When Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical and Ubuntu Linux leader, stepped down as CEO in favor of COO Jane Silber in 2010, no one was too worried. Silber may not have been flashy, but she knew how to keep the company moving forward. In a way, it was like Tim Cook taking over Apple after Steve Job's death.
Like Cook, Silber was a smart choice. Under her guidance, as she said in a recent PC Magazine interview, "Ubuntu has industry adoption that is both broad and deep. Companies such as Walmart, Netflix, and eBay build their infrastructure on Ubuntu. Telcos such as Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, and NTT build their next-generation telecom capabilities on Ubuntu."
In addition, Ubuntu became the go-to operating system for all clouds. Even on Microsoft Azure, by last summer one in three Azure virtual machines were running Ubuntu.
Moreover, Silber continued, "Companies such as Google and Intel use Ubuntu on their developer workstations. Further, Internet of Things (IoT) device manufacturers of gateways, networking devices, robots, and drones all use Ubuntu at scale."
What Canonical could not do was make Ubuntu a major desktop player. Windows still dominates the desktop. What bothered Shuttleworth even more was that his dream of making Ubuntu a converged end-user operating system that could use the same Unity interface on smartphones, tablets, and PCs didn't come true. It was time for a change.
Shuttleworth still isn't giving up on the Linux desktop. He has reason, and as Windows transforms from a true desktop operating system to Windows-as-a-Service, Linux still has another shot at the desktop.
He has also decided to focus Canonical's efforts even more on the cloud and IoT. How he will be doing that is changing. While details are still sketchy, Canonical insiders tell me that Shuttleworth, for the first time in the private company's history, will look for outside funding. For that job, Shuttleworth wants to be in charge.
So, Silber explained in a blog post, "We're now entering a new phase of accelerated growth at Canonical, and it's time to pass the baton to both seasoned hands and a new generation of Canonical leaders."
While this look like a sudden decision from the outside, it's not. Silber said she'd "originally agreed to be CEO for five years and we've extended my tenure as CEO by a couple of years already." She also won't be leaving the job immediately. She'll remain the CEO until June 2017.
She also won't be leaving Canonical. She will move to the Canonical Board of Directors.
The dynamic Shuttleworth will take charge in July 2017. Before then, however, we should have a better idea on what his plans are for Canonical's next steps.