Earlier this year, when the credit crunch was in full swing and I was never sure how my rent would get paid, and my creative attention continued to fracture and fray with a new idea coming every few days - ideas never really completed to perfection and production continuing to gravitate to 'proofs of concept' instead of actual works of art, earlier this year when loan terms were shouting out my dreams, and compromise (awful compromise) could no longer be avoided, earlier this year, all of a sudden, I received a phone call from a balkan witch.
Ivanka (she's not really a witch) said she was putting together a team at a company called 'Canonical'. I'd heard through mutual friends that she was involved in some sort of altruistically-oriented company, and I'd seen a photo of the impressive view from her new office via Twitter. I didn't know that much about what she was actually doing.
Canonical is the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an operating system, like Windows (blaaaaargh) or OS X, but free and open-source (source as in source code, which means you can read or change the source code if you want, which you can't do that with commercial operating-systems as they think that they need to keep their source code secret so nobody can steal their work). I had been using Ubuntu as a Windows replacement on my home computer and second work laptop for a couple of years, so I knew what it was. Actually, I didn't really use it (I used, and still use, a Mac) - I ran certain applications on it and it had Windows XP on a VMware instance (this is how you should run Windows - as a virtual machine in a little sandboxed window, where it can't do any damage and its incessant idiotic securlty warnings become a source of mild amusement instead of irritated, impotent frustration). I had seen Ubuntu run productively as a primary operating system by one of the developers in my team at LBi, so I knew it could work well (if you were sufficiently motivated to run an open-source operating-system).
Canonical was started by Mark Shuttleworth, who made an absolute shit-load of money in the dot com boom. I tell people he invented the little padlock in your web-browser that lets you shop online. Obviously it's a bit more complicated than that. If you're interested, read his wikipedia entry. Canonical is not your run-of-the-mill short-term-profit-oriented company. Mark wants to make something that will last, with the highest possible quality, and give it away for free. Windows isn't even on the map here - the idea is to compete with Apple and make the best operating system.
So, was I interested? Well. It would certainly be a detour. I had quit my Flash job a year earlier in search of something more meaningful, in search of a way to make money from art. The thought of abandoning this plan made me very sad. I did not want to feel I was admitting defeat. But there were many upsides. I liked the idea of working with Ivanka. I liked the idea of meeting Mark (he's been to space, which is reason enough to want to meet him). I really liked the idea of learning from Mark - to see how he was making a techno-philanthropy project work in real life. The opportunity to be part of a design team instead of a technical team was also novel (albeit scary). So I decided that it chimed well with my long-term plans and would be a good way to spend my early thirties while my artistic enterprises baked away in the background. So, following an enjoyable job interview, I signed up.
So here I am. I'm back doing Flash (after a frantic couple of weeks trying desparately to find a better way to produce prototypes than with Flash). I'm making a fake version of Ubuntu in which we prototype user interaction designs, and I'm working with some very good people. And finally, after a few months of intensity learning about how everything fits together, I'm ready to start talking about it. Because there are a great many things that need to be proposed, discussed, defended, developed and denied.
Interested in running Ubuntu Desktop in your organisation?