Entrevista a Mark Shuttleworth: transcripción original completa

Hace unos días publiqué en eldiario.es la entrevista que hice a Mark Shuttleworth, fundador de Ubuntu. Llevaba algunas semanas persiguiendo un hueco en su agenda cuando estuviera en París y finalmente pudimos coincidir. Mark, además de ser brillante, es muy simpático, ríe mucho y además es una persona curiosa, que escucha atentamente y se interesa por lo que ve. Me preguntó por eldiario.es y cuando le pregunté si nos conocía me dijo que sí, y que seguía bastante lo que pasaba en temas de medios en España. Le conté que habíamos nacido hace sólo un año, el 18 de septiembre de 2012, y dijo “¡El día de mi cumpleaños!”. Serendipia para mi entrevista, sin dudas.

Mark Shuttleworth

Había preparado preguntas sobre Ubuntu, la industria y su empresa, pero tenía mucha curiosidad por otros temas más personales: su paseo espacial, su punto de vista como sudafricano, la decisión de establecer su empresa en la Isla de Man, sus encuentros con Mandela. Y cuando empecé a hablar con él me dí cuenta de que iba a responderme todo, lo escribiese o no.

Aunque teníamos 40 minutos, estuvimos conversando más de una hora, y pude poner casi todo en el artículo que publiqué en Diario Turing. Un ingeniero que te responde una pregunta con una poesía, y minutos después quiere saber tu opinión sobre el Nexus 5. Un desarrollador al que le preguntas sobre Mandela y critica la hipocresía política de los Estados Unidos y que se interesa a su vez sobre tu medio, sobre la crisis en tu país, alguien así es ciertamente una maravilla de entrevistado.

Aquí dejo la transcripción en inglés para los que querían leerla. Traducir es lo peor porque uno siempre siente que se pierden cosas, así que los que puedan disfrutarla en el idioma original, háganlo. Las entrevistas son mi género favorito y creo que de todas las que he hecho, esta es mi preferida (aunque debo admitir que la de Vint Cerf le pisa los talones).


MG – What can you tell me about Ubuntu for phones, how is it going? And what happened with Ubuntu Edge Phone?

MS – The first one is the most interesting thing. Here’s an Ubuntu phone (he shows it). We’ve just assigned the first definitive agreement to ship this device in 2014. We are in negotiations with quite few of the very known brands to ship this devices but we have signed our first agreement with one of the manufacturers to ship it, so I’m very excited.

MG – Can you say which brand it is?

MS – Nope. But I can say when-

MG – Is it a big one?

MS – No, it’d just give a sense of scale. But it’s the first. So, for the team that’s a very important milestone, it means that they shift mentally from something that could be a product to something, sometimes that can be a platform for people who makes phone calls and use the phone everyday and need it to work perfectly. So that’s a very important milestone for us.

The Edge… it was bittersweet for me. I fell in love with the device as we find the design and find the design. The story behind the Edge is that we were talking with one of these big brands and they were telling us it’s very difficult for them to know what to put in a next generation device. They have to make lots of choices, components, specifications, things like that. And they feel that the industry dynamic really punishes people who takes risks.

If you have a very successful phone that may ship tens of millions of phones the next generation you end with a lot of pressure to get it right. So they feel as product managers, that they don’t have a good mechanism to take risks, so we said “why don’t you crowdsource, why don’t you put up some specifications and crowd fund essentially a project and if you get enough support then it’s a signal that what people wants to buy. So they said “it’s a very interesting idea, why don’t you do it?” Because we know how to work in open communities and we know how to take ideas from everybody. So that’s why we put the Edge concept together and in the first week we thought we were gonna make it, we broke all of these records… and then we fell short.

MG – It was like 12 millions

MS – Yes… We broke the records, the records from the first day, the first week, you know, the total, etcetera, but we didn’t get enough. So I think that’s life, you know. Sometimes you have ideas, and you love the idea, but not enough other people love the idea.

MG – But, is that left behind? I mean, you didn’t make but-

MS – Yes, exactly, what will happen now is that we focus on the software. And we continue to work on the software. And I think moving slower will give us the Edge anyway in 2 or 3 years, the specifications, the capabilities, anyway in we’ll get there in 3 years. With the Edge we’d have got there in 1 year, it would have been nice that kind of leap forward.

MG – So we can still dream with the Edge, with the same Edge phone?

