An Operating System for Adventurers

In 2002, Mark Shuttleworth became the second person to pay to be a space tourist. For the sum of $20 million, he hitched a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spent eight days in the International Space Station. Shuttleworth could afford it: he was still in his 20s when he sold his first company, the Internet security company Thawte, for close to $600 million. He spent a year training for the flight, including seven months in Star City, Russia.

This is all very well, but what does it have to do with programming? Actually, Shuttleworth has been one of the most active figures in the promotion of open source software, particularly the free Linux distribution Ubuntu.

Shuttleworth was one of the contributors to the Debian OS, another Linux OS, in the 1990s, and in 2004 he funded the development of Ubuntu. He founded the Ubuntu Foundation the next year with an investment of $10 million. Ten years later Ubuntu is still dependent on cash infusions from Shuttleworth, and Shuttleworth still seems committed to providing them.

Linux has been used primarily in servers in versions distributed by companies like Red Hat, but Ubuntu has set its sights on the desktop market. Shuttleworth says he wants “to profoundly change the economics of software” and that operating systems should “be like oxygen.” So far Ubuntu isn’t making much of a dent in the desktop market; all the Linux distributions combined are found on only about one percent of PCs. Ubuntu is finding more dramatic successes elsewhere: cloud servers.

Shuttleworth says six or seven of the world’s biggest telcos currently have Ubuntu OpenStack clouds in operation. According to, Ubuntu’s server software and the OpenStack cloud infrastructure platform are successful enough that the company would be profitable if it scaled back and eliminated its desktop business, but Shuttleworth is determined to soldier on, especially since he has a vision of a single platform for phones, tablets, and the cloud. Ubuntu is certainly interestingly positioned, with its cloud prominence putting it at the center of the data-analytics movement. According to Shuttleworth, many companies have turned to Ubuntu for their internal cloud computing systems in order to keep costs down.

Ubuntu is also famous as being the OS of choice at Google. Employees can choose the system they prefer, but Goobuntu, as it’s called, is clearly the cool OS. Thomas Bushnell, the tech lead of the group that manages and distributes Linux to Google’s corporate desktops, says, “You’d be a fool to use anything but Linux.” He thinks the Linux software package program provided by Ubuntu is light-years ahead of its rivals.

Ubuntu may soon find new markets. BusinessKorea is reporting that with support of Windows XP ending next April, many businesses are discussing a replacement, and Ubuntu is a name that’s coming up often. Ubuntu is easy to install and offers Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, and its own browser. Ubuntu has native support for Korean, and the fact that it’s free certainly doesn’t hurt.

Ubuntu can be found at Instructions for building a cloud with Ubuntu are here.

Lani Carroll lives in Colorado Springs with her bees, chickens, and horses. She can be found at her Google+ Profile.