Last night I drove into San Francisco for a meeting of the BALUG (Bay Area Linux Users Group). I’d never been to a BALUG meeting before, but Mark Shuttleworth (the founder of the Ubuntu distribution of Linux) was speaking and I wanted to size up Mark in person. He acquitted himself well. He spoke about the good, the bad, and the ugly of open-source as he sees it and then closed with some stories of being the first African into space. Here’s a (somewhat grainy) photo I took as Mark was speaking:
A few impressions that I came away with:
- he cares a lot about the Linux desktop experience and likes to focus on that. That’s good, because a lot of people in the Linux community pay attention to the kernel and “user space” doesn’t interest them as much.
- he believes that collaboration should be a strong point of open source. Mark mentioned bug tracking as an example: bug reports and debugging logs should flow seamlessly to developers without a lot of extra work.
- Mark did a good job of giving props to Red Hat, Novell, and even Microsoft when he thought they deserved it. I thought this was an especially wise move and gave him more credibility than if he had taken potshots at competitors. Mark pointed out that Microsoft made software cheaper as a good thing Microsoft has done, although he didn’t see a need to license patents from them. I got the idea that Mark thinks that injecting venom into discussions about open-source doesn’t do favors for the community in the long-term.
- At the same time, Mark said that if open source believes that it has more powerful ideas long-term, open-source proponents shouldn’t shy away from engaging in productive/respectful conversations that may eventually win over (say) manufacturers of proprietary hardware so that they allow open-source drivers.
Overall, Shuttleworth seemed to espouse a nice balance of principles and pragmatism. He was a polished speaker and handled the after-speaking mob of people with grace and good humor, even when some folks wanted to talk about the minutiae of their favorite Linux project for a few minutes. I came away with a higher level of respect for Mark, Ubuntu, and Canonical and my interest level is already pretty high.
The night brought a few other fortuitous surprises. I got a couple tips about where to start hacking on my OLPC, which just arrived a couple days ago (thanks for the pointers, Charles!). I found out about the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, which takes donations of old computers, refurbishes them, and then donates them to school, non-profits, and other people that need a computer.
But my favorite surprise was walking by two people and hearing the phrase “Digital Tipping Point.” I’m a huge fan of the Digital Tipping Point blog. Officially, DTP is an “open source film project about the big changes that open source software will bring to our world.” So the film project includes a lot of individual interviews about open-source. But the reason that I love reading the DTP blog is that it provides anecdotes of open-source success without sarcasm, rancor, or the venom that some blogs have. If you’re a Linux fan, I think you’ll find that Digital Tipping Point is genuinely uplifting and cheerful. I keep Digital Tipping Point in my “fun” folder of Google Reader, so it was a pleasure to meet Christian Einfeldt, the producer of the documentary:
It was great to run into someone by coincidence and to be able to say “Hey, I love your blog. It brings a smile to my face and is a good example of what I like about the web.” All in all, it was a fun night.