Recently, Ubuntu founder and Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth spoke with The 451 Group at length about Dapper, Ubuntu, and the trends and development of the open source and free software movements as they relate to enterprise information technology. In this multi-part series, The 451 Group will present Shuttleworth’s comments along with insight and commentary from 451 Group analysts who cover the worlds of open source and enterprise software. These include Rachel Chalmers, Martin Schneider, Raven Zachary and me, Nick Selby.
Ubuntu 6.06, the Dapper Drake, is scheduled to launch officially on 1 June. We’ve been running it here at The 451 Group for some months (in fact, this report was produced on it – see Open Source software at The 451 Group). In addition to its obvious desktop enhancements, much work has been done by the Ubuntu development team to appeal to a market which until recently seemed to have been beyond Ubuntu’s reach: the enterprise server.
When Shuttleworth originally suggested that the delay take place, the reasons given were to increase stability and reliability of Dapper, as well as devoting additional developer time to UI polish, to try to make Dapper stand out as a high-quality desktop operating system for large-scale deployment. While there was some grumbling of the ‘But-we-could-be-ready-in-time’ type from developers, it seemed that most people felt the stated goals were laudable, and the delay brief enough.
But, obviously, there was more to it than just making sure quality was up to snuff. While Ubuntu has versions for Intel, Mac and 64-bit architecture, could it have been that the delay was to prepare Ubuntu for another platform?
A possible answer emerged this May. At the JavaOne Conference in San Francisco, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, discussing the Linux distro which will run on its Niagara-based servers, brought out Shuttleworth (to some ooohs and ahhs) to talk about … Dapper in the enterprise in the context of Linux on Sun. Then Schwartz referred to Ubuntu as arguably one of the most important, if not the most important, distribution out there. Surely this was not coincidence, and we look forward to some concrete announcements.
Ubuntu’s Time Release Formula
Dapper had been scheduled for release on 20 April, 2006, but at Shuttleworth’s suggestion, the team agreed to delay its launch until 1 June. I mentioned to Shuttleworth that several of us had been running Dapper for some time, and that we were all impressed with its stability even in Beta.
Mark Shuttleworth: “I’m very glad to hear that … if you had significant issues at this stage we’d all be in trouble. Yes, Dapper is in very good shape. The original release date was [April] 20th; we pushed it back six weeks because we really raised the bar in terms of the level of reliability, quality assurance, testing, documentation, translation and so on that we want to achieve at release date.
“And so I’m quite excited about that – it’s the first time that we’ve done a release that can be widely considered as an enterprise quality release. That extra round of quality assurance gives us the confidence to offer three years of support on the desktop and five years on the server. So Dapper is in good shape. It is going to be a interesting challenge for us as an organization to have to speak compellingly about servers now for the first time, as opposed to desktops, where we’ve really built our reputation. But that’s very much what we’re focused on at the moment.”
Ready for the Enterprise
In terms of ‘enterprise-ready’, Ubuntu has been working on two main tracks: enterprise servers, and making rock solid and intuitive its desktop. We think that as a desktop environment, Dapper is perhaps the most sophisticated and easy-to-use Gnome-based desktop we’ve seen. It’s clear that the development team spent tons of time making laptop support as close to universal as possible – in terms of suspend with lid-close and button-and-F-key support, as well as enhancements to Red Hat’s NetworkManager to make wireless association and disassociation as painless as it is in Windows.
On the server side, Ubuntu has been spending lots of time making sure the server versions are enterprise ready in terms of stability, scalability and functionality, with support options enterprise can understand. To do that, we wondered whether new provisioning mechanisms have been integrated, or whether the Ubuntu team has have been concentrating on the QA, leaving and professional services (from companies like Shuttleworth’s Canonical) to effect deployment?
Mark Shuttleworth: “We have a team based in Montreal that is building up a support services portfolio that’s very much focused on servers and Dapper. There is, additionally, a team that’s working on management infrastructure, so providing people with a comprehensive framework to manage large deployments of servers. That won’t be released for Dapper, but all the foundations of it will be there so that Dapper will be manageable just as people have come to expect a Red Hat Enterprise deployment to be managed, through the web. We’ll deliver that same level of functionality with Dapper as soon as the other pieces of that solution are in place.
In terms of provisioning and so on, most of our focus at this stage is on the channel, and people who are in the pre-installation business, as well as on folks who are selling server-oriented equipment into the sorts of markets where we think that Dapper will be widely adopted: commodity servers, web servers database servers, directory servers, those kinds of ‘fire-up-and-forget’ type infrastructure that is not yet mission-critical, so its not yet at the heart of the business, but it is running the mail servers and the web severs and the all of that ancillary infrastructure that has become commoditized over the past ten years.
