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Catching up with Canonical’s CEO, Jane Silber – exclusive interview

Six years ago, Jane Silber met Mark Shuttleworth at a party in London. Having started at Canonical just over a week later, she is now stepping into Shuttleworth’s shoes as the CEO of the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Linux User & Developer recently caught up with Jane ona

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Six years ago, Jane Silber met Mark Shuttleworth at a party in London. Having started at Canonical just over a week later, she is now stepping into Shuttleworth’s shoes as the CEO of the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Even before working as chief operations officer at Canonical (a role now filled by the OSS live wire and blogger Matt Assey), Silber had an impressive CV, having worked as VP of a $45 million business unit at General Dynamics Corp in the US, as well as holding a portfolio of degrees from Vanderbilt University, the University of Oxford, and Haverford College. We caught up with Jane (virtually at least) on a business trip to Lexington, Massachusetts…

With a few months under your belt, what is the most exciting part of your new role and what are you most looking forward to?
The most exciting thing is seeing the traction Ubuntu has as a mainstream choice for consumers. The alignment between Ubuntu, the community, developers and the hardware ecosystem is really coming into its own at this point. In my new role I am involved in more strategic discussions with our partners and customers, and the road ahead is looking very exciting.

Working in between two of the most notorious OSS party kids (Mark and Matt), the pair of them permanently out playing with their friends, is there a part of you that feels like the mum of the Ubuntu/Canonical executive family?
You mean they are out playing with their friends? They keep telling me how hard they are working! The global nature of our staff, combined with the open community development practices in Ubuntu, means that we give our employees a lot of autonomy while at the same time expecting results. As CEO, I feel responsible for the overall health and well-being of the company, but that isn’t in a stereotypical mothering way. If you were searching for a mothering analogy, it may be more like the bird who kicks the fledglings out of the nest and expects them to be successful. And fortunately, given that we have so many very talented and dedicated people, they are!

Your promotion from within the company has been seen as business as usual for Canonical and you have even been quoted as saying: “Don’t expect a dramatic change in strategy”. Are you really just a steady hand on the tiller? Is there nothing you want to do to differently or improve now that you are at the helm?
I am not ‘just’ a steady hand, but it is one of the things I bring to the role. Particularly for a platform provider, there is real value in steadiness and reliability at the tiller. That’s true not just internally at Canonical, but also for our users, customers and partners. These days there are many new entrants in the OS field with little track record to point to, and there are OS providers leaving the field or changing their strategy. We know from experience how challenging it is to reliably produce an OS, and to work in concert with OEMs, ISVs and the community to ensure the quality of product and its widespread use. We continue to produce Ubuntu in accordance with the principles we laid out six years ago, and we continue to be a reliable partner and service supplier for OEMs, ISVs and enterprise users. I view steadiness, a proven track record and reliability as assets.
That’s not to say we are sitting still, and of course there are areas where we will do things differently. We continue to innovate in Ubuntu itself (eg the Unity desktop environment), in best practices for transparency in open source development that is unmatched by any other OS in product development and partnerships (eg shipping Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud as part of the Dell Cloud Partner Program) and many other areas. And as Linux in general, and Ubuntu in particular, reaches new classes of users well beyond the traditional early adopters, that combination of steadiness, innovation and delivery is required. We are constantly evaluating and improving our execution and delivery, and I intend to continue to lead us to in that direction.