BALUG: Mark Shuttleworth and Digital Tipping Point

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:

Mark Shuttleworth

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:

Digital Tipping Point

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.

16 Responses to BALUG: Mark Shuttleworth and Digital Tipping Point (Leave a comment)

  1. Matt,

    Btw. Your blog already rank #2 for the search query Digital Tipping Point blog !!!

    And #10 for Digital Tipping Point !!

    Any SEO tips you wish to share with rest of us at such sunny but cold Thursday 🙂

  2. I thought you were kidding about the first African in space. That is amazing! What an accomplishment!

    The Alameda County Resource Center is also a great tip. It always feels like such a crime to throw away a computer, not matter how old or poorly working it is.

    Thanks for also bringing light to another group of positive genius types that I would not have otherwise been aware of.

  3. As a fellow South African and a keen follower of Mark Shuttleworth I’m so glad he’s getting some good exposure from people with clout in the techno industry. It’s great to see you blogging about Mark and I love the comments…

    He is somewhat of an ICON in South Africa, for those of you who don’t know who he is Mark, was the founder of THAWTE — > SSL.

    If you want to read a little more on Mark check out his site:

  4. Matt, would you mind sharing the starting points for the OLPC hacking? Mine is supposedly on the way and would to check out the links.

  5. I recently installed Ubuntu 7.10 on a Compaq Presario C500 laptop. 1.85 gHz, 512 MB. Ubuntu is amazingly fast on the laptop. I’m able to run 5 firefoxes, each with multiple tabs open, have dreamweaver open (very hard to install) and play several videos at once.

    I just need to figure out how to watch several videos at once.


  6. Niki Scevak, it was more a fellow I bumped into who said “Email me and I’ll point you to some local groups of people,” so the advice wouldn’t help general OLPC folks. But looks like an interesting place to start.

    Paul Avery, you might try the new Hardy Heron beta too. I booted it as a Live CD last night and was quite impressed.

  7. It takes all kinds of personalities to make things happen, and open source is no different. Mark and Christian have done their parts very well by providing resources and forums for people to express their intellect. Kernel hacking is important, but so is documentation, be it the manual kind, or the kind that DTP is doing.

    On another note, there is a OLPC-SF mailing list for the SF Bay Area. You can sign up at

    There is also a wiki page at

    We’ve met three times thus far. The next meeting will be at LUG Radio Live event at the Metreon, San Francisco on April 12 and 13.

  8. I’m pretty excited to install and use the next version of Ubuntu. Best experience I’ve had with 7.10 has been “upgrading” family member computers. They’ve stopped calling with questions about viruses and other pop up messages.

    Some new features added to Synergy and I’ll be one happy camper.

  9. Digital Tipping Point looks good, but what is that link to in the top nav all about?

  10. Quite a few years ago, before I left South Africa, I was lucky enough see Mark Shuttleworth giving a speech. While it was only in passing at an event, I was taken by what a genuine bloke he seemed. Your quote of

    “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.”

    … couldn’t be more right Matt. And I think that extends to his feelings on respect in general as well.

  11. Alan, it was a valid domain until very recently (January). From the previous website: “DIY is funding a project to bring Linux, with the Mepis distribution, computers to KIPP school, of San Francisco. Part of the project is to teach them Linux. For this, we are using Robin Miller’s excellent book, “Pont & Click Linux” as a textbook.”

    So nothing untoward going on; just a stale link.

  12. Christian Einfeldt

    @Alan Perkins,

    Alan, thanks for pointing out that the DIYparts link is dead. That site was my attempt to do for hardware what Free Open Source Software has done for code. In other words, if it were possible to create an on-line inventory of hardware, it would be possible to match “buyers” and “sellers” who want to sell or donate hardware. However, I was too focused on the Digital Tipping Point to promote the site, and so the site wasn’t going anywhere, and I abandoned it.

    Now that Alan has pointed out the dead link, I have corrected it. So thanks tons!

    Christian Einfeldt,
    Producer, The Digital Tipping Point

  13. I saw Mark speak about 2-3 years ago. His talk was *supposed* to be about something else, but ended up being a talk about his trip into space.
    Still recall with great amusement when the crowd burst out laughing when a pic appeared behind Mark. he turned round to see which one it was…
    “Ah yes. Welcome to Uzbekistan.”

    Close framed photo of two very cute (butter wouldn’t melt) young girls. One giving the finger to the camera.


  14. Firstly, Great post – sorry I didn’t see it sooner.

    On Ubuntu / OLPC issues:

    – Have you thought about adding the Ubuntu Heron countdown to your homepage (without the /blog/) – it would be a lot of exposure (just added it to my own blog)

    – If there are people here interested in (python) hacking for the OLPC, can I drop in a shameless plug for a project I am part of – “Game Baker” ( ) – we aim to create a simple, effective game development system for kids. It’s currently running in alpha on Linux/OSX/Windows but it would be great if someone wanted to try to make the created games run on Sugar (we’ll do the game-design bit later, but we’d like the exported games to run on the OLPC first) I’m too busy to do any work on it for the next few months.

  15. Excellent post Matt!

    Im a huge fan of DTP and contibute to thier cause.

    Here is the huge collection of videos DTP has collected here on Open Source:

    It takes an enormous amount of work and it’s all done by volunteers. They can use more help, all types of donations from external hard drives, help with video editing and good old fashioned cash.. Please help if you can.

  16. Hi Matt, cool talking to you about Hardy – here’s that youmoz post i wrote – check out virtualbox, it’s fast!