Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

I was reading the comments on the interesting Mint blog about Mint testing a Debian derivative so they can take advantage of rolling releases and get away from Ubuntu’s instability. Some of the comments allude to a different sentiment:

Ubuntu is so commercially driven, whereas mint is such a nice community effort, I’d be so much happier to use mint.

– fred

Ubuntu started to annoy me a bit with all this commercially oriented development of the distro.

– Miro Hadzhiev

But above all I believe that Ubuntu will change direction and become increasingly turned to a more commercial aspect. At the same time they will lose the * community * Exchange.

– F.Dionne

My response to this anti-commercial sentiment is this quote:

You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Simply that users and members of the community are confused by what commercial actually means. Commercial is not against the community, the community is commercial, people are employed to work on Ubuntu, work with Ubuntu and to be a part of the community. A varied commercial community would actually be kinda nice, imagine if we had a Dell community manager, or a system76 guy in IRC who was chatting away to the rest of the community of users *and* business people. Take a look at Organisations Learning to contribute to FOSS the right way.

I don’t think *making money* is the real fear of these people, I think the fear is Canonical with their often over bearing unfair influence with Ubuntu that often seems like they are on one side inviting development of their features that they decide are cool and on the other side ignoring and diminishing the features that others who are not Canonical want to work on or would like Canonical to help with.

There is also a fear that Canonical will only really want to work on what makes Ubuntu attractive to OEMs and other large organisations that they have a commercial relationship with. I know that aint true and lots of Canonical people continue to work on things which are good for the whole platform, but sometimes Ubuntu’s certainly had the flavour of feature stuffing and Mark hasn’t helped with the way he words his posts about new features in the past makes it seem like they distrust users opinions.

My personal concern is the lack of commercial involvement of Ubuntu’s users, basically it goes like this: Canonical is a business and is interested in making enough money to pay it’s developers a wage. What they work on is based around what makes money. The money comes from Dell and HP. The developers work on what Dell and HP want. Users never get a direct say in the development of Ubuntu because A) They have no commercial relationship with Canonical and B) Canonical doesn’t co-operate wonderfully on DX with other programmers (commercial or non) preferring instead to announce features at the last minute and rail-road decisions and opinions of others.

OK I’m not on a rant against Canonical, both of these might actually be solved/able:

B) We’ve seen a turn around in Caonical’s DX team shenanigans, announcing Unity at UDS was a very good thing and shows leadership instead of authority. Hopefully the flavour of the team has shifted from assuming all users are idiots and need to be told what’s good for them, to something a little more progressive.
A) If the continued redesign of the Software Center can include the ability to pay for FOSS, then we can introduce the commercial relationship with Canonical _and_ App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.

All signs point to common sense and progress, mistakes were made but I don’t see more on the horizon. So lets make sure Ubuntu isn’t considered “too commercial” let’s consider FOSS “not commercial enough”, because only through demanding the right commercial terms in our transactions can we make sure that developers get to eat and users get rights to the software they use and we’re not forced to accept traditional locked down software because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.

Your thoughts?

23 thoughts on “Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

  1. Pingback: Its war not technology | Shane Fagan
  2. Canonical’s customers are Ubuntu users. It’s irrelevant whether the technicalities of any agreement or contract are between Canonical and Dell, it’s relevant that both make their money by providing something users want. Dell makes money selling hardware, but obviously realises that software is also important, so constructs a relationship with OS vendors (Microsoft, and in this case Canonical) which it hopes will allow it to sell more hardware to users. Canonical has just as much interest in appealing to Ubuntu users as hardware manufacturers do, as it’s this that creates the interest for Dell and the like to even think of having the relationship in the first place.

    This is further cemented by services like Ubuntu One, which are directly aimed at “normal” Ubuntu users.

    “App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.”

    They already do have a say, and it’s a good thing that this say isn’t directly related to money exchanging hands. Nevertheless, I think it’s more productive to think of new business models for software, rather than simply falling back on paying for access.

  3. Ah! A Princess Bride quote! Not like I should be surprised… it is only the most quotable movie ever. 😉

    I almost agree with the sentiment that the users can’t be trusted on design decisions. Mostly because what they say they want and what they actually want are two entirely different things. This gets worse on the internet, where vocal minorities can easily change the public opinion.

  4. The one BIG success in moving Linux to the masses is a commercially driven project that still maintains a devout community of users and developers, and that, of course, is Android.

    If we want to push toward the lofty dreams of encroaching on MS’s market share, then a certain amount of commercial backing will have to occur. Just my take on it…..

  5. I don’t use Free Software because it’s free, I use it because it’s awesome.

    I love paying for software. It allows me to contribute in a very real way without getting involved and confused and flamed and frustrated.

    What frustrates me are when bugs in Free Software cost me very real money by way of productivity or finding alternative proprietary software or damage or loss of use of hardware (which I of course paid money for), and there’s nothing I can do about it because the developers have some weird fear of commercialization.

