The installed base of Windows users is the biggest barrier to establishing Microsoft alternatives in business. But Mark Shuttleworth, founder of open source Linux distributor Ubuntu, believes the tide is turning in favour of Linux.
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The success of Apple in the home means people no longer buy Windows PCs for home use because they run Windows at work, Mark Shuttleworth says. This opens an opportunity for alternative operating systems.
"Linux is already doing extraordinarily well in the datacentre, driven by the shift to cloud computing," says Shuttleworth. He believes the industry has resolved many of the challenges users faced a few years ago in trying to use Linux for mainstream desktop computing. PC component suppliers are much more aware of Linux, he says, allowing modern desktop hardware to run Linux without problems.
Linux's credibility has been given a boost by Intel and Google, both of which have developed Linux-based products. Intel is working with Ubuntu and Dell among others, through its Moblin initiative, to develop a Linux-based platform optimised for mobile devices. Both Google's Chrome browser and Android mobile phone operating system use Linux.
So with open source products finding their way into people's lives, what is holding Linux back? Shuttleworth identifies three areas of concern. "We need to broaden the leadership of open source software. It is no longer just about soft development. Given the influence of the worldwide web, users want clear design. Open source software needs people who understand usability and design."
Open source is often regarded as robust because the code is open to public scrutiny but Shuttleworth believes security can be improved: "Free software is regarded as high quality code but we do not have a quality assurance programme and there is not a lot of automated testing undertaken on open source development."
Third, Shuttleworth is calling on the open source industry to be more organised. "There are hundreds of thousands of groups working on projects, all organised independently. Our challenge is that there is no real co-ordination. Testing is fragmented and releases of the different products are not synchronised," he says.