Even Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictators Need a Little Change

Out of all the titles Linux leaders are known by, we must admit that one is our favorite. The one that makes us smile is attached to Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth, affectionately known as the Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life. While that title is secure, one of his others will soon be dropping away.

Titles can be very important things. Project Leader is clear and practical, while Executive Director lends a sense of authority and a certain amount of corporate flavor. Many come with employment, others after to elections, and some are simply pulled out of thin air — like Developer-in-Chief, often attached to Linus Torvalds by a certain news outlet. As important as one's title may be, it's the work being done, not what the doer is called, that really matters, at that seems to be the thought of the moment at Canonical.

In a post to his blog yesterday, Mark Shuttleworth announced that he intends to pass on the title of Chief Executive Officer at Canonical, handing it over to now-Chief Operating Officer Jane Silber. Shuttleworth indicated that a newfound passion for design and quality, and the desire to "time figuring out how we harness the collaborative process to build better, more insightful products" is responsible for the decision. The transition is scheduled for March 2010, though the post ended with the note that "I expect I’ll be focused on my new role by March," suggesting the date may not be quite firm.

The current and CEO-to-be issued a FAQ-style post on the Canonical Blog, discussing the changes that will accompany the transition, as well as providing more information about Silber and her qualifications. "I wear, and have worn, many hats at Canonical," she wrote, going on to note that she has been with Canonical since 2004, and has been involved with establishing and managing much of Canonical's business, specifically naming "Ubuntu One, OEM Services, Corporate Services, Marketing, Finance,[and] Legal." Silber's bio also notes that she is American, holds a Master of Business Administration from Oxford, which led to her involvement with Canonical. "I learned about Canonical and Mark’s vision for Ubuntu while deciding whether to remain in England or return to the US, and haven’t looked back!"

Asked about how the transition would affect their roles, Silber answered that her positions as COO and as head of Ubuntu One would be filled through an executive search — both Silber and Shuttleworth stressed that the positions would be publicly advertised. On whether any thought was given to advertising for a new CEO, Shuttleworth responded that though he had considered the option, he "ultimately decided that Jane’s background, experience with Canonical, and the skills she brings to the table are exactly what Canonical needs at this point."

As for Shuttleworth's roles within Ubuntu, he indicated that his activities with the Ubuntu Community Council and Ubuntu Technical Board would not change, stating "I am not moving away or relinquishing any community role I hold." Silber went on to note that Shuttleworth retaining his Ubuntu involvement while stepping down as Canonical's CEO will "bring about...a clearer separation of the role of CEO of Canonical and the leader of the Ubuntu community." Regarding his commitment to Ubuntu, and in particular his well-known involvement in its funding: "I am more committed now than I have ever been...I will continue to be engaged, will fund the project as needed, and have the opportunity now to focus on the areas where I can make the biggest impact."

The pair ended their joint post by noting that they intend the transition to be a smooth one, relatively transparent to Canonical's customers and partners, and that the "realigning of skills" will lead to "positive benefits for all who are involved in the Ubuntu and Canonical universes." Shuttleworth echoed the sentiment in his post as well: "We are being welcomed as a partner and supplier to ever-larger businesses, and I want to make sure we are a robust answer to their needs."
Justin Ryan is the News Editor for Linux Journal.
Look for him in the #linuxjournal IRC channel.

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