MS – Exactly. Well, we can dream about Ubuntu on phones, because that will happen. We have a contract to to that. But a phone which you can sense of carry all of this around (points the laptop), you can carry the keyboard and you put your phone here and it drives a screen and you have a PC, that, the true conversion story, that will take a little longer, cause we have to wait for the industry to get there. But we will do the software. In a sense it’s easier for us because we focus just in the software. And it’s coming along, you know this is probably two week old build, (shows the Ubuntu for phones he has in his smartphone, a Nexus 4), you can see, it´s pretty smooth.

We’ve done a lot of benchmark testing. People who for example have an Apple phone, if you give them an Android, between an Android and this, they prefer this every time. So I think that’s the important thing for us to do, to make something this beautiful. We can’t avoid being controversial. The fact that we built this made some people of the open source community very angry: “Why did you?”. I didn’t mean to upset you, we did it because we think this is important and beautiful. And I think people now are starting to be a little more understanding of that. That we have this mission that we can create free software that’s really beautiful and works fine on tablet and PC.

MG – Are there any other phone manufacturers preparing to launch phones with Ubuntu Mobile OS?

MS – Well, the process is -if you look at a big smartphone manufacturer- they’ll have a board and they’ll have different business units that look at different markets, maybe geographical, maybe consumer, enterprises, etc. And then they’ll have CTO offices, with an innovation team. And those CTO offices have programs as they look at coming technologies and they see operating systems, accessories, sensors… Those CTO teams are where we’ve been working. And they came to us and said OK, we got a new phone coming, we’ll put Ubuntu on it, can you help us get us on it, etc. And now we’re getting the point where those guys are making recommendations to the board whether they should do Ubuntu or not.

I can tell you that with a very big brand the CTO team has recommended to the board and they commit to do Ubuntu, but we are waiting now for the next board meeting. So it’s like that, across multiple big brands. There are some brands that have their own operating system strategy, like Samsung, Nokia, BlackBerry, they’ll never, they are not gonna do Ubuntu. They’ll have to succeed or fail in their own strategy before trying Ubuntu. But there are lot of people doing just Android and Windows, and they will want to do something else, and this is a good chance, to choose Ubuntu.

And you see the list of carriers that have publicly said that they want to see Ubuntu on the phone, it’s a great list: Vodafone, Telstra, China Unicom (why is China Unicom logo not on the wall? he asks his assistant), anyway big Chinese carrier, Verizon in America, T-Mobile in America, (thinks) so, a buch of carriers so you can see not only phone manufacturers are doing phone mobile units. It takes time, you know, I would love to (snaps fingers) just do that. I don’t think the fact that it’s taking time is negative, it’s a big industry.

MG – Are you adapting PC apps for mobile OS? For instance, LibreOffice is the same app or is it adapted for mobile?

MS – This operating system (points to the phone) is the exactly same operating system. So LibreOffice would run here but the UI is not right, so what we’re doing is creating guidelines for the open source community to say “if you want your app to run on a phone and tablet pc, here is the SDK, here are the tools, here is the design, to help get your app. So we’d very much like to get all our users favourite apps: LibreOffice, Inkscape, they are great applications we would like to have on the phone. It’ll take a little bit of time, but we’ll help them to do that.

MG – How do you see Ubuntu in the context of surveillance programs? Is it a matter of concern for you when developing?

MS – We have a very strong commitment to defending the user and the right of privacy and confidentiality. We take security very seriously.

I can definitively say that we have never, as an institution, been asked to compromise the security of Ubuntu on behalf of the NSA. I do worry that in the whole open source story, we can’t check every line of code and we don’t know what piece can be introduced that in the end can weaken Ubuntu. I do worry about that. But I think we set internal processes in the company to make employees feel comfortable that they should never feel under pressure to abuse their positions.

Their primary commitment is to the security of the user, that’s the way to be trusted by governments and individuals. And the only way to do that is to work openly, have the code be available for scrutiny, have the build process be available for scrutiny, and to have strong values to say that we never would be compromised directly. I think the surveillance issue is a very fundamental issue, and the question of trust is a new one. Who do you trust, why and how do you end somebody trust is very important.

MG – When will we see more computers sold with Ubuntu preinstalled?

MS – In Mexico, Brasil, Pakistan, India, China, you see a lot of them. You see some in Poland, Germany, you see very little of them elsewhere, but… it’s coming! Dell, now, every little piece that they make is certified by Ubuntu.

MG – If you’d have to say an year where we will see like 50% of Ubuntu on PCs, what year will be?

