Mark Shuttleworth – Ubuntu founder, multitasker

He’s the founder of Ubuntu and its parent company Canonical, and serves as the creative force behind not only the Unity desktop but its expansion to phones, tablets and TVs. 

In short, Mark Shuttleworth is a very busy man.

But in the weeks following a new Ubuntu release he puts himself in front of the community for a Question & Answer session. Enthusiasts, developers, users, plucky bloggers, and even the odd troll, get the chance to ask the ‘Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life’ quite literally anything.

An IRC log of the entire Q&A can be found at this link. But since we value your eyes – and your time – we’ve picked out the best questions, made them a wee bit more readable, and grouped them by topic for your perusal below.

Someone give us a cookie ;)

Unity 8 & Mir

Is it wise to use Unity 8 for the first time on a LTS release?

The current plan is to stretch for Unity 8 in 14.04 LTS, but we are confident we can have Unity 7 running there just fine. We already support Unity 7 and it’s getting faster and cleaner as we go,

I’ve heard that Unity 8 is just “a Qt front-end for GNOME.” How is Unity 8 supposed to function?

Unity 8 on the Desktop is Still a WIP

With the work that’s going into phone and mobile we’re rapidly building a great community around a new portfolio of apps. Those apps will all stretch from phone to desktop (and to TV).

We would like to attract developers from a wide range of backgrounds, including GNOME and KDE and make it easy for them to deliver amazing experiences on Unity. We’re not going to get into an ideological fight, and we think developers should choose.

We’ve built a lot of foundations to support that [and] we’re seeing amazing commitments from games companies and others who have done well on IOS and Android. But i’d like to bring as much of the FLOSS ecosystem along with us too. Everyone’s welcome.

What are the intentions from NVIDIA and AMD to support Mir? Have they expressed any informal views on that matter?

“I find it bizarre to be criticised for writing open source software…”

Too soon to tell, but history suggests that open source communities are prone to hystrionics up front and pragmatism in the long term – so the hystrionics (sic) were unsurprising and a pragmatic result would be equally unsurprising.

The decision making in Mir was solid: Wayland did not meet our needs or yours, we chose to invest in something, and we chose to do it in a very quality-driven way. I find it bizarre to be criticised for writing open source software, and writing it with quality and performance in mind from the start and much of the mud that was flung was unjustified. But that’s the hystrionics (sic) part, it will happen again I’m sure.

Mir is pretty fantastic already – crisp, clean, fast, focused.

How Will GNOME’s development decisions affect Unity 8?

We’ll work as closely with both GNOME and KDE as we can. We have both great relationships and terrible relationships in both cases. There are individuals in GNOME and in KDE that are, respectively, either fantastic or impossible to work with – so disregard any bland statements about how ‘KDE’ and ‘Canonical’ engage. because, as always, it boils down to figuring out who wants to work together, and who doesn’t.

We will do great stuff with both and hopefully act as a central anchor for common standards like we did with indicators, with KDE. It’s difficult to disregard mudslinging, but if you can’t, it becomes impossible to imagine getting anything done together.


Will the major PC manufacturers (Dell, Lenovo, HP) increase availability and model range of Ubuntu-preinstalled laptops in Europe?

In the last six months [there have been] a lot of new models from HP, Asus, Dell etc in Europe, and elsewhere. That will, I expect, continue.

How do I, as a K/L/Xubuntu user fit into Canonical’s long term plans?

I hope we continue to strengthen our relationships in the broader Ubuntu tent, and add more options too. I love that all of those options exist and invest a good deal to make it possible.

There is work to be done – every cycle, meshing all these gears takes work but we certainly don’t take decisions to exclude elements of our own community. It’s often a nice headline -grabbing hypothesis for a blogger, but there’s no substance to it. At a bare minimum, you will always be able to run any X environment on Ubuntu. We’ve gone to a lot of effort to retain that.

