A Feisty Linux Company That Wants to Take on Android

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
July 14 2014 2:26 PM

A Feisty Linux Company That Wants to Take on Android

Mark Shuttlesworth hopes the company he founded, too, will take off for the stars

Photo by Mikhail Grachyev/AFP/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Canonical is a 650-employee software company best known for its version of the Linux operating system. Now its rich-and-famous, daredevil founder, Mark Shuttleworth, is trying to re-create Canonical into the next Apple, knocking Google Android out along the way.


Shuttleworth made his money in 1999 when he sold his first company, Thawte, to VeriSign for a reported $570 million. He gained worldwide fame 2002 when he paid to fly into space with the Russian cosmonauts. (Rumor is, it cost him $20 million.)

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth


As of 2013, he's guided Canonical into a $66 million private company mostly by selling its flavor of Linux software and its version of cloud computing software to enterprises.

But it's known in the Linux world for its PC software, called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an easy-to-use Linux alternative to Mac or Windows popular with those who want to use free and open-source software, but don't want to hack everything together on their own.

For the past few years, Canonical has been trying to expand its desktop operating system into phones, tablets, and internet TV. Shuttleworth first discussed his vision with Business Insider in 2012, shortly after announcing a cloud service intended to compete with iTunes and Dropbox called Ubuntu One. People could use it to buy music and store documents.

But it's harder to compete with Apple than it seems. In April, Canonical CEO Jane Silber announced that she was shutting down Ubuntu One, saying that "the free storage wars aren’t a sustainable place for us to be."

Despite the death of its music and cloud storage service, Silber tells us that Canonical is still full-steam ahead with its devices, and will launch its first crop of smartphones this year starting with Asia and Europe. Eventually, it plans to offer tablets and internet TV devices, too. We talked with Silber and asked her about the company's plans.

BI: So your big initiative is smartphones, tablets, and internet TV devices. Why would you want to take on companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google?

Jane Silber: If you look at the phone industry five years ago you would have said the same thing about Nokia and BlackBerry. They're big. They're dominant. They've been largely displaced.

Jane Silber

Wikipedia/Canonical UK

I don't think the status quo is permanent. And I don't think the status quo is desirable, either for end users of the industry. People find it increasingly hard to participate in the Android eco-system. Google is the only one that will make money off of Android.

That leaves a lot of pent-up unfulfilled needs of operators and OEMs who do need an alternative and can't participate in the Apple or Google eco-system.

BI: So this is about making app developers happy?

JS: Our product is better designed to meet the needs of users. We are building a great device, mid-to-high-end range. It is a unique experience. The competition is grids of icons. We think that's outdated.

For years we've talking about convergence. The division between phones, tablets, desktops, TVs are becoming blurred. Our vision is happening. There is room in the industry for options.

Here's what the new Ubuntu phone looks like:

Ubuntu phone


Julie Bort is the enterprise computing editor at Business Insider. Follow her on Twitter.


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

The NFL Should Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status, Which It Never Should Have Had Anyway

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 6:52 PM Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters  Colorado Democrats and Republicans are testing theories for reaching women that will resonate far beyond the Rocky Mountains.  
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.