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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

  • What is it like to travel in space...sorry but we had to ask?
  • What would you like the world to know about Ubuntu?
  • What would you like your legacy to be, or what are you ultimately trying to achieve in life, you have done so much already?
  • What ultimate impact will free and open source software have on the world, are we just getting started or is what has been accomplished just the tip of the iceberg?
  • There are a lot of bright young kids that want to contribute and get involved in free and open source software. What would you recommend for someone that is, say, a teenager?
  • What people in the free and open source world are your heroes?
  • Do you think it is realistic that Ubuntu Linux will eventually reach the stability and elegance of an operating system like OS X being that it is done in the open source community?
  • What advice would you give to programmers right now that would like to start a company and follow in your footsteps?
  • Describe your feelings on Dell selling your laptops, and do you think this is the start of a new trend in Ubuntu's history that will ultimately end as Linux being a viable desktop for grandma?


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:

  • It is and will always be free of charge.
  • Every six months a new desktop and server is released,
  • Everything is on one CD.
  • An install takes less than 25 minutes.
  • There are free security updates for at least 18 months.
  • It is available in most languages.

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:

  • Bazaar: A distributed version control system. If you haven't tried Bazaar yet, you should give it a try, it is a very lightweight alternative to centralized version control like Subversion
  • A free software hosting and development web site that makes it easy to, "collaborate across multiple project".
  • Storm: Storm is an object-relational mapper for Python that was developed at Canonical and is used inside of launchpad.
  • Landscape: A system management service that allows for centralized management of multiple Ubuntu machines. This is a commercial product that Canonical has rolled out.

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.

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