Created just over four years ago, Ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too) has emerged as the fastest-growing and most celebrated version of the Linux operating system, which competes with Windows primarily through its low, low price: $0.
More than 10 million people are estimated to run Ubuntu today, and they represent a threat to Microsoft’s hegemony in developed countries and perhaps even more so in those regions catching up to the technology revolution.
“If we’re successful, we would fundamentally change the operating system market,” Mr. Shuttleworth said during a break at the gathering, the Ubuntu Developer Summit. “Microsoft would need to adapt, and I don’t think that would be unhealthy.”
Linux is free, but there is still money to be made for businesses flanking the operating system. Companies like I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard and Dell place Linux on more than 10 percent of the computers they sell as servers, and businesses pay the hardware makers and others, like the software sellers Red Hat and Oracle, to fix any problems and keep their Linux-based systems up to date.
But Canonical, Mr. Shuttleworth’s company that makes Ubuntu, has decided to focus its near-term aspirations on the PCs used by workers and people at home.
The notion of a strong Linux-based competitor to Windows and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s Mac OS X has been an enduring dream of advocates of open-source software. They champion the idea that software that can be freely altered by the masses can prove cheaper and better than proprietary code produced by stodgy corporations. Try as they might, however, Linux zealots have failed in their quest to make Linux mainstream on desktop and notebook computers. The often quirky software remains in the realm of geeks, not grandmothers.
With Ubuntu, the devotees believe, things might finally be different.
“I think Ubuntu has captured people’s imaginations around the Linux desktop,” said Chris DiBona, the program manager for open-source software at Google. “If there is a hope for the Linux desktop, it would be them.”
Close to half of Google’s 20,000 employees use a slightly modified version of Ubuntu, playfully called Goobuntu.
PEOPLE encountering Ubuntu for the first time will find it very similar to Windows. The operating system has a slick graphical interface, familiar menus and all the common desktop software: a Web browser, an e-mail program, instant-messaging software and a free suite of programs for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop operating system, for five years. The result of this multibillion-dollar investment has been a product late to market and widely panned.
Canonical, meanwhile, releases a fresh version of Ubuntu every six months, adding features that capitalize on the latest advances from developers and component makers like Intel. The company’s model centers on outpacing Microsoft on both price and features aimed at new markets.
“It feels pretty clear to me that the open process produces better stuff,” Mr. Shuttleworth said. Such talk from a man willing to finance software for the masses — and by the masses — inspires those who see open source as more of a cause than a business model.
Comment: We are a Windows free home ... it can be done. You don't have to have a Mac OS X machine to do it. Everything most want to do with Windows can be done with Ubuntu. Ubunto boots up on a Dell Mini 9 in about 25 seconds. More information on Ubuntu here. More on the Dell Mini 9 here.