Dr. Shuttleworth or; How we learned to stop worrying and love Open Source
After 7 releases, Ubuntu's track record remains stellar. Maintaining a rigorous release schedule, the Ubuntu team have managed to "slip" less than one day per release cycle, putting other commercial closed source vendors to shame. Try that, Microsoft.
While impressive, Ubuntu's dead-on release strategy is nothing compared to the level of innovation contained within those cycles. Giving users and developers what they want is a big piece of Ubuntu's core strategy, and it's starting to pay off in spades.
It's all about the Bling
Canonical head, space traveler, and dot-com millionaire Mark Shuttleworth used a word in yesterday's press conference which gave many a reporter a chuckle, but will cause many a user to coo with delight; Bling. Ubuntu's 3d Compiz-Fusion desktop is pretty, and very functional. Originally slated for the 7.04 release, Compiz provides the same kinds of eye-candy offered in Windows Vista and Apple's OS X. Until now Compiz has been the domain of the Linux demi-guru; Installable only by those with a little skill and a strong tolerance for headaches. Those days are over. 3d Linux desktops are ready for the masses.
Ubuntu ships with a small and reliable set of visual effects turned on, if your video card supports them, and features many more the advanced user can switch on manually. Compsite desktops aren't just about pretty transitions; They're a productivity tool. Most users find it far easier to remember which virtual desktop they left an application running on when presented with the cube metaphor. We live in 3d, full-time, and our brains relate to objects in 3 dimensions from birth; It only makes sense that tapping those hard-wired 3d instincts in our brains adds depth to our productivity -- no pun intended.
We got your hardware, right here
Linux has long been plagued by poor driver support. Hardware vendors have been reluctant to create drivers for Linux systems, and community support -- although a valiant effort -- isn't an ideal solution. Ubuntu 7.10 brings with it solid support for wireless network cards, Bluetooth and a wealth of printers. In fact, Ubuntu's printer management system is the same software used in OS X, and as Shuttleworth claims, "We're very near the point where we can say, 'If your printer works on OS X, it will work in Ubuntu'"
Reliable support for a range of hardware creates a snowball effect. Hardware vendors will create drivers for any platform which they feel raises the chances of making a sale. More Ubuntu systems equals more drivers, and more drivers equals more Ubuntu systems. It's a win-win for everyone involved.
Dell was just the tip of the iceberg
When Dell began shipping Ubuntu on selected systems it was a prideful and momentus day in Linux history but, overall it had little effect beyond the psycological. Dell reports that Ubuntu is sold on around 1% of systems where it is made available, a far cry from competitive numbers. However, Ubuntu's drive into commodity machines is far from over, and the 7.10 release makes it a far more attractive option. Pre-configured machines with the same sort of tweaks and additional drivers that are commonplace on retail Windows-loaded computers would be instantly useable for more than the vast majority of computing tasks the average user faces. More installed desktops equals more incentive for commercial developers, and more super high-quality commercial software available.
As the platform matters less, the applications matter more
The advancement of web based applications such as Google Apps, Gmail, and Resizr means the browser matters way more than the platform. Firefox popularity is enormous, and things just aren't the way they were 5 or 6 years ago. Back then, you needed Internet Explorer for things like online banking and other "advanced" web tools. Now the only thing holding back Firefox, and thus any alternative platform to Windows on which it runs, are boneheaded fools like Netflix and the BBC who insist on using Windows only DRM systems and locking out users of other OSes. Just like it has in digital music downloads, this will change. When it does, Microsoft will need to hire legions of new employees just to watch it's own arse, and market-share.
There is no Genuine Advantage to running Windows
Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program has ticked off more than a few Windows users. It's not just the pirates either; many innocent and license holding customers have experienced the hassle of WGA hell. Ubuntu's free and reliable updates mean less hassle, and happier users.
Just keep on moving
Ubuntu's development cycle, with a scheduled release every six months, puts incentive in the hands of developers. Want to get something noticed? Get it ready in time for inclusion in the next Ubuntu release. Every release gives a taste of the best fruit picked from the last six to nine months in open source software. For users, it's an incentive to stay current, for developers an incentive to keep their heads down, and the end result; Just 7 releases in, Ubuntu has radically changed the face of Linux.
What you could say of other Linux distributions in the past -- poor hardware support, needs too much hands on knowledge, not for beginners, difficult to install unless you're lucky -- you just can't say about Ubuntu. It will no doubt take time to overcome the sheer volume of lousy press and a decade of quality issues (whether real or precieved) but, Ubuntu is the one Linux distribution making significant headway in this direction. No one else even comes close.
Government and Business adoption
In Shuttleworth's launch press conference he dropped two bombshells which may prove more important than any feature enhancement or delicious piece of GUI graphical bling; Government adoption. Both Russia and Macedonia have recently announced huge Ubuntu initiatives. While the revenue to Canonical might not be incredibly significant, the users are. Developers need installed users to justify deployment on a platform. Widespread government adoption coupled with Dell's Ubuntu consumer initiatives are just two more points which bode well for attracting more commercial software to a worthy platform.
Who's leading this mob?
While Mark Shuttleworth may not be the superstar CEO that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates are, he knows where he's going and, if his track record is to be counted, he knows how to get there. Ubuntu's mission was simple yet complex; Create a Linux distribution for everyone. Able to install easily, support a wide range of hardware, provide access to next generation features and do so painlessly, and seamlessly. Last time around, they gained Dell's attention and won placement as an OEM optional operating system; This time around, don't be surprised to find Ubuntu laptops selling in retail, right next to the other guys.