LinuxWorld expert: Ubuntu CTO on the desktop platform's runaway success

* A Q&A with Matt Zimmerman, chairman of the technical board and CTO for Ubuntu

With the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo kicking off this week, today we conclude our series of interviews with Linux experts (see the newsletter archives for the previous interviews). This week, I talked with Matt Zimmerman, chairman of the technical board and CTO for Ubuntu - the Debian-based Linux distribution, which has become one of the most popular Linux flavors among open source enthusiasts. We spoke about the Ubuntu's latest LTS offering, whether Ubuntu is being adopted on servers, and how to compare one open source organization to another.

With the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo kicking off this week, today we conclude our series of interviews with Linux experts (see the newsletter archives for the previous interviews). This week, I talked with Matt Zimmerman, chairman of the technical board and CTO for Ubuntu - the Debian-based Linux distribution, which has become one of the most popular Linux flavors among open source enthusiasts. We spoke about Ubuntu's latest LTS offering, whether Ubuntu is being adopted on servers, and how to compare one open source organization to another.

Here's our Q&A:

Q: To what do you attribute the sky-rocketing popularity of Ubuntu as a desktop platform, vs. more established desktop distros, such as Red Hat/Fedora, SuSE, etc.?

A: There were a substantial number of Linux users, and potential users, who were looking for a platform they could relate to: community-oriented, desktop-focused, easy to use. More experienced users appreciated Ubuntu's roots in the Debian distribution and its fast release cycle.

Q: What has been the reception of your 6.06 LTS offering? What happened behind the scenes, leading up to LTS' launch, that made that happen? (Both from a technical/software standpoint and in terms of support/developer resources inside the organization.).

A: 6.06 LTS has been very warmly received, both among our traditional desktop user base and a new wave of Ubuntu users deploying servers. The theme of this release has been the long-term support offering. We took a conservative approach to development and focused on creating a platform which would be supportable for a longer period of time rather than adding a large number of aggressive new features.

The Canonical support team [Canonical is a company that packages and supports Ubuntu] was directly involved in the decision-making process, which led to the release plan, and they're confident about standing behind 6.06 LTS for its full lifetime (three years on the desktop, five years on the server).

Q: How is Ubuntu on the server side being adopted? Is it as fast as desktop adoption? And what are the challenges for Ubuntu going up against Red Hat, et al in the server room/data center?

A: This is difficult to measure accurately, but indications are strong that Ubuntu server deployments are growing much more quickly since the release. Red Hat and Novell are much more established in that space, both in terms of their existing customer base and in having a track record with longer product lifetimes.

6.06 LTS is our first release with long-term support, but users are responding to the fact that we've now released four versions of Ubuntu to widespread acclaim, and the establishment of the Ubuntu Foundation to back up our support commitment.

Q: What sets apart a Linux distribution in general these days, now that the market and technology seem to have matured? We've heard the comparisons of proprietary vs. open source development, but how do you compare one open source company or organization vs. another?

A: From an open source perspective, what differentiates one distribution another, more than anything else, is its community of users and developers: how well they organize themselves, the image they present to potential users, their grassroots role in spreading awareness about the distribution. The bulk of any distribution is made up of the same core components, while no two communities share the same character, and users gravitate toward a community that feels like a good fit for them.

As a consumer, enterprises are a different matter, and more often make decisions based on considerations like support, vendor certifications and cost.

Q: What are the differences between developing and nurturing a community around Ubuntu, vs. developing a network of partners to help support/distribute the platform?

A: They're quite different in fact. While many of our partners also consider themselves part of the community, they're looking for a professional relationship that will benefit their business. So while they may share in the excitement of the community dynamic, they will have many considerations which wouldn't come into play in a pure community context. Canonical provides that corporate interface to the Ubuntu project.

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