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An interview with the SABDFL

Our next interviewee in these Ubuntu community interviews really needs no introduction, but this is me, so I’ll write one anyway. The Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, or SABDFL (see the bottom of the linked page), is an exceptional person. Mark Shuttleworth, in addition to being an all-around nice guy, is also a true geek at heart, with the credentials and accomplishments to prove it. I am sure you would enjoy his blog, and to answer the question on everyone’s mind, yes, he does have an Ubuntu Forums account, but he is a busy guy and isn’t able to spend much time using it. That can certainly be forgiven, as he does so many other wonderful things for our community. So, without further ado, I present one of my favorite interviews thus far.

1. Tell as much as you’re willing about your “real” life – name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.

Ubuntu is my real life!

I don’t believe in separating work and play – I try to work only on the things that are really interesting, and where I think I can make a unique difference. Last year, as a snowboarding project, I built a communications package that integrated cell, walkie-talkie and ipod into a single audio stream, with builtin microphone and speakers in the helmet. That was play, but it was also work, I learned a lot in the process.

By way of stats I suppose I would say 34, South African, straight male, London, wonder-filled-atheist (by which I mean I consider the universe to be wondrous in ways we can’t even comprehend, but I don’t think I’m made in god’s image any more than a jellyfish might be), investor-in-change, Bachelor’s in Business Science (Finance, IS), snowboarding and wine/women/song.

2. When and how did you become interested in computers? in Linux? in Ubuntu?

Computers, technology generally, and the changes they are bringing about in society, have been a fascination for me as long as I can remember. My folks bought me a chemistry set when I was a wee lad and I promptly covered the kitchen in various kinds of ash and other explosive debris. While I never managed to build a rocket engine, I spent hours trying to and loved the fact that old encyclopedias would happily give you the recipe for gunpowder, unlike today’s bland and politically correct safety-first stuff. Thank goodness for the web!

I became interested in Linux while at university. I was really interested in the net and the web, and couldn’t get Windows to do any of that properly (run a web server, even a decent browser or TCP/IP stack). So I sat down with a stack of slackware floppies and never looked back. Linux provided the canvas for me and many other entrepreneurs to draw our net dreams on, and I was luckier than most. Today, I’d like to bring that same freedom of technological expression to everyone, and that means finding a way to contribute to the spread of free software – hence Ubuntu.

Ubuntu started with the belief that we could find a business model which would let us deliver free software free of charge, unlike the existing commercial distributions, which take free software and turn it into something that only some people are allowed to use if they’ve paid the necessary fee. The key values were that it should be released on a predictable schedule, should be part of the Debian family, should always deliver the very best of the free software stack in a nicely integrated stack, should be governed as a community independent of the company(s) that back it, and should be available free of charge, with all security updates, for a long enough period that it’s actually useful as a commercial, production platform. I would credit the whole Ubuntu community with helping to turn those ideals into a real, and quite remarkable, product.

3. When did you become involved in the forums (or the Ubuntu community)? What’s your role there?

I lead the Community Council, which is the group entrusted with the “constitutional” issues in Ubuntu. We are responsible for governance in the project at large, and we delegate authority to the leaders in each part of the community who are most competent to be responsible for that piece.

I’d never used a web forum before Ubuntu. Ryan Troy really got the Forums going in 2004, and did a great job of building a community and a leadership team there, that is now the Forums Council [Ryan Troy is also known as ubuntu-geek, ed.]. We worked to integrate that into the broader Ubuntu community governance structure, and I’m delighted with the results. There’s a huge amount of activity in the forums, and I would like to make sure that the people who contribute there are recognised widely within the community for that contribution. For example, we really should have Community Karma for folks who post in the forums – that’s been discussed for a long time, but never fully implemented in Launchpad.

4. Are you an Ubuntu member? If so, how do you contribute? If not, do you plan on becoming one?

Yes, mainly though time and effort on CC issues as well as helping to fund Canonical’s activity in the community.

5. What distros do you regularly use? What software? What’s your favorite application? Your least favorite?

Only Ubuntu. I also use a Mac at home and Windows on occasion. My favourite application is bzr, because I have worked closely with the leaders in that community and feel some fatherly influence on its growth and development. I’m really interested in how Canonical and Ubuntu can help to pioneer genuinely better practices in the state fo the art of software, and Bzr is a wonderful contribution to that which I hope will make a big difference across the whole of the open source ecosystem, including other distributions.

My least favourite app… probably GCC, just because I don’t have the clarity of engineering to work in C! I think it’s a great pity that Objective C hasn’t taken root more deeply in the free software world. My ideal development environment would have elements of Python syntax all the way from the shell, through the script (Python) and down to the fastest-compiled language.

6. What’s your fondest memory from the forums, or from Ubuntu overall? What’s your worst?

My favourite memories are stories of how people are using Ubuntu. Often, I’m with folks wearing Ubuntu t-shirts walking in the street, and we get stopped by other people who say “Man, I love Ubuntu”, and what I find fascinating about it is that they are in the most amazing spread of professions, from taxi drivers to librarians and musicians. My worst memories… I think the open source community has a dangerous habit of reserving the nastiest vitriol for factions of itself. I always find it disappointing when one group of open source folks is really nasty about another group. We have bigger fish to fry.

7. What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?

Rather a lot!

8. What would you like to see happen with Linux in the future? with Ubuntu?

I’d like to see free software become the de facto standard way “people do software”, and I hope Ubuntu is making a big contribution in that regard.

9. If there was one thing you could tell all new Ubuntu users, what would it be?

Share it! Help other users to gain the confidence with free software that they need to try it in ever more demanding environments.

If you enjoyed this interview, please accept our invitation to read the others in the series, both on this blog, and it the series’ previous home.


  1. Vadim Peretokin

    His member number is 13307! Hax.

  2. Vadim Peretokin

    ‘We have bigger fish to fry.’ So damn true.

  3. “7. What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?

    Rather a lot!”

    Thanks to both of you, that was a very pleasant reading, as always.

  4. Sorry, I wrote the above comment and did not mean to be “Anonymous”.. 😉

  5. Dr Small

    Awesome interview. I never thought that I would read from the man himself!
    Keep it up Mark 🙂

  6. John.Michael.Kane

    Pleasant interview, and he seems to be a friendly chap who does not mind interacting with his user base, when they happen to meet him.

  7. “… I don’t think I’m made in god’s image any more than a jellyfish might be””

    I also don’t think jellyfish are made in God’s image, but I sure am made in God’s image.

    You’re a great guy Mark and I’m you’re biggest fan, but I pray that you get to know God before its too late.

  8. m_newton

    Hey SABDFL, what does your nick mean, sry, may seem oftopic…
    have always wondered

  9. m_newton

    um never mind
    The Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, or SABDFL (see the bottom of the linked page), is an exceptional person. Mark Shuttleworth, in addition to being an all-around nice guy, is also a true geek at heart, with the credentials and accomplishments to prove it.

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