“It’s really interesting to see how changes in technology move into society and industry and become part of the mainstream. What’s particularly interesting to me about the open source and free software phenomenon is that it seems to be having almost a second significant round of impact on the technology industry. The first round of impact came in the early days of the Internet phenomenon, when it was free software and open source software that unleashed a flood of creativity, and allowed small and new companies to establish very significant Internet infrastructure very quickly.
“Today that remains the case; if you look at Internet infrastructure, in terms of web servers and email and to a certain extent also routers and firewalls and so on, much of it is dominated by products which are free software from end-to-end, or else it has very strong free software roots at the heart of it.
“That trend has continued unabated throughout the boom and bust of the dot com. Now we see that it’s very much the case that new infrastructure being created is, almost without question, planned, designed and built around components that are basically free software components.
“What is changing is the response of the very large-scale software industry to that phenomenon. In the early days of the dot com movement, free software wasn’t really threatening the established industry, but rather it was giving the established industry new ways to present itself, and to attract new customers and so on. It wasn’t like free software was attacking the large software industry, it was as if the free software industry was creating the industry of Internet infrastructure.
“Today though the emphasis is starting to shift, because almost all of the the large software companies are seeing that users of software are starting to re-evaluate where they buy their software, and which software they buy, because of forces that have been unleashed by the free software movement.
“So for example, I think Oracle’s repositioning itself towards the higher end of the application space – with the acquisitions of PeopleSoft and other companies – is very much aimed at getting out of the commodity database space. They do have the very interesting acquisition of InnoDB, and they have talked about other operating system acquisitions, but fundamentally, most of their [M&A] activity has been about getting out of anything that can be described as a commodity.
“On the flip side I think we’re seeing Microsoft and other companies trying to shift the emphasis towards relationships and subscriptions – such as XBox live, and that home-entertainment, media type of experience – and away from software as a critical piece of infrastructure because that’s all becoming commoditized.
“So we see that trend absolutely continuing: anything that can be commoditized is going to become commoditized, and we see end-users becoming increasingly comfortable with the diversity that that brings. For example, in the consumer space, people are very protective about the desktop, but they’re not at all protective of the smart phone. So consumer adoption of Linux on the smart phone is enormous — people are absolutely willing to accept the idea that they might use new tools, new pieces of software, new user interfaces and so on, as long as you don’t threaten certain key applications that they’re comfortable with, that they know and trust.
“But we see even that traditional stronghold – the Microsoft Office stronghold – even that is becoming vulnerable, just because people are consciously aware that they need to retrain and embrace new ways of working.
“There are two big things coming down the pike in the traditional office space. First is the whole Web 2.0, ‘will-the-web-replace-the-desktop’ sort of question, which we don’t think is the case but it is certainly forcing people to acknowledge that maybe they will end up using office software in a completely different way.
“And second, the fact that Microsoft themselves have said that they need to reinvent in a profound way what the office suite is all about. We think that they will likely take on some big challenges in that respect, both around collaboration and around the user interface experience.
“Which means that people are going to be relearning and retaining in any event, so we see that as an indicator that this wave of change is ready to move very much from the back office, where it has been pervasive over the last ten years, to the front office which is towards peoples’ desktop computers.
“I hope that sets the scene: We really believe that now is the right time for open source and free software to be establishing a strong foothold in the consumer desktop and office type environments, and Ubuntu is a response to that – positioned to be offering the right things to the kinds of people who understand free software, and deploying it in the most effective way possible, either at the enterprise level or at a personal level, both in a desktop type environment and potentially also in a more consumer type application, a more embedded type application.”
Clearly, Shuttleworth’s a very interesting guy. We have lots of questions, though as the comments below begin to note. For example, what specifically about Dapper makes it the first enterprise-quality release, and the first to earn 3/5 years support? Just the QA? Extra features? The shot at server adoption? We’ll discuss this and more here and in other areas of the blog in the coming weeks.
On 2 June, read Shuttleworth’s comments on Ubuntu on the desktop, and Open Source and Free software in the US, and around the world.
From Rachel Chalmers
Regarding the trend towards free and open source software in infrastructure, maybe – it depends on the infrastructure. Tangosol, for example, a J2EE data grid startup, is defiantly closed-source and intends to remain that way. A lot of management and analytics companies take a similar approach. Anything math-intensive can still be patented and held as trade secrets, and the open source community isn’t especially quick to reverse-engineer such tools… Won’t this affect Ubuntu more and more as it heads for the enterprise server?
