Mark Shuttleworth is as close as Linux has ever had to Steve Jobs. He has vision, he's articulate, and he can move an audience. But, can he move a market that's in love with Android phones and Apple iPad tablets to give Ubuntu a chance? I think he has a shot.
In addition, Ubuntu has been working and delivering Unity for more than two years now. Unlike Windows 8's Metro, which also seeks to be a universal PC and device desktop, Ubuntu Unity already has experienced users and developers.
Three years ago over 95 percent of the devices connected to the Internet were personal computers. Three years from now that number will probably be less than 20 percent. More than 80 percent of the devices connected to the Internet will not be Windows-based personal computers.
Shuttleworth continued, "Make no mistake--just as the world is changing for manufacturers so is it changing for Linux distributions. Today, 70% of people in Egypt access the Internet solely via the phone. Even in the US that figure is a startling 25%."
In short, Shuttleworth plans on taking Ubuntu to where the users are, and the users aren't just on desktops anymore. He's not the only one to have seen this though. MeeGo, HP's webOS, and numerous other Linux distributions have tried for the mobile operating system space, and not gone much of anywhere.
I think Ubuntu has a realistic chance to make a plan on smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, and it's not because of the technology. The technology is a given. We already know Linux does just fine on all those devices, and Unity was designed from early on for those platforms as well as the PC.
No, what really makes me think that Shuttleworth can do it is his pragmatic approach to the business side. Shuttleworth wants Canonical to the little company, unlike Apple, Google, or Microsoft, that's willing to go the extra mile for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), independent software vendors (ISV), or carrier. For example, if you're an ISV or carrier and you want more of the revenue stream, Canonical will be willing to dicker.
He wants Ubuntu to be the OEMs and carriers' alternative choice. As Shuttleworth told me, "The smartest OEM strategy is to play people off against each other. Thus, some OEMs want to have Ubuntu as a disruptive element. A strong Ubuntu can be both more co-operative with OEMs than a larger company and give them leverage with Google and Microsoft."
This is a realpolitik view of the new device operating system, business world that makes good, hard sense to me. Besides, as Shuttleworth is also well aware, the smartphone and tablet market is changing every day. It's just possible that Ubuntu can go from being a practical alternative mobile operating system to being everyone's favorite if Apple iOS, Google Android, or Microsoft Windows 8 trip up.