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Spotlight on FOSS: An Interview with Mark Shuttleworth

by Jeremy Jones and Noah Gift

Watch Flash Video | Listen to Interview Audio | Download Quicktime or MP3 Interview | Read Interview Transcript


Jeremy and I were talking one day about how the world was changing so quickly, and we meant literally beneath our feet. In the last decade it has become possible to buy just about anything that can be sold on the Internet, newspapers are being replaced by blogs, and iTunes is the leading music retailer.

That got us thinking about video. I have been working in television and film since about 10 when I first started editing footage for my dad. I go so far back that I actually remember when video wasn't digital, and you needed two tapes just to make a dissolve. We began to collaborate on starting a project that would encompass all of these things.

To make a long story short, we decided to start an impromptu video podcast called, "Spotlight on FOSS," or Spotlight on Free and Open Source Software.

The premise of the show is that we interview someone in the Free and Open Source Software world, and spotlight a software solution they have contributed to.


Once we had our concept together we contacted a few connections, and came up an interview with Mark Shuttleworth. Yes, that is correct, we scored an interview with the Mark Shuttleworth, and we would use the Internet to do it. We sent him a list of questions, and he taped his response to these questions while he was in a studio in London.

One of the powerful components of the Internet era, is that you can conduct remote interviews for "free" with just email. If someone decides to accept your email and tape themselves, then you have cut the cost of producing video to almost zero. Normally, one of the most expensive components of video production is the onsite setup and travel.

Brief Sidebar About Mark Shuttleworth

You can read Mark Shuttleworth's official biography, but here is a brief overview of what he has accomplished at the age of 34. Before he was 25 years old he sold a company he founded, Thawte, to VeriSign for about 575 million. In 2002 he traveled to space after spending a year in training, including seven months in Star City, Russia.

While many people would be happy to rest after they had made a half a billion dollars and traveled to space before 30, Mark was just warming up for his next challenge. It is a somewhat hidden fact that Mark Shuttleworth was a Debian developer in the 1990s, and as such he decided to found the Ubuntu Foundation and make an initial investment of 10 million dollars. Now Ubuntu has taken off like wildfire and, for many, it is the desktop operating system of choice.


Once we got back a copy of our tape, I loaded it into Final Cut Pro and gave it a preview. Our jaws dropped when we watched the interview. Mark Shuttleworth blew us away with the power of his interview. It was truly one of the most inspirational interviews either one of us had watched.

Mark not only gives interesting insight into the way he thinks, but he offers advice and encouragement for the young and old alike. To say we were surprised at the power of the interview, was an understatement. Every single person we have shown a preview of the tape to, has agreed that it was an incredibly powerful interview by a very well spoken and accomplished individual.


Having a budget of absolutely zero dollars was a bit interesting. As a result we had to think of creative ways to solve problems without money. We needed an intro for the show, music, and credits.

I had a friend Lee Wiggins, who creates Television promos for a living, volunteer to create the introduction to the show for us. We think he did an outstanding job. I ended up writing some background piano music on my Roland piano, Jeremy did his screencast of Ubuntu on the cheap, and before we knew it, we had a show together.

I spent a few sleepless nights editing the footage together, and that was a bit fun, as it has been a bit since I have done any serious editing. It is amazing that it is possible to edit just about anything on a laptop computer.

The Questions


Conducting an interview via email is strange to say the least, but it turned out pretty well. One of the outstanding problems though, is getting the video quality versus size ratio correct. Having worked in film I am used to seeing uncompressed high definition footage, and super compressed video for the Internet is much different.

Finding the correct balance is challenging because if you make the quality too large, then it could take hours to download a video and people won't bother. On the other hand if the quality is so compressed that no one can make out a face that doesn't help either. We think we found the right balance in our final product though.

One of the more tricky aspect of shooting live video is getting the audio right. The shoot that Jeremy and I did for our portion was no different. It turned out the audio was low in a few places, so I had to do quite a bit of tweaking in post production, including noise filter reduction. All in all though, the audio turned out OK given our budget of zero dollars.

Our Favorite Answers

On of our favorite answers was Mark's response to the question about whether Linux will ever reach the level of stability of OS X. Mark talked about the "factory" in which open source is built. To loosely paraphrase Mark, often Open Source comes up with the most creative and scalable solutions to problems. Eventually the business model will be found that will allow the correct factory conditions to be met that will produce a product equal to say, OS X, on the desktop.

Another interesting topic that Mark highlighted was finding your passion and pursuing it. He mentions that "finance" really shouldn't be the goal of your career, instead it should be a pursuit of your passion.