MS – (He thinks) In 2005 I predicted that 50% of all personal computers will ship with open source software in 2010. I was wrong. But if you add all the Android phones, and you say well, what’s a personal computer? For many people…

MG – It’s a smartphone

MS – So, is it Ubuntu? No, it’s not Ubuntu, but is it open source? Yes it is, and in an interesting way. A kernel of this is open source (points to my MacBook). Sometimes I think we have a narrow definition of success. Now, for me, I would like to see Ubuntu everywhere, but I think the open source community should feel quite proud of what we have achieved in the last 5 years (not just in terms of the growth in …) The faster supercomputers in the world run Ubuntu, most cloud infrastructure applications they run on Ubuntu, they don’t do any other operating system, so I would like to crack this one, and we haven’t cracked this one, and we’ve done really well, look at the bigger picture.

MG – How’s MIR doing and how will it affect the day to day of a Linux user?

MS – This is running MIR (takes the smartphone in his hand), MIR is the graphic display and you can see it’s really smooth

MG – Is it the same look in desktop?

MS – The MIR desktop we’re building is the same look as this. It’s very beautiful actually. The real important thing is, MIR is a piece of technology that we developed and it’s in the graphic stack and our competitors made a very big thing about of the fact that we are making this new piece of technology, why we would’ve developed it, etc. The thing that users need to sense is that is a tiny thing that they’ll never see. Can you see that this is running MIR? You can’t. It just works beautifully.

I think that the great thing about open source is that there are different competing projects to do great pieces of that. We have a team, a specialists graphics team, that’s very passionate about it, they felt that they can do this piece better. Our competitors are saying lots of things, that we are not following the community process. The community that we are not following it’s them! “The community”!, that’s all competitor language (he laughs).

So MIR is the default on the phone and the tablet, it’ll become the default on the desktop, and it will not affect the user life in any other form, except that hopefully it’ll be smoother and faster and take less memory and do a better job. So that’s a little insight into the funny political world of free software.

MG – One of my questions was about just that: how do you deal with all the flames and criticism from developers mainly when you come up with some innovation? Aren’t you tired of them?

MS – That’s a great question. (He takes time to think)

MG – You know, not in this area, I talk in general, sometimes it happens that when criticism is so much, some people get so stressed about it that they abandon-

MS –the idea in the first place. Yes. Well, I can tell you, I’ve suffered with this. I’ve spent nights without sleep, because there are people that I admire and I think they are smart people and I want them to enjoy or be satisfied with what we do and I see them stressed cause they get a lot of criticism for innovating. I’ve spent a lot of time angry.

But the best I’ve learned is that at the end of the day, you have to understand that if you want to lead and if you want to lead something that is really important, people will misunderstand what you’re doing. People will misuse what you say to try to prove that you try to do something nasty. There is a great poem by Rudyard Kipling, called If -maybe we can Google it- (we start googling it). This was written hundreds of years ago and I think it’s wonderful and one of the most important pieces of advice, and there’s many layers to it. (He reads)

 If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
 If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,

To mean: it’s not enough just to dream, you can’t live in your dream. You actually have to lead. If you can think, and that’s not just enough, you have to do it. There’s so much in there: (keeps on reading)

 If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
 And treat those two impostors just the same;

But this is the one that I want to get you:

If you can bear to hear the truth you ’ve spoken
 Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

What it’s saying is: you say something that you think it’s true, and somebody out there takes what you’ve said and then twists it to trap somebody else who either admires you or doesn’t like you. What is said in the poem I didn’t understand, but being in the software free community I’ve really seen that. We work really hard to find the truth: what’s important, what will work, how can we move forward.

But we don’t live in an naive word, there’s a lot of competitive pressure, people who want to create a conspiracy, sometimes it’s the media, sometimes it’s just people who is internally afraid and they see threat behind every treat. So that story is very true. You have to be able to pursue your story even when it get against you or it gets twisted or misconveyed. At the end of the day what matters is that you pursued your interests and you that with grace and hopefully you make something beautiful. It’s a great question.

MG – Why is Stallman so critical about Ubuntu?

MS – (smiles) I would love Stallman to be a great supporter of Ubuntu. But I think that if the truth of what we do leads us to a different place, well I must pursue it. So it’s like saying I can admire the Pope for being a man of dignity and thoughtfulness and action but I might disagree with him on some key points. So this is how I feel about Stallman. I think that he is a true leader of the movement of what we do, I think he manages to lead in that Rome of thinking and making think of the aim.

