The public perception of open source software is changing fast, said Mark Shuttleworth, who leads distribution of the Ubuntu operating system (OS).
A new version of Ubuntu, a version of the Linux OS, is released on Thursday.
Mr Shuttleworth said the success of the Asus Eee PC and the work of the One Laptop Per Child programme had driven awareness of open source.
“There has been a sea change in the way people think of Linux, which is very healthy,” he said.
“We have seen a real shift in the last six months from folks seeing open source as either a super-specialist thing for people who run data centres or as an enthusiast thing, to something which is energising a lot of the straight commercial PC industry,” said Mr Shuttleworth.
He manages Canonical software, which is the primary sponsor of distribution for Ubuntu, and a key element in the platform’s development.
He is also well-known for being the second-ever, self-funded space tourist, travelling to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in 2002.
Mr Shuttleworth said ordinary consumers were beginning to turn to Ubuntu, and to Linux more generally, to improve their daily computing experience.
“If people think of computing as going to a PC, sitting down and starting Word, then the traditional view, of using Windows and Office, will persist.
“But if people think of their daily experience as a sit down on the web, we know that people can have a very compelling experience on Linux.
“In fact, we know it is a better web experience because they can do it without spyware, without viruses.”
Mr Shuttleworth said he believed there were about eight to nine million users of Ubuntu worldwide.
“Most of the growth in users is from people buying a device that comes with Ubuntu shipped or wanting something for a second or older computer and are looking to tech-savvy friends for guidance,” he said.
He described the latest version of Ubuntu, dubbed Hardy Heron, as “perhaps our most significant ever”.
The version will have three years of “long term support” from Canonical, which Mr Shuttleworth believes will make it more attractive for large-scale roll-outs of machines powered by the operating system.
He said the French police force was currently deploying 50,000 Ubuntu-powered machines, while Spanish education authorities were rolling out 500,000 desktops with the OS.
Hardy Heron also has improved support for multimedia, including photo editing, music sharing and video playback, he said.
The version has also been designed to make installation simpler and give users the chance to try the OS without making radical alterations to their current computer set-up.
“This is the first version that you can install under Windows.
“Instead of re-partitioning your hard drive and taking some fairly risky steps, effectively you can now install under Windows without modifying your system.”
Ubuntu can be installed on PC and Mac machines and is one of a number of versions of Linux.
Mr Shuttleworth said: “It’s a favourite version of Linux both for specialists and one that specialists would recommend to a cousin, aunt or uncle who want to have a stable desktop internet experience.
“There are other versions of Linux that are better for a particular purpose – but Ubuntu strives to be a general platform that is secure and self-maintained.”
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