Free and Open Source Software Spotlight

Ubuntu is in our spotlight for this episode. Ubuntu, for those that don't know already, is a version of Linux that focuses on usability and ease of use. According to, "Ubuntu is a community developed, Linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need - a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more." The latest version is Ubuntu 8.04, and 8.10 will be out in just a few days.

If you haven't had a chance to check out Ubuntu yet, take this opportunity download an ISO, and test it out the Live CD. Another interesting option to explore Ubuntu is to just download a Virtual Machine from the Vmware Virtual Appliance.


Some of the unique features the Ubuntu offers are:

Stealth Fact about Ubuntu and Canonical

Python plays an important role at Canonical. You could even go so far as to say that Python is the language of choice for the company. Here is a rough list of the projects that are written with Python at Canonical:

There has been tremendous buzz about Python's "infection" of systems administration and systems programming. It will be interesting to see where this ultimately leads. Will Canonical start writing run levels in Python next?

To get some idea of how big of a deal Python is becoming in the Linux world we can also take a look at Red Hat. Red Hat has a Research and Development division called Red Hat Emerging Technology Group. The link to that website can be found here.

If you look at the projects listed, Python either plays a role or is the language in which the project is being developed. The future for Linux and Python for both Canonical and Red Hat seems to be bright.


After you are done viewing the video feel free to discuss it here. What was your favorite answer? Was there a question you wish we would have asked? We will do our best to respond to questions and comments.

In addition, feel free to contact Jeremy or I by email if you have questions, suggestions, or comments about the show that you would like to address by email.

Delivery Format

We are committing to releasing every show as both a Quicktime and an Ogg file, in addition to being streamed from O'Reilly.

Editor's Note: We're currently working on converting the video to Ogg, and hope to have it available shortly.

If you any questions about the delivery format be sure to let us know.

Watch Flash Video | Listen to Interview Audio | Download Quicktime or MP3 Interview | Read Interview Transcript

Watch the interview with Mark Shuttleworth

Listen to the interview with Mark Shuttleworth


Short Interview
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Full Interview
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Next Interview: Richard Stallman and Emacs

Richard Stallman has agreed to be our next interview, although we had meet some conditions, which shouldn't surprise anyone that follows him. Stay tuned for more information on that interview, but feel free to contact us with questions you would like us to ask him.

Because Richard Stallman played a significant role in the development of Emacs, we will be discussing Emacs as our Software Spotlight for that episode.



Noah Gift: Welcome to Spotlight on FOSS, the video podcast series that focuses on free and open source software and the revolutionary thinkers behind them.

Jeremy Jones: In our Pilot Episode, we interview Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of the Ubuntu Project.

Noah Gift: Mark sat down with us and answered a few questions ranging from what's it is like to travel in space to Ubuntu.

Jeremy Jones: What is it like to travel in space?

Mark Shuttleworth: It is an extraordinary privilege to fly in space. It completely changes your perspective on the fragility of the human experience and the fragility of our planet. When you've actually looked down on the earth and you've seen how much of it has been dramatically altered by ourselves, by humanity, then you realize that we have a real obligation to take very careful decisions about what we do going forward. And you know, if you looked at the face of the earth 200 years ago, and you looked at it today, it would look fundamentally, dramatically different.

And I think we're only just starting to comprehend now the scale of the impact that we are having on the planet. So having seen that first hand, it certainly has changed my view of what's important in the way we treat the earth and the way we behave there.

It is also an extraordinary thing to go through a process which involves transplanting yourself into a completely different culture, which for me it was fascinating to spend a year living mostly in Russia and working with Russians. And to walk through an experience, which involves some degree of terror and some degree of boredom and some degree of dedication, and ultimately get to a point which is very privileged and unique. It just was a great experience.

I'm very excited about the fact that space is becoming more accessible to everybody else out there. And I look forward to a day when we can, all share in that experience because it does change your perspective.

Jeremy Jones: What would you like the world to know about Ubuntu?

Mark Shuttleworth: Ubuntu, my mind, truly catches the spirit of free software. We've had almost 20 years of development in the free software movement. And our goal with the Ubuntu project is to distill all of that down into something, which anybody can use whether they are a software professional, an information technology professional, or whether they are the grandmother of the information technology professional. Ubuntu tries to distill the very, very best of the free software world into something, which is convenient to share, convenient to train on, convenient to deploy, convenient to manage.

Free software has already changed the economics of the technology industry. If you look at the whole dot com and Internet revolution, it really is powered by free software, but that revolution hasn't yet reached the daily lives of everybody who uses a computer. And so Ubuntu, I hope, will help us take the next step with free software and make it something that everybody uses and that everybody can share.

So the things that everybody I think would agree about it and that folks should know, is that first, it really is easy to install and easy to use. Second, it generally is freely available and it goes as far as we think is right at this stage towards making sure it is an entirely free software platform. And it expresses I think, the best of what is possible with a well-organized community in the free software world.

