Does Open Source Really Need Its Own Steve Jobs?

Lora Bentley

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.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 12, 2008 7:14 AM Michael Leigh Dean Michael Leigh Dean  says:
It doesn't help that Shuttleworth is wrong, and he just doesn't get it. He can throw money at this all day long. Here is a recent post I made:Michael L. Dean, As a sociologist studying technology advances over the last 2 decades, I am amazed at the breadth and depth of blindness in perception of the technology community (i.e. developers and those who fund these developers) in their conclusions regarding what consumers really want. To hold the Apple os/x as the standard is both a strategic and a perceptual blunder which will not reap sufficient conditions for widespread adoption of Ubuntu, or any other flavor of Linux. You guys just dont get it!Now there is nothing wrong with throwing money at your obvious deficiencies. This fosters incremental but pedestrian improvements that will leave Windows users remarking so what. Apple is a cult - what they say does not matter in the least. You cant accomplish what they have done, not without rethinking your goals. What you must do with your wealth Mr. Shuttleworth, is foster a true paradigm shift after Kuhn, which leaves Windows the follower, and Ubuntu the leader and Apple with its cult following. You dont accomplish that by throwing a few bones to more programmers out there . You accomplish that by bringing true thinkers into the picture engineers are not enough. Engineers refine and bring to fruition the concepts of others, rarely do they create.So Mr. Shuttleworth, back to square one for you. You are bound to disappoint, because you are starting from false premises, an illusory standard, and and your own biases about how the world works. Reply
Sep 16, 2008 11:37 AM Ted Grier Ted Grier  says:
I find it amusing that your self-held belief in your own superiority of understanding in this area blinds you to your own conclusion. Mr Shuttleworth simply wants to surpass the Mac OS X with Linux software. You said he needs a paradigm shift to make ubuntu the leader. Same thing. Spouting words and ideas without putting the 'rubber to the road' is a waste of everybody's time. Mr Shuttleworth is putting his money where his mouth is. I applaud him for that. Reply

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