The Cult of Ubuntu ?

In the article

“The Cult of Macintosh” by Belk and Tumbat, Consumption, Markets, and Culture, Vol.8, No. 3, September 2005, pp. 205-217

the authors suggest that, for a brand to attain cult-like proportions and a devotional following a mythology consisting of certain “sustaining myths” must surround the brand. In the case of Macintosh computers the “creation myth” began in the garage with Steve Jobs and the first Apple computer.

Then there is the “hero myth” involving Jobs and, among the classic elements of heroic myth, his “wondrous journey”, “trials”, “flight”, and “resurrection”. Of course the archetypal “bad guy” is necessary to any mythic tale and, in this case the “Satanic Myth” stars Bill Gates.

But what about Ubuntu you might ask? A few months ago I wrote a post about the defection of some key Mac loyalists to the Ubuntu camp. Recently, I read an article called “Ubuntu Forever” in the, scintillatingly titled Linux Format magazine. The story exhibits a number of elements of a potential myth in the making.

Of course you can’t get any more obvious for a “creation myth” than the first line of the article which reads; “And the Lord saw that there was Debian, and it was good.” Debian refers to the Linux distro from which Ubuntu was created.

Mark Shuttleworth, the hero of this story, was a Debian developer who, according to Linux Format, had the “desire to make a Linux for everybody”. Shuttleworth built Ubuntu from the money he made as one of the winners in the late 90s internet boom.

After using some of that money to book passage as a space tourist, Shuttleworth took financial steps to assure Ubuntu’s future. The Ubuntu journey began with the first release of Ubuntu in October of 2004. That, and subsequent releases all have very Narniaesque appelations such as the “Warty Hedgehog and the Breezy Badger.

And who’s the “bad guy” in all of this? Well Ubuntu, like its Linux platform, is free, open-source software. No one needs to pay for Ubuntu and there are no proprietary secrets in the code. According to Shuttleworth; “Free software is about letting every smart guy in the world stand on the shoulders of every smart guy who’s gone before him, and do his little innovation dance”.

The “bad guy” then is still Bill Gates with his proprietary, commercial software. But wait, the “bad guy” is also Steve Jobs with his proprietary, commercial software.

It is still too early to tell where this story is going and if it will reach mythic proportions, but it will be interesting to watch and see how this plays out.

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