Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu and the Linux Desktop: Page 3

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What’s your sense of the Novell-Microsoft deal? Is it a net negative for Linux, or is there anything positive in it?

I think it’s positive in that it suggests that Microsoft is increasingly conscious of the need to engage with Linux. I think the terms under which they concluded that specific deal are negative for Linux as a whole, in that they tried to lock down, to entrench, a certain view of the economics of Free software. If you look at the deal, it very much assumes that software is being sold, so it tries to impose the economics of the ‘80s on the 21st century, and I don’t think that’s going to fly.

It’s a little bit like DRM, which tries to impose the economics of vinyl on a digital music industry. I think a lot of people are now saying, ‘Gosh, it’s not actually the music industry that’s suffering, it’s the record industry that’s suffering’ – the music industry is thriving.

And similarly, I think, any attempt to slow down the pace of innovation in the economics, as much as in the technology, is doomed to fail. And at heart I think that’s what’s wrong with the deal that was struck there.

It was very interesting to see, after the announcement of the deal, how much disagreement there was between the parties as to what the deal actually meant. And I think that’s a clear sign that it was something that was hastily concluded.

Anyhow, we don’t begrudge anybody their partnerships, we’re just very clear about the specific values that we hold dear. And we would not conclude a deal with Microsoft on the same terms – we don’t think that would be constructive for our users or for Free software as a whole.

Do you foresee a Canonical-Microsoft partnership? You’ve expressed interested in working with Microsoft.

I don’t believe it’s constructive to say that there are no circumstances under which you would ever work with a company. I have colleagues at Microsoft with whom I, and other people at Canonical, have very constructive conversations.

And there are areas where we have perfectly aligned interests. An example – a real example which has come to pass – is telecommunications policy. We’re both interested in there being a vibrant, well-regulated Internet market in every country in the world. Because that underpins the economics of the future of software. And so I’ve sat on panels with representatives of Microsoft, advising government folks on telecommunications policy, and we were absolutely saying the same things. We want deregulated, efficient markets where competition is firmly protected, rather than incumbents being firmly protected, which is usually what you see. And I have no problem with Microsoft on matters where we have a strong alignment.

Any company changes over time as its people move on. We’ve just seen a significant changing of the guard at Microsoft. There will be more of those. And so to say that, somehow the company is persona non grata and that we would never deal with them, would just be strange.

Including proprietary drivers in a distro has been a controversy within open source. I know Ubuntu includes a "Restricted Drivers Manager" to help you install proprietary drivers. Where do you personally stand on the issue of including proprietary drivers in a Linux distribution?

Proprietary drivers are a horrible kludge, they’re a little bit like introducing a cast iron pot into a titanium machine; you have something that is inherently brittle and therefore reduces the value of the whole.

To us, Linux is titanium. It’s malleable and lightweight and elegant and tough. And then you go and introduce this clearly cast iron component that’s a significant setback. And what’s most restraining about it is that it ends up hurting the people who think they’re trying to get some sort of advantage by building that cast iron piece, the hardware vendors. So, in our engagements with hardware vendors, we’re very, very clear that proprietary drivers are a very ineffective way for them to try and get the benefits of access to the Linux market.

Having said that, it is possible to do it in a way that is legal. We don’t think there’s anything that violates the GPL in what we do. We certainly wouldn’t do that.


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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, mark shuttleworth linux


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