At the end of the day I think it’s really important to take action to do something that people use. If you don’t carry that responsibility, if you say “I’m just going to make arguments” then you can allow yourself to get pulled into a place which is not really a visible pragmatic place. In fact in society maybe is useful to have some people whose positions are not actually pragmatic, they’re not reasonable, they are sort of ideological by design. And that’s OK. We agree with Stallman in 99% of things, I hope he would be gracious enough to recognise we do a lot for free software and community. But if he doesn’t…

MG – What is the current biggest challenge for Ubuntu and Linux?

MS – Wow. (He thinks for a moment). The difficult thing about that question is -I can just talk about Ubuntu-. Ubuntu is being actively used and an active part of really interesting changes in two very different parts of the world: supercomputers and cloud computing. These are using Ubuntu to a very great deal and as a company, as a technologist I really want to be a part of that computing. But then I see this (points to the smartphone) and this is also fascinating. This is exciting.

The very big challenge for us is to build a team and to work as a company where we share this code across the supercomputer, the cloud, and the phone. But we don’t have teams that are experts in both, so we have to find that balance. A very hot question recently was “OK, if you have to choose, between this that doesn’t make any hit at all and that thing that is maybe warming the planet, which would you choose?” I think it’s very challenging for us. Linux does that naturally because of it’s platform, but for us I think that’s the key challenge. To figure out how to be great across of this two different places. So far I think we’re doing OK.

MG – Do you think the transition to Unity on the Ubuntu desktop has turned out okay, or is the community still too reluctant to change?

MS – Doing Unity was one of the things where leadership is controversial. For a long time in Ubuntu we said “We are just gonna focus on packaging the free software that other people made”. And in a sense we always made controversial choices cause for example we chose Gnome not KDE, we chose Firefox, not other browsers, we gave a very opinionated choice.

But in a sense, because we didn’t make any of that software. We weren’t paying favours. People believe that we were genuinely looking through and we said “what does the user wants? The user wants a browser, a webmail… We also made space. We chose Gnome, but we allowed and supported Kubuntu and Xubuntu. People could get what they wanted, we cared about those choices. The Unity thing was interesting because we looked at KDE and Gnome we tried to work with Gnome but it was really very difficult.

And Gnome has their own vision of what they want to do and we have this convergence vision of cross devices. I think this is the right vision. And if we couldn’t get Gnome to adopt this vision, what was the right thing for us to do? I think we did the right thing, we built Unity, but then we still created space for Gnome and KDE. You know, again, people tend to think that this is a huge terrible drama, but if you like to use Gnome on Ubuntu you can still use Gnome on Ubuntu. You now just have an extra option, which is Unity.

People will say: Canonical is terrible because they took away options. But we still have Gnome, we still have KDE, and now we have Unity, you have all of the options. I think what’s happening is that people are realising that we’re not imposing a single view, like Apple or Microsoft. We have a view. And we share that view. I think people are coming down because they realise it’s not a big deal. When we just packaged up the software, our competitors said: “Oh you’re bad people cause you don’t write any software”. Now they say: “You’re bad people cause you write software”. (He laughs) How upset can I be?

MG – You knew Nelson Mandela.

MS – Yes, I met him several times.

MG – I’ve read that you said that he was somebody who inspired you. (He nods). What can you tell us of him that we don’t know yet or we haven’t read these days everywhere?

MS – I can confirm something you probably have read. Today there’s a lot of people idealising Nelson Mandela and saying what an inhuman human he was. In some way, how unlike of a human he was. This is sort of, in making him a saint they essentially are describing something other than you or I. But if you talked to him about this, he used this lovely expression, he said: I’m not a saint, I’m a sinner who keeps trying. And the thing is, he was right. He told totally politically incorrect jokes, if you know what I mean.

In other ways, he wasn’t a Buddah, he was actually a guy who experienced just the same frustration and had the same anger as you or I. To me, that makes his story so much better. Calling him a saint is like everybody said: OK, we can keep fighting about ourselves cause he wasn’t like us. Actually not. He was human. He made the conscious choice I think everyday to let go that anger. That makes his story so much valuable for all of us.

I also think, when I see people queueing to pay their respects and so on, we should not forget, he went to jail in 1967 I think?, he went to jail because he was organising bombing campaigns against the government infrastructure. What do we call that people today?

MG – Terrorists.

