Shuttleworth’s Apollo Challenge to the Linux Community

amcpherson's picture

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, recently wrote a post detailing Ubuntu and Canonical’s contributions to the upstream projects that make up their distributions. There he mentioned a challenge he recently issued to the Linux and free software community: build a Linux-based UI and computing experience on par with Apple’s within two years.

This is the free software community’s version of JFK’s Space Challenge that resulted in the Apollo program. In 1961, JFK issued a challenge to the United State’s Congress, our space program and our academic and scientific communities: put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. (It’s also a serendipitous comparison given Mark’s penchant for space travel.) Minus the cold war rhetoric, I was struck by similarities to the open source movement when I re-read JKF’s speech:

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will be our last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepherd, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

Every leader knows that the most important step is defining the goal. Good leaders challenge and push us out of our comfort zone. Mark has spoken much about the importance of leadership in open source projects. I believe this challenge is an example of that leadership. Are there issues with a collective group designing effective UI and user experience? Probably. Does that mean it’s impossible? Certainly not. Just look at the amazing technical achievements by free software communities to see what is possible.

Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, JFK’s vision was made a reality when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong took a small step for himself and one giant leap for human-kind.

So can we do it? Mark certainly believes it is possible, as I’m sure JFK did before he made that speech. Do you?