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Ubuntu Executive Leadership shift focuses on attracting ever larger Enterprise customers

As Ubuntu seeks to become the "open platform of choice for almost all use types whether on netbook, notebook, desktop, server, embedded device or wherever people compute," Mark Shuttleworth has decided to step down from the perch of Canonical CEO. Replacing him will be current Canonical COO Jane Silber. Mark has decided to focus more on his "passion of product design and development." Jane Silber, a former VP at General Dynamics, has much experience in dealing with very large customers. This means that Canonical will be leveraging Jane's experience in this market to woo the largest of customers.

So what does this mean for Ubuntu and Canonical? Well, as Mark Shuttleworth put it, this shift "will bring about a clearer separation of the role of CEO of Canonical and the leader of the Ubuntu community. It will be two different people now, which [he thinks] will be helpful in both achieving their joint and individual goals more quickly." I find this move to be highly strategic and very well executed to promote the growth of both the open source community backed distribution and it's corporate support arm.

When you are dealing with the open source crowd, passions are high in all sorts of areas. One thing that would ring foul to most in the community would be to have a 'suit' running the community project. I am in no way saying that Jane is a 'suit' but being a former VP of a large corporation would definitely paint that picture. Mark, despite being the CEO of Canonical up to this point, was more than likely viewed as a geek 'who happened to run a business.' To push the role of CEO of Canonical along with Leader of the Ubuntu Community onto Jane would have been disastrous from the perspective of the community. By retaining the leadership position with the Ubuntu Community while passing the corporate responsibilities for Canonical onto Jane, Mark was able to win the hearts and minds of people on both sides.

So how does this affect the Ubuntu Community? For most things, there will be little to no impact as Mark is still the leader of the community and the project will move forward as usual. The distribution will gain from Mark pouring all of his passion into improving the user experience at all levels. All in all, Mark will simply be "spending more time on the areas that interest [him] the most and where [he feels he] can do the most good." I expect some really great things in the UI department over the next few releases. This will please the desktop and portable crowd more than anything.

On the corporate side, I believe a renewed focus on large enterprise customers will yield the revenue that Canonical has yet to find. Profitability has remained just out of reach, but the company has persevered regardless. It will take a keen and focused CEO to supplant Red Hat as the de facto Linux distribution in the enterprise, but if I had to pick the most likely contender to do so, it would be Canonical/Ubuntu. The keys to dominance in the enterprise operating system arena are excellent vendor support, a solid well defined road map, a deep ecosystem of system architects, designers and developers, stability and flexibility within the infrastructure. I believe that Jane will be able to focus on these core areas and develop relationships with many Fortune 500 enterprises.

The pervasiveness of the Ubuntu Linux distribution is such that it is considered ubiquitous at this point. Of those who are not familiar with the Linux universe, most have at least heard of Ubuntu and to them it means Linux. This is a great perception to have when developing image and branding. Ubuntu already has deep credibility within the open source community and many SMBs. The last step for Ubuntu is to carry that credibility into the Fortune 500 market. It will be a difficult uphill road to dominance in the enterprise data center, but much like the ant eating the elephant, it will be accomplished one bite at a time.

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