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Instead of toppling Microsoft, Mark Shuttleworth says the Ubuntu community must focus on a Google Android alternative for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
June 2, 2013
It’s official: Microsoft’s (MSFT) near-monopoly on personal computing is over. At least, so says Ubuntu founder (and space traveler) Mark Shuttleworth, who has declared Ubuntu’s infamous Bug #1 — titled “Microsoft has a majority market share” — closed. Actually, Shuttleworth’s ruling says much more about Canonical’s future focus on tablets, smartphones and the cloud than it does about Microsoft’s traditional dominance of the OS market. But it still offers huge insight into where Ubuntu is headed in the future, and the types of challenges on the horizon for Canonical.
Bug #1, which Shuttleworth himself “reported” way back in August 2004, when Canonical had not yet released even the first version of Ubuntu, ascribed defeating Microsoft’s majority market share as one of the central goals of the Ubuntu project. The high-minded reasoning was that Microsoft products were incompatible with the official Ubuntu philosophy that “software should be free and accessible to all.”
For most users, the bug report was always a tongue-in-cheek affair, although some used it to debate how serious Microsoft’s presumed dominance really was, or to point out that non-proprietary software enjoyed a stronger foothold in some parts of the world than in others. All the same, the bug was a rallying point for open-source fans who viewed Redmond as enemy #1.
Fast forward to today, and Microsoft still retains a very solid majority of the OS market, no matter how you slice it. Windows’ popularity has slowly but steadily ebbed over the years, but not in any momentous way.
But Shuttleworth says that’s not the point. In justifying the closing of Bug #1, he stressed the rich diversification of computing devices that has emerged since 2004, not changes in Microsoft’s sahre of the market. “Personal computing today is a broader proposition than it was in 2004,” he wrote. “Phones, tablets, wearables and other devices are all part of the mix for our digital lives. From a competitive perspective, that broader market has healthy competition, with IOS and Android representing a meaningful share.”
He went on to commend Microsoft for its cooperativeness with Ubuntu and other open-source projects, pointing out, for instance, that Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform is very Linux-friendly.
So, is the lion lying down with the lamb? Is Shuttleworth cozying up to Microsoft? Maybe or maybe not, but that’s not really the issue at stake. Reading between the lines of Shuttleworth’s comments, it becomes clear that closing Bug #1 is a move toward continuing Canonical’s push of Ubuntu onto tablets, smartphones and other devices where traditional desktop Linux has never ventured before.
And in that, Microsoft is not the biggest challenge. Instead, defeating Android (and iOS, although Shuttleworth seems to have a softer spot for that platform than for Android, which he says “may not be my or your first choice of Linux”) is Canonical’s first priority.
Will Shuttleworth go on, then, to file a bug titled “Android has a majority market share?” Time will tell.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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