Shuttleworth told me Canonical has plenty of support from the mobile industry; indeed, they have recently formed an advisory board of carriers to help with their Ubuntu phone plans. It's reasonable to suppose each of those board members also has a commercial relationship with the company. But they are focused on the mass market and like their innovation to happen in controlled (read: low-risk and low-cost) ways.
To push forward the potential of this new phone platform beyond low-cost or niche opportunities, Shuttleworth is borrowing an idea from the motor industry. Innovation in the consumer market is slow due to the high risks associated with widespread use of new techniques. Most new engineering ideas are instead tested in motor racing, where well-funded enthusiasts are willing to pay for and take risks with new designs. Ubuntu Edge is characterized as the Formula One of phones. Shuttleworth hopes to attract a new community that values both software freedom and high design values. He anticipates regular -- maybe annual -- crowdfunded releases of leading-edge unified devices.
The other class of criticism also left Shuttleworth stoical but unfazed. An open letter from the Free Software Foundation asked if Canonical intended to make all the software in Edge free -- with emphasis on device drivers. The response: Of course, as far as that's commercially realistic. He indicated the selection has yet to be made, but Shuttleworth won't let the phone fail in its goal to be the winner of the design Grand Prix for the sake of a chip set.
His unwillingness to rule out chip sets with closed drivers is seen by some as compromise. In this he reminds me of Thaddeus Stevens in the recent movie "Lincoln." Asked why his stated position in Congress on slavery was so equivocal, he explained that having lived his whole life working for it to be outlawed, he would say anything to achieve that goal, even if taken in isolation it appeared a betrayal.
In the years I've known Shuttleworth, he has remained true to the goal of putting open source software into the mainstream, seeking software freedom for all. That was the motivation behind his massive investment in Canonical and Ubuntu, and it remains the motivation behind Edge. If the project succeeds, it will put real, open source software into millions of pockets and onto desktops at the same time.
Far from being an exploiter of the work of others, Shuttleworth strikes me as firm in his commitment to software freedom. While other visionaries may be challenged by his stubborn resistance to their outlook, his strong opinions, strong vision, and willingness to pour his own money into the things he believes make him arguably the best hope of an open future for us all.
I backed Ubuntu Edge. You should too.
This article, "Why Ubuntu Edge deserves your support," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.