    Free desktops like Fedora have gone YEARS without escaping their 1% of the market, and you better believe having a different fate will require doing things a different way.

  6. Dieki: I agree that you can’t _do_ what users ask for. That’s just silly because users tend to specify things that are way outside of their expertise. What is not outside of their expertises is what they want to do and how they want to use the computer. opinions matter and it’s the job of a good designer to listen or at least appear to be listening.

    What had happened is a rather absolute solution to a rather more subtle problem.

  7. “because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.”

    Very elite of you to make the claim that its our responsibility to “pay” for Free Speech. Have you become the software overlord informing the users of what our responsibilities are? My responsibilities with free software are NONE. There is no-one in the world that will convince me otherwise.

    BUT, you sir, are trying to convince people to pay for something that is FREE. You are no better then coke convincing people to buy $2 bottle’s of water. A typical capitalist indeed.

  8. HP is still contracting with Canonical for OEM? I know HP paid for the Mi work…and then punted it.. to your very vocal displeasure. But I haven’t seen any obvious connection between HP and Canonical OEM services since then. And now with HP buying webOS and stating its going to be the basis of their new slate offering….I wouldn’t forecast this as a widening deeper relationship. Maybe HP is getting more involved with Ubuntu Server but I haven’t seen any chatter about it if they are.

    Dell on the other hand is all about chatter on the Ubuntu Server side right now.
    This makes the Dell relationship much more interesting. Dell seems to be moving away from Ubuntu for consumer products, and looking more at Android and leaning on Ubuntu more for its cloud-ready enterprise developments. This sort of shift is probably good for everyone in the context of this discussion as it better aligns corporate software interests and corporate funding dollars. Assuming Dell is contracting with Canonical to roll out its cloud server Ubuntu pre-installs.

    Is any OEM looking at Ubuntu for a slate offering? Is there any recent chatter about up and coming Ubuntu ARM devices in in form factor? I’ve seen a crap loads about slates from Lenovo and Cisco and Dell (all Android) and HP (webOS) but very little about upcoming Ubuntu pre-install offerings on anything.

    Is any OEM currently on deck to ship Ubuntu Lite? I’ve seen nothing about anyone jumping ship from DeviceVM’s splashtop in favor of Ubuntu Lite as an instant on solution. It would be interesting know know if there is an OEM in the wings actually paying for that development. Instant on is going to be a tough market with splashtop already there servicing pretty much all OEMs.

    I would have thought a lot of the Canonical OEM revenue now was coming in on the ARM side to help fund beating Ubuntu/Linaro into shape lower down in the stack for hardware enablement and other plumbing work for on-the-horizon device offerings.

  9. @RyanT “Canonical’s customers are Ubuntu user”

    This is not not necessarily true. Unless you are paying or have paid Canonical money you’re not a customer of Canonical.
    You also don’t have to use Ubuntu to be a Canonical customer ( Dell is an example, they sell hardware with Ubuntu )

    Although Ubuntu is supported by, and in many cases lead by Canonical, they are not obliged to to do anything for anyone who is not a customer. It may be detrimental to their business model and their relationship with the Ubuntu community. Still they are one ( albeit the major one) of many companies who contribute to Ubuntu.

    It makes sense for them to work on features that the broader community will appreciate as the more people that use Ubuntu, the more potential that exists for them to sell their services. This by no means implies that those features will get top priority over the features / improvements that are already being paid for by their actual customers.

    Canonical own the Ubuntu trademark and can do with it as they please. If they overstep the mark, it’s users can quite easily take the code in another direction under the license afforded by the project.

    In most cases, the technical users will likely find it easier to modify the existing Ubuntu installation and create a derivative ( i.e Mint) or just alter the packages that affect them. Forking an entire distro is a massive undertaking. Or switching distros is usually pretty straightforward for most technical users.

    Allowing people to have a direct commercial relationship with Canonical ( or another company ) who can influence the distribution at a technical level is a good thing. It gives Users who otherwise don’t have a voice, a way to express their opinions and to put some weight behind them.

    Canonicals ( not Ubuntus ) ultimate aim is to generate income and it’s completely reasonable to expect that they will contribute to the areas that will make them money. Having 10 paying customers is more valuable to Canoical than 1000 non-contributing users. By non-contributing I mean people who don’t contribute to the code, localisation, documentation, artwork, triaging etc..

    I for one don’t contribute that much code so I have no issues paying Canonical or any other free software project for my opinions to be considered.

  10. Jef: Sound about right and pretty much confirms my current thinking on the situation.

  11. I wonder why everyone complains against Canonical and their business decisions on how to make “Ubuntu OS” a valuable piece of distro to the enterprise world.

    When you have a look at other “community driven releases” like OpenSuSE or Fedora, you will also see a commercial driven purpose behind those distros.