Now, if a particular person or upstream wants to refuse the ability to engage, that would be weird, but it would be their brand of weird, not mine. So anyway, of all the options you listed, i see no reason why they would cease to exist.

What is Your opinion on Windows 8?

Windows 8 Share Bar
Windows 8 – Popular Topic, Less Popular OS

Bold choices, right vision, stumbled at the gate but the race is just beginning.

Change is hard. The vision of convergence is the right one so i respect Microsoft for seeing that and focusing on that, but they stumbled with the actual release.

I think they left their actual desktop too much in the past (Win 7.5) and the pushed their tablet too much to the foreground (tiles with a mouse). But they are smart and hungry and being an underdog is wonderfully motivating.

For example they are doing a very impressive job on being an open cloud Azure has been transformed from PAAS into IAAS, and in many regards, damn-good-IAAS too.

Sorry to disappoint the prejudiced.

Ubuntu Touch

When will the chip supplier supporting Ubuntu Touch be revealed? It was promised after MWC.

We have a preference to announce things in the most impactful way possible and it isn’t the right time to announce that, here [in an IRC channel]. But well spotted, it’s an important step, and i’m very happy that we have made good progress on the silicon front.

When in the ongoing processes will you know “Ubuntu is going to make it on the phone”?

Tweets displayed on Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu on a phone – marvellous stuff

That’s straightforwardly a question of market adoption.

We have a nice % of PC shipments, and growing. can we achieve the same in the phone, in a year? I think so, based on conversations so far but we’ll know for sure in 2014.

What is very encouraging at the moment is the interest from top tier app developers; it is an easy port for them from Android / BB10 and a lot of their developers use Ubuntu so… why not!

Our Questions

Having choked on my own words when meeting Mssr Shuttleworth at the Ubuntu Phone unveiling back in January, I managed to seize this opportunity to put a few queries of my own to the chap in charge…

Canonical will be Computex next month with Ubuntu Touch for phones and tablets – but will Ubuntu TV also feature?

Aspects of the TV are in active development, but the heart of our team is focused on the phone.

We did enough of the TV to prove our design core, and then we’ve put in place a thread of investment on some background pieces that are needed, to do with TV standards. When we want to connect those pieces, or when someone else steps up, it will happen.

But being great on the phone is the most important thing [as] the volumes are there, and developers are there.

Back in 2011 you announced the goal of having 200 million Ubuntu users by 2015. Does this figure include Ubuntu Touch, or do you have a separate aim for mobile uptake?

Yes, that is only achievable with mobile, hence the focus on the phone.

It’s been suggested that Ubuntu Touch is Canonical’s ‘last roll of the dice’; the last chance to try and get profitable. The cutbacks on release support cycles and axing the physical UDS seem to reinforce this idea for some.

How committed in the long-term is Canonical to making Touch a success, and supporting its other projects (cloud, desktop, etc)?

“[Ubuntu Touch] might be a once in a lifetime chance to break out of the cycle of platforms controlled by giants.”

Perfectly committed.

We have great design, great engineering, and are engaging with industry. We could do more, but at diminishing marginal returns. It is a stretch to do both. I would like Ubuntu to be more than just a developer desktop but we will always be that. Regardless, to be more, we have to lead, and that’s hard.

Looking around the world, I don’t see others who could potentially do so, putting in nearly the same level of effort. So I would very much like to see that pay off, because this might be a once in a lifetime chance to break out of the cycle of platforms controlled by giants.

And I think it’s worth taking that gap, and appreciate all the support we get from like-minded, passionate, smart people. so, Ubuntu is a success as a developer desktop which supports our needs on the cloud just fine.

To lead something like a convergent client worldwide is a project worth doing, dontcha’ think?

Quote of the Session

In response to a question on the ‘new’ virtual Ubuntu Developer Summits (vUDS), Mark showed he wasn’t beneath a bit of self-deprecation:

“I really like the vUDS thing. What a great example of the sky NOT falling in after all. Much better the second time.

Sort of like… Unity”

Interview mark shuttleworth sabd ubuntutv