At the O'Reilly Open Source Conference this summer, Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth urged Linux developers to work toward making desktop Linux better than the Mac OS X, both in terms of aesthetics and in terms of usability. To demonstrate his own commitment to the effort, he said he would be committing Canonical resources to making it happen.
According to a ZDNet UK news story, Shuttleworth is making good on that promise. He announced Wednesday that Canonical will be hiring a team of developers to work specifically on improving the user experience of such software as "X, OpenGL, GTK, Qt, Gnome and KDE." Shuttleworth says usability should be priority one. In a blog post, he wrote:
Partly because of the web-2.0 phenomenon and the iPhone, there's a widely held desire to see FLOSS leap forward in usability and design. We want to participate and help drive that forward.
Interestingly though, this ZDNet UK blog post indicates that open source needs its own version of Steve Jobs for Linux usability to have a chance at reaching the heights Apple has already attained. But since open sourcers are bound to be turned off by the idea of a dictator, the writer suggests this leader will need to teach them how to develop more usable software rather than simply telling them to do so.
Somehow, I don't think that idea would go over very well. The idea of a single decision maker kind of flies in the face of the whole idea of collaboration and community, and that's what open source is all about.