop front, Shuttleworth said that its all about lock-in and not something that the company creates through a particular technology. It is something “that we freely give them. So, just having alternative technologies today is not going to change societys behavior. It may affect some of Microsofts pricing power, but its not going to dislodge them,” he said.
What could dislodge them, he said, is fundamentally different ways of working and different business models, which is why Microsoft sees Google as such a large threat, because it brings a very different way of working and a Web-based office suite rather than another traditional office suite.
Asked why he thought Dell went with the “Feisty Fawn” Ubuntu release rather than the long-term support version, Shuttleworth said, “I think that, in the desktop environment where desktop applications are evolving very quickly, free software evolution counts for a lot of functionality, right, and so they get to offer their users that.”
But, while Shuttleworth would not say if the company is talking to any other top-tier hardware vendors about similar deals, he noted that Canonical is focusing on helping Dell make a success of this latest arrangement.
“All of it counts for naught if it doesnt translate into a sustainable line of business. We know that Linux users are passionate about technology and they want great stuff. I think Dell is a really good company to be launching this because their configure-and-buy approach really suits the mentality and philosophy of people who are passionate about technology,” he said.
While he also declined to name the machines that Dell would preload Ubuntu on, Shuttleworth did say that there were some key characteristics that went into that decision-making process. A critical one was the availability of free software drivers.
“I am a deep believer in the ideology of free software. I think its morally better, but Im also very conscious of the practical benefits of the free software movement. So I can certainly imagine that in the process to settle on the final hardware list, the availability of genuine free software drivers, where the vendor understands how to work with not just Ubuntu but with the Linux community, is a significant contributor to the decision,” he said.
eWEEK sister site DesktopLinux.com reported on April 30 that Ubuntu will be preloaded onto a Dell e-series “Essential” Dimension desktop, an XPS desktop and an e-series Inspiron laptop, and that the systems will be available in late May 2007.
Microsoft has claimed that the application ecosystem around Linux is nowhere near as strong as it is for Windows, and Shuttleworth said that was a good story and might actually be true in some instances.
“I would never tell anyone to deploy Ubuntu everywhere without thinking about it. What is powerful in life is to really know what your options are and then to make the right decisions. In many cases, Microsoft has established a strong sector lock and has lots of developers who only use that platform,” he said.
However, he said, in many cases there is a bigger portfolio of high-quality free software applications than of proprietary ones. “We all saw how the Internet got built on free software. Google is built on free software, its infrastructure is built on free software. The company probably wouldnt have happened if the founders didnt have access to open-source software like Linux and Apache and all the free tools the community gave them,” he said.
“Im guessing Salesforces infrastructure runs on free software. Same for MySpace, Im guessing, FaceBook too, the list goes on,” he concluded.