It's also something that anybody can participate in. We have thousands of people participating in developing Ubuntu. And so whatever your particular interests or particular capabilities, you really can help to accelerate the project and help it to do amazing things.

Jeremy Jones: What are you ultimately trying to achieve in life?

Mark Shuttleworth: That's a tricky question, because I don't think that life can be planned in the way that maybe we conventionally used to think that you could plan your life. The world has changed so much and continues to change so fast that I think the best we can do is to respond in brief segments of life to the opportunities and to the changes going on around us.

I have always wanted to be associated with change, with either technology that was changing society or changes in society itself. And all we can really do is to help to capture the essence of that change and accelerate it, move it along, move the world along the path that it's destined to roll.

I also think we should enjoy life. So, I hope if I'm remembered for anything, it's for making the most of a very, very brief stay here on earth.

Jeremy Jones: What impact will free and open source software have on the world?

Mark Shuttleworth: Perhaps a better way to look at this is that free software itself is just one manifestation of a broader change that is happening in the world. 10 years ago we were all extremely excited about connecting the world. And while that job isn't yet done, there are still billions of people who don't have running water or electricity, let alone access to the Internet. But It's clear that we're on a trajectory now to get the whole world connected to the Internet, whether that takes 10 years or 50 years is a matter of social policy and conscience. But we are on that trajectory.

What's happening now, a decade later, is that we're figuring out completely new ways to create work, powered by the Internet. And what we're finding is that it's possible to very efficiently, very effectively, gather together the best thinkers, or the best producers, or the best creators in a particular field and empower them to create something that everybody benefits from. This is clearly true in the field of software, where free software has captured that ideal and that process.

But it's also true in content. If you look at Wikipedia as a manifestation of aggregating the collaborative thoughts of millions of people driven by their interests and drive by their fascinations and their expertise, rather than driven by where they happen to live or who's willing to pay them. You get a wonderful result when you do this. And I think this meme, this idea, is going to touch every industry in the same way that the Internet itself has touched every industry. And so us free software guys can be proud of, in one sense, being the first to capture the possibilities of global collaboration around a shared digital commons. But we shouldn't overstate our contribution, that we are ourselves part of a much bigger movement. And over the next few years, I believe that will become increasingly clear. And smart companies, smart individuals will figure out how to make the most of that.

Moderator: This next segment will highlight some of the key benefits of the Ubuntu desktop including ease of installation, package management, and some of the applications that are installed by default.

When you boot from an Ubuntu CD, the first thing that you'll see is the option to start or install Ubuntu. Ubuntu is in fact
a bootable Linux distribution, which also has the ability to install from within that runtime. CD boots us to the GNOME desktop, and on the desktop is an installer, which we run, and it asks us for language, time zone, keyboard type.

It runs a partitioner to set up the partitions on our hard drive. It tries to import any user information that's on the system. We enter the user name and password for our initial user and we click install. When the installer completes, we click re-boot and we have a log- in screen. And then we have our new desktop.

One of the benefits of Ubuntu and in fact any Debian based system is the excellent package management available. Synaptic is a GUI front-end to the APT package management system. Here we are going to search for a podcast grabbing application. Select gPodder from the list. Mark for install, then we'll click the apply button. Review the packages to install. Click apply again. And it goes out, downloads the required packages, and runs the installer on them.

Had gPodder required any packages that weren't already installed APT would have gone out, downloaded the required packages, and installed them first. Thus, resolving the dependency. Then it would install the gPodder core application.

After the application finishes installing, I click close. Wait for Synaptic to refresh. And then I close the Synaptic application.

Now, we can see where in the menu gPodder is installed. Not under Graphics, not under Internet, not under Accessories, let's try Sound and Video, that would make sense. gPodder is installed there. We click on it. It brings it up. We can see that the application works and that's good enough.

Another benefit of Ubuntu is the choice of applications that were installed by default. Applications such Tomboy for Notes, F-Spot for Photo management, GIMP for Image Editing, Firefox for web browsing, Evolution for email, Pigeon for chat, Open Office for your office needs. The Totem Movie Player and Rhythm Box for music.

Jeremy Jones: You've been watching Spot Light on FOSS. I'm Jeremy Jones.

Noah Gift: And I'm Noah Gift. Stay tuned.


Jeremy Jones is a software engineer who works for Predictix. His weapon of choice is Python.

Noah Gift is the co-author of Python For Unix and Linux by O'Reilly. He is an author, speaker, consultant, and community leader, writing for publications such as IBM Developerworks, Red Hat Magazine, O'Reilly, and MacTech, and Manning.

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