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Exactly. There are a couple differences between our strategy and those of the other players. We would never characterize our six-month releases as beta releases or experimental releases. They are fully supported, and you can buy full contracts on them. They get security updates, which are freely available, so you don't have to subscribe to a network service to get them. They really are genuine, honest-to-goodness, high-quality releases, and they are being deployed in many cases in very high-volume enterprise environments.
We thought the large-scale organizations would tend to want the slower release cycle, but it isn't really working out that way. For example, there is a big debate right now in one of the big Spanish provinces as to whether their next release, which will go on to something like 400,000 desktops, should be based on Dapper or Edgy. That's very interesting, that the latest desktop features are attractive even in a very large deployment.
But you deliberately named it Edgy because you wanted to give the impression that it's full of cutting-edge features. And it has shorter-term, 18-month support. Should a big customer be leery?
It depends on their capacity. For example, Google rolls out Ubuntu to their developer desktops, and they update every six months. So it's not yet entirely clear how people are going to play with this combination of short, fast, controlled six-month releases and then much longer-supported releases.
One thing that means is we're not competing with ourselves. For the organizations which have a free trial community edition and then an enterprise edition, they run into internal conflicts when half of the organization says, "Well, go ahead and use the free thing," and the other half of the organization says, "No, no, no, it's not secure, it's not tested, it's not certified." We think that we would rather avoid that conflict and again really give people what they are looking for.
Certification is a big deal for giving customers the feeling that they can trust their software. Where does Ubuntu stand in the certification process both with the major hardware and software companies?
We're still in the preliminary stages of improving those relationships, but it's absolutely, squarely, centrally, in our sights. We still have a long way to go. I think Red Hat claims somewhere like 400 ISV (certifications), and we possibly have 40. We have not yet announced certification or a relationship with the very largest vendors. Because of the traction that we have in just the sheer number of users, there's a real incentive for ISVs to work on these issues with us.
On the server front, Sun is a good partner of ours. They're really improving their free software story, so I'm quite happy to be associated with them. They have a much better, clearer picture of how they relate to Linux and how they relate to free software. They need to clean up some issues--the Java license and others--but basically I think they're heading in the right direction.
With Sun's UltraSparc T1 Niagara processor, you were the first Linux company to jump on board, in contrast to Novell and Red Hat, which dumped their Sparc versions some years ago. Is there any market interest in Linux on Sparc?
Sun is really onto an interesting idea. They are ahead of the curve. I think they have also done exceptionally well on their Opteron work and their relationship with AMD on that. The relationship between us and Sun allows us access perhaps to jump a couple of steps in this laborious process of building relationships in a customer base.
Do you have support contracts for Linux on Sparc?
We do indeed.
What's the fraction compared to Linux on x86?
It's about 5 percent, perhaps 6 percent of the total subscriptions.
How many subscribers do you have?
I don't think we can say that. We can say that we estimate between 3 and 6 million users on the desktop.
Do you have estimates for the server?
I don't think we track that at this stage.
You guys initially started out with GNOME, and then there's the separate variant Kubuntu with the KDE interface. What's your opinion on that user interface split between KDE and GNOME?
We picked GNOME first because they had a real commitment to usability. KDE had focused on other things. What's really nice about having both is that they get to compete.
On the other hand, from an ISV perspective it forces people to make what's really an unnecessary decision. I wish that there was more compatibility in terms of the licensing of them, and I wish that there was more compatibility in the points of interaction between ISVs and the desktop. Hopefully, that will come over time. Right now we see that KDE has about 30 percent (market share among Ubuntu users) and Gnome has about 60 percent.
Why did you choose to base Ubuntu on Debian versus, for example, something like CentOS where you could perhaps capitalize on the existing Red Hat software and hardware certifications?
Well, it might be just a lack of imagination because I've been a Debian developer since 1996. I would have picked something else if I thought there was another platform that had the same combination of community and engineering quality and focus and diversity in the scale of packages that it provides.
Debian is just unique; it really is in some ways kind of a pinnacle of what the free software world can create. I saw an opportunity to work with that community and take Debian into places where it wouldn't naturally get on its own. There are some folks in the Debian world who say that we've taken from them, and others think we've given them a huge shot in the arm.
Are you trying to improve relations with the non-Ubuntu Debian folks?
It's an area of constant work, and it's also a job that can never be done because community is a dynamic thing. I care a lot about Debian. It's a very important project. It is a project that attracts individualists, so we're never going to get to 100 percent happiness, but we're constantly improving things. For example, we recently agreed to a framework between ourselves and Debian where we mailed them our patches as we make them, instead of publishing them on the Web as we were. That's helped us a little bit in slowly improving relationships. We find some Debian developers want to collaborate and some don't.
The risk if you don't cooperate is you end up forking a lot of packages into potentially incompatible versions, or you work redundantly on the same features.
We do end up diverging from Debian in quite substantial ways, generally because we're adopting new infrastructure. We were really the first to move to Linux kernel 2.6 as a default. We were the first to package X.org instead of XFree86. We do most of the heavy lifting on packaging for GNOME that ultimately does end up in Debian. But it would be wrong to say that we're afraid of diverging. In fact if we never diverged then there'd been no reason for the existence of Ubuntu.
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