MS – Yes. So it’s important if you actually are amazed by Nelson Mandela that you ask who am I calling terrorist today? And actually you should be talking to that person. And I see some of the tensions today, in Spain you had tensions, you had your marginalised voices, they conducted a bombing campaign, the terrorists. There is somebody in that organisation that you should be talking to. There’s a Nelson Mandela inside Al-Qaeda, there is somebody there who you should be talking to. And it shouldn’t take 30 years to find that person.

If we really we want to celebrate Nelson Mandela, we should shut down Guantanamo. Not because there aren’t possible criminals there, but because when you remove someone from society without the opportunity to hear their voice, you’re not honouring Nelson Mandela. So that thing is a little sad for me today, all of that outpouring of emotion.

There are a lot of people professing their admiration for the man, have they really learned the lesson that he tought us? That’s the hard lesson. Brits and Americans, if they want to fly to South Africa and celebrate the man they should look very close to how they’re engaging with today’s Nelson Mandelas. Our Nelson Mandela of this time looks just like that guy- there’s this great expression that says that opportunity comes knocking except he is wearing overalls and have dirty fingers, you know what I mean?

It’s the same I think with Nelson Mandela. When they achieved at the end of their lives what he achieved, it’s easy to celebrate, but actually the real lesson is to engage with Nelson Mandela when he was leading on the insurrection against an elected government. That’s the hardest thing to do.

MG – You come from South Africa which is a country, like Argentina or like others, difficult in terms of digital divide, and where there’s also poverty. And there’s a debate in these countries about why should children learn to code, or if they should have computers at school if they don’t have enough to eat, or if they should learn other things before using a computer. I would like to know your opinion on this.

MS – The poem. Where’s the poem? You see? Children need to learn to dream, but not make dreams their master. They need to learn to think but not make thoughts the aim. To me, teaching to code is to give someone the skills to take a dream or a thought and make it real. In the 21st century I think it’s an essential skill.

It’s also a very real kind of mathematics. When I interview people for a job, I look for two things: first, can this person make a logical case? Can he look at a complicated picture and figure out what’s important? Can he make deductions? Can they be a scientist, a mathematician, can they deal with the precision of a complicated environment? On the other hand: can they tell stories? Can they take all of that complexity and articulate why it’s important or what’s a priority? Why people should listen to them? There’s two things.

Very few people can do both. Quite a lot of people do well one of the other, but both, very few people. When I find them, they are wonderful to work with. And I think that if we don’t give people the ability to express the logical part of that, we loose that part of people’s creativity.

Today is difficult to be a mathematician. Mathematics feel very abstract for today’s children. And physics and chemistry, well, you have to wear safety glasses and make boring experiments (laughs). Coding for me is one of those things that is a real intelectual- it builds rigour, it builds analysis and builds logic, and it builds problem solving. So yes, I think it’s really important. And about the idea that some people should learn “basic” things, I think that’s crazy, I think that children should be able to learn as much as they want about everything that they want.

MG – As a personal question, I want to know about your space travel. I know everybody asks you about it and you have talked about it many times but I want to know how was it.

(He just said: “it’s a very intense part of life”, showed me a photo they’d just sent him via email and told me a story about some friends).

MG – Do you see things different when you come back?

MS – (Takes time to think) It’s amazing what you see when you look.

MG – There?

MS – No, what I mean is what you see when you look around the room. You see (he looks around the press room) if you’re into interiors you see different colour skins, you see consistent materials, if you’re interested in fashion, you look around the room and you make observations. So back from space is not like I see anything different, but I’m looking for something different: I’m looking for the things that we have in common. Because I’ve seen, you know, it’s not very far from Spain to Tunisia or Morocco; it’s not very far India from China, the air pollution travels between them. There’s one little river that’s between Jordan and Israel, and that’s all that we got.

So it sort of makes you look at the same thing but different, which is that we really have to focus on the things that we have in common. So you asked me about Stallman. Think about it. How much do we have in common? We both spend all day long thinking how can we make free software better for the people. We have a lot in common. How much do Catalans and people from Madrid have in common? A lot! But we spend all day long talking about the things we have different. Bizarre!

So, I’ve seen, this is the world we got, there’s a big scary blackness out there, nobody else is gonna help us, there’s no God out there watching us, this is just our little spaceship. So I think we just spend more time trying to find out what we have in common. And Ubuntu is an expression of that: what we have in common, what do we need from each other, how can we build it together.