Mark Shuttleworth sees increased demand for enterprise Ubuntu Linux desktop

Canonical's real money comes from the cloud and Internet of Things, but AI and machine learning developers are demanding -- and getting -- Ubuntu Linux desktop with enterprise support.

What's holding the Linux desktop back? Linus Torvalds looks to Chromebooks and Android for the future of the Linux desktop, while Linux Mint developers aren't happy with each other.

In a wide-ranging conversation at Open Infrastructure Summit, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux and its corporate parent Canonical, said: "We have seen companies signing up for Linux desktop support, because they want to have fleets of Ubuntu desktop for their artificial intelligence engineers."

This development caught Shuttleworth by surprise. "We're starting actually now to commercially support the desktop in a way that we've never been asked to before," he said. Of course, Ubuntu has long been used by developers, but Shuttleworth explained, "Previously, those were kind of off the books, under the table. You know, 'Don't ask don't tell deployments.' "But now suddenly, it's the AI team and they've got to be supported."

While some users still miss the now-deprecated Unity interface, the GNOME 3 desktop interface has won fans. Indeed, Shuttleworth said, "GNOME kind of saved my bacon, to be honest. Unity was causing a lot of distractions and it was controversial, even though it was good. So, when we decided to retire it, we needed a desktop, and that was GNOME"

Since then, the Ubuntu and GNOME developer communities have been working closely and well together. Shuttleworth said, "We have a good back and forth with the community. We have a healthy collaboration and a good working relationship."


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Of course, the desktop isn't making Canonical a ton of money. Canonical's real profits come from the cloud and Internet of Things (IoT). Shuttleworth confided that he still plans an IPO for Canonical. He doesn't have a timeline, but he does have some goals to reach before he'll IPO. They include "$200 million plus in revenue, the right growth story, and the right headlines around IoT and cloud."

The cloud headlines are already there, if you look behind the scenes. Shuttleworth said, "Nearly, two-thirds of the public cloud is Ubuntu. It varies from public cloud to cloud, but Ubuntu is always there. The work itself might go to Azure, it might go to Google, it might go to Amazon, but wherever it goes, there's Ubuntu doing the job."