The big news in the Ubuntu world this week is Mark Shuttleworth's announcement that he'll be stepping down as CEO of Canonical and transitioning the CEO crown to Canonical insider Jane Silber.  Here's the news, with some thoughts on what this means for Ubuntu and Canonical.

As Shuttleworth explained on his website, Jane Silber, who has served as COO of Canonical since its early days, will take over many of the formal responsibilities of running Canonical and managing its business.  This change will allow Shuttleworth to concentrate on "design and quality" of the company's products.

According to Canonical's blog, Shuttleworth's transition out of the CEO chair will be complete by March 2010. Canonical promises that the move will involve no change in the direction or mission of Canonical, and is intended to better align Shuttleworth's skills and passions with his tasks.

What it means

By all indications, there's every reason to believe that this development will entail no fundamental changes for Ubuntu or any other of Canonical's projects.  They should continue marching forward unaltered.

Moreover, Shuttleworth's decision to focus on developing new products and software rather than managing Canonical's business will likely prove to be in the interests of the Ubuntu community.  Shuttleworth, who made his fortune developing encryption software and entered the free-software world as a contributor to Debian, has never been as much of a manager as a developer. Putting Silber in his place as CEO in order for Shuttleworth to focus on what he does best--designing and writing code--will not hurt.

At the same time, while Silber is perhaps more experienced in the workings of the financial, commercial and legal worlds than Shuttleworth, she's no stranger to open-source code or the technical side of the Ubuntu project.  She has worked as an engineer, and has reported her fair share of bugs on Launchpad.

Shuttleworth's move away from the CEO position should also help defend the Ubuntu community  against charges that it's only successful thanks to the patronage of its millionaire, space-tourist leader.  Shuttleworth's deep pockets have certainly afforded Ubuntu an advantage enjoyed by few other Linux distributions, but I think there's more to its domination of the free-software world than money alone--its focus on usability and pragmatism, above all, has been key.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that putting a female in charge of Canonical is a great move given Shuttleworth's embarrassing history of less-than-PC remarks regarding women.  It doesn't negate what Shuttleworth has said, but it certainly won't hurt in the effort to bring more women into the open-source fold.