When the first version of the highly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution came out in 2004, the first bug listed for fixing was never going to be an easy one: it was nothing less than the dethroning of Microsoft as the market leader in the new desktop PC operating system space. As the report read, “this is a bug which Ubuntu and other [open-source] projects are meant to fix”.
That was then. Less than a decade later, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu sponsor company Canonical, has closed the bug. It’s not that Ubuntu has replaced Windows as the default for preinstalled PC operating systems, of course – the reason, he noted on Thursday, was the wholesale redefinition of what personal computing is:
“Personal computing today is a broader proposition than it was in 2004: phones, tablets, wearables and other devices are all part of the mix for our digital lives. From a competitive perspective, that broader market has healthy competition, with iOS and Android representing a meaningful share.”
And Android, of course, is now in the market-dominating position that Windows once held. Not ideal, said Shuttleworth, but a vast improvement:
“Android may not be my or your first choice of Linux, but it is without doubt an open source platform that offers both practical and economic benefits to users and industry. So we have both competition, and good representation for open source, in personal computing.”
These days, Canonical is pushing hard to make Ubuntu a major player on everything from smartphones to servers. In cloud, Canonical was an early OpenStack supporter and is now releasing Ubuntu Server versions in close coordination with that open-source project.
Of course, Microsoft knows it’s facing a very different world today from that of 2004, and Shuttleworth was full of praise for the resulting shift in attitude:
“The Microsoft IaaS team are both technically excellent and very focused on having ALL OSs including Linux guests like Ubuntu run extremely well on Azure, making them a pleasure to work with. Perhaps the market shift has played a role in that. Circumstances have changed, institutions have adapted, so should we.”
It’s really worth reminding ourselves of how, in many ways, open source won. True, it’s still hard to walk into a store and buy a PC that doesn’t have Windows preinstalled – one of the key complaints in that original bug report – but, in a way, that doesn’t matter anymore. Microsoft may still dominate the PC market, but what we traditionally think of as a PC is no longer the default personal computer. Heck, these days we even have a market-leading and (largely) open-source browser, in the shape of Chrome, that has become a significant operating system of sorts in its own right.
Back in 2004, very few people saw that one coming.