On Oracle and its acquisitions of PeopleSoft and InnoDB, you can use BEA as a counterexample. You don’t necessarily have to move up the application stack, you can also move out to new architectures, particularly SOA. The giant ISVs have their own huge operating revenues and cash reserves, which makes them far more resilient than I think a lot of entrepreneurs realize… BEAS and ORCL will be formidable competitors for a long time to come, and both are gradually embracing open source.
Regarding Microsoft trying to shift the emphasis towards relationships and subscriptions and that home-entertainment, media experience, that’s part of what Microsoft is doing, but it’s also selling dev tools and middleware into the enterprise in a way it never has done before. Dapper Drake’s going to be running in a lot of places that might otherwise be running Windows, and vice versa…
And I think in the cases of both Microsoft/Linux and Office/Web 2.0 this is an oversimplification of what’s likely to end up being a complex series of alternating battles and accommodations, ending with uneasy co-existence. We see this in our own company, where everyone’s writing stories in Word for Windows (or Word on Mac or OpenOffice on Ubuntu), then publishing them to the Web via a Linux server to be read by vendors, I-bankers and a growing number of end users…on their Windows machines.
I think his last point is sensible – I think he is saying that the bulk of desktop Ubuntu adoption is likely to be among fellow-travelers. I think that’s true: people will choose Windows for convenience or out of laziness, Mac for its UI and Ubuntu for its righteousness.
From Raven Zachary
Is Ubuntu shaping up to be a strong Linux server play? If that’s the case, we could see a community counterpoint to Red Hat and SUSE. Sure, there’s a ton of server distributions out there already, but the community seems to be supporting the idea of a primary community distribution, based on the impressive growth rate of Ubuntu. Fragmentation (“choice”) can slow down adoption.
Shuttleworth on stage with Schwartz at JavaOne isn’t primarily about snubbing Red Hat, as much as it could perceived as such. Sun isn’t the first server vendor to stand behind Ubuntu and this type of support is going to accelerate the use of Ubuntu as a server OS (much earlier than I thought it would).
When he says that he has a team up in Montreal working on a support services portfolio, is he talking about the commercial aspect of Canonical’s business model or is he talking about a partner? With the rate of adoption that Ubuntu is enjoying, I could a see a good business from Ubuntu support right now.
The database space is far from being a commodity in the mainstream. Enterprise users I am talking to aren’t replacing Oracle on critical systems, nor are they even considering it. Read-only databases, development, internal applications, non-critical systems – sure. But not the core…yet. We’re pretty early on when it comes to enterprise database migrations to open source. I do agree that there is more commercial longevity in the application space, such as PeopleSoft.
I think we still have a few years to go before Linux as an enterprise desktop OS gains much traction. A lot of people have been talking about Linux as an enterprise desktop OS for a long time. Yes, we’re getting closer, but I think we’re seeing now that it’s not a technical hurdle, but a cultural hurdle. The enterprise is highly dependent on Windows. That’s a slow ship to turn. When I do hear about Linux as an enterprise desktop OS, it’s in Europe or in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).
From Martin Schneider
I would agree/disagree with his application hints re: oracle. Yes, they are branching out from core Db sales and have been for many years, but to say that large CRM and ERP apps are not able to be commodified is kind of misleading. Yes, they are highly customized at the deployment level both vertically and for biz size etc. (maybe he means retek/profitlogic when he says this) and yeah there is more “mixing and matching” when a rep sells large software packages versus just selling a static dbase on a per server/cpu basis– and Fusion will only further this. But, the services are where it’s at in terms of incremental bucks, and until we see huge services gains (and see the services arm of Oracle become a major profit center) I am not sure that Shuttleworth’s comments are 100% on target, just yet.
From Nick Selby
From a security standpoint I think that Ubuntu has been perhaps better fished-out than most other distros at the same point in its existence, and it benefits of course from the years of Debian development. I’m waiting to see the first security product which is based on a stripped-down, hardened version of Ubuntu – don’t laugh! Sure, most security vendors start either at kernel.org and building up or Red Hat (like Securify) or SUSE (like Astaro) and tearing down to harden, but there have been some surprises out there. I know of several security vendors with hardened Debian at their heart (TriGeo Network Security comes immediately to mind) but it’s interesting to note that Barracuda started with, wait for it, Mandrake. It’s not inconceivable to me that the rapid and widespread development, the QA and stability associated with Ubuntu might attract some Linux-based appliance vendors targeting small to mid-size enterprise to start at Dapper.