Mark Shuttleworth is looking forward to a good, clean netbook fight with Microsoft following the release of Windows 7.
Speaking with The Reg, the founder of popular Linux distro Ubuntu and chief executive of Canonical called Windows 7 a great operating system.
Great? Doesn't Shuttleworth work for the competition? Shouldn't he be building up Windows 7's hidden weaknesses?
Apparently not. "I'm not going to 'diss it", he said categorically. So there.
In fact, Shuttleworth believes a good version of Windows will end the current phony war between Windows and Linux in the high-growth netbook market and reignite the fight on features and capabilities.
Shuttleworth believes that a decent edition of Windows will mean Microsoft finally has to charge full price and that Redmond will finally stop allowing OEMs to use low-cost copies of Windows XP instead of paying full price for the full version of the official flagship - Windows Vista.
"We are in an awkward situation now because they are giving away XP in the netbook market - they are literally giving it way to OEMs," he claimed.
"You can make the argument Linux is more expensive that Windows XP because Microsoft has been very aggressive in licensing," Shuttleworth said.
Windows Vista has seen lower than anticipated levels of adoption - we know that. Its clunky performance has been too much for those small form factor netbooks, while the price is a challenge for OEMs licensing the operating system in a netbook market famed for low sticker price. Windows XP has been given a new lease of life, with a price and performance that suits netbook makers.
While Microsoft isn't exactly be subsidizing Windows on netbooks, the existence of Windows XP is undercutting the flag-ship product.
OEM and system builder copies of Windows XP SP2 home and professional on Amazon are listed at $129, but a 32-bit, single-user edition is a mere $94. Windows Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate - both SP 1 - are listed at $159, but they can be had for $105.
Why are netbooks so important? It's a market tipped to grow, recent economic woes aside, and it's a market not yet dominated by Windows to the exclusion of all other operation systems.
"I've kicked the tires on the [Windows 7] beta for a few hours and it was good," Shuttleworth said. "They've put concerted attention on the user experience with the shell.
"I think it's going to be a great product, and every indication is we will see it in the market sooner rather than later."
Linux will need to raise its game in the face of this revived Windows experience, he said. And according to Shuttleworth, that's what's planned with Ubuntu 9.04, codenamed Jaunty Jackalope and due in May.
Jaunty Jackalope will see improved alerts on the desktop. Alerts have been notoriously disruptive in Windows Vista, but will be improved by Microsoft in Windows 7. Shuttleworth said, however, that work on Jaunty Jackalope is broader in scope than "just" alerts. It's part of an experiment that - if successful - will lead to broader changes in the design and build of Ubuntu in version 9.10, scheduled for October 2009.
"We've made some bold proposals on how you can make notifications less disruptive and less intrusive, and more elegant. At the same time we want to narrow the scope of notifications," he said.
"That's quite controversial. We are taking that carefully. We are working with folks to make that experiment... If we do it elegantly that will bode well for the additional stuff we've got lined up for 9.10."
He would not provide more details and would not elaborate on 9.10. Shuttleworth, though, has said before that the Linux desktop had to beat Apple at its own design game to see greater uptake on the desktop. That involves improvements to design, capabilities and interface, and integration with services.
Linux on the desktop has a tendency to favor those who've built it and pay grudging acceptance to mainstream users through both functionality and accessibility in the interface.
Meanwhile, on the server-side, 9.04 changes are planned to make it easier to deploy Ubuntu on Amazon'e Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and for EC2 to work with Ubuntu, Shuttleworth said. ®