July 22, 2008

Mark Shuttleworth at OSCON

Mark, an accomplished speaker, started by confessing that he had no doubt that Linux would be the platform of the future, and suggesting that tools like Firefox and bazaar had claimed ownership of their application space by providing extensibility in a modular way: conform to the interfaces, and the application becomes a platform. All the same, he insisted there is also a need to work with Windows (which makes sense since there are so many Windows systems around).

One of the issues Mark discussed was how we can extend agile techniques in ways inspired by community-driven processes. Architecting your tool set and your enterprise for collaboration and communication is essential. Ubuntu's governance is entirely separated from Canonical's, and Mark suspects that might turn out to be a best practice.

Tools must be extensible, and whether they are open source or proprietary they must be usable as components in diverse systems. The ultimate goal is "permissionless" development - new people coming in wanting to do new things need to be able to take the tools and run with them to implement their own ideas. His ideal for Ubuntu is for any developer worldwide to branch the Ubuntu code and publish their version in ways that other people can in turn pick up and run with.

Another best practice Mark has identified is time-based releases, which lend a rhythm to the development process and allow developers to keep track of what's happening in the trunk, which should be releasable at any time. More and more projects are thinking about synchronizing their releases. Imagine if a multitude of Linux distributions could collaborate to release at the same time, providing a "development cadence", encouraging individual tool developers to finalize their own releases for incorporation into a multitude of distributions.

Mark sees todays open source development world as struggling to provide free software, but the questions is how will the economic models support this? Free software is easy to love: it costs nothing to acquire. But who will fund the development of the free software? This will require innovations in economics that will, with a historical perspective, possibly be one of the more significant changes in these turbulent times. Having three almost-monopolies each controlling their own distribution would be counter-productive, and advertising on the desktop is offensive.

At Canonical they are hiring people to work on the desktop to build tools that benefit the providers of services. This will fundamentally change the world.

The challenge of the next two years is to lift the Linux desktop to a level where it is effectively art! How do Linux distributions not emulate Apple, but blow right past them. Jamie Zawinski says we should be aiming to build software tools that help their users get laid! The only doubts Mark had about that as a goal were related to Jamie's stated goal of making software that his mother could use ...

The Web 2.0 explosion has taught us that to survive in the web world a software product needs to be instantly attractive, and deliver functionality immediately in a profoundly usable way. Canonical have been investing in the process and the technology, and they are now trying to
realize the dream that Mark so elegantly elucidated in his presentation.

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