    RedHat Enterprise Linux depends on the bugs and their fixes from the community distro. RedHat also has fedora devs on their payrole. The same goes for OpenSuSE and Novell. SLES wouldn’t work, when there is no community behind OpenSuSE.

    BUt many decisions are made by the sponsoring companies (RedHat and Novell). The “real problem” with Canonical is that they are expressing it a lot more public, not as a secret like RedHat or Novell does.

    Reminder, this comment is not a rant against RedHat or Novell, it’s good that they are doing their business around community driven distros. But it’s sad, that people are complaining against something which could be used for good.



  12. Mark Shuttleworth has stated from day one that he in the Linux business to make money. He’s never said any different. Along the way, at least in the beginning, the public acted as if there was this billionaire benefactor that just happily and freely gave it away, as if it was some charity case. This was not reality.

    As time has gone by, Shuttleworth, Cannonical, and Ubuntu have realized that what they were doing wasn’t making money. The only company, to my mind, that ever actually made money on Linux as a desktop was Mandriva, when they pushed the remaining users into club subscriptions. For a moment, they were in the black. Ubuntu changed that by giving everything away by offering free disks, and many left Mandriva for it. As of now, Cannonical/Ubuntu still hasn’t made a profit. Shuttleworth has recently admitted he’s still coming out of his own pocket for it, but less than he used to.

    For those of you that thought Ubuntu would follow the Fedora creed of being purely an OSS project that’s freely distributed, you were sadly mistaken. They are not Fedora, nor are they a community distro like Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS.

  13. I agree with you, I don’t think “commercial” it’s incompatible with “community”.

    Although I must confess sometimes I fear some Canonical’s attitudes (consequence of misunderstanding, lack of information on my side, or just Canonical employees under variable amounts of stress), I don’t think the problem is with Canonical making money with Ubuntu.

  14. Red Hat does stuff in secret inside Fedora? What? News to me.

    Hell man, Red Hat’s Community Arch team has gone above and beyond and even reveals budgetary information to help community people help be part of the decision making process on how to spend money on events and outreach. That’s how committed Red Hat is to openness.

    What secret Red Hat doings inside the Fedora project space are you personally concerned about?

  15. @Jef: I guess he won’t answer because it’s secret 🙂

    It sound to me like APple’s strategy with the antenna issue: blame others of doing the same.

  16. Ubuntu is commercially driven but that isn`t the problem … the problem is the community isn`t really minded and it can`t be minded since it really hasn`t any way to contribute financially to Ubuntu.
    This problem could be solved if canonical would create the infrastructure for users and businesses to pay for desired features or designs … this could be developed by the community and canonical can charge a commission and use the money to develop Ubuntu as a great platform for the community to develop for .
    But i`m sure this is something really surreal because maybe Mark Shuttleworth is to proud or to many say it just wont work.
    As for paying for FOSS or other software … i know i wont pay … i would contribute for it`s creation but not once it is created maybe i`l donate if it`s really helpfull

  17. @Juanjo:

    You know what my favorite _secret_ thing is to date. Canonical spinning up publicly consumable release candidate eucaluptus packages for public release in Universe from a _private_ launchpad source tree making it impossible to verify that the checksum of the sources in their package correspond to a particular branch revision. That was awesome. All for the sake of being able to be the only vendor releasing binaries of eucalyptus 1.6 so it could be a PR bullet point.

    Canonical talks the talk.

    Red Hat walks the walk.

  18. @Jef, I didn’t say “RedHat does secret things in Fedora”.
    What I said is, that RedHat doesn’t sponsor Fedora because of unselfishness.
    Fedora is the testbed of upcoming “new” technologies, which needs a wider audience and many many developers. For RHEL there are business goals (e.g. improvements of the virtualization layer, better cluster/pacemaker support etc.pp.) . When those goals are set, I’m sure that some of the Fedora Devs who are on the payrole of RedHat do have the order to add this to the next fedora release, and they have to work on those goals. To have a better testbed for the goals, you need a large userbase, which Fedora has. But you will never here from RedHat that they want to do that and that on Fedora, because they want to have it for RHEL.

    The difference between RedHat and Canonical is, that RedHat always had a “box product” which they are selling for over several years now. Canonical doesn’t have such thing, they have “Ubuntu” as Distro and they not pretending to not earn money with Ubuntu. RedHat should just say “Fedora is the Ubuntu for RedHat, we are testing new things which will going to be in one of our new RHEL releases”.

    Again, I never said “RedHat does secret things in Fedora”. RedHat as commercial sponsor of Fedora doesn’t do this, but they aren’t as transparent as Canonical and their business decisions are for Ubuntu.

    And, last but not least, I know many RedHat Devs/Fedora Devs and Novell/OpenSuSE Devs, and they are all doing really a great bunch of OSS work, which I really appreciate from my Heart.

    I just criticize the dual moral of some people. Canonical always said, they want to earn money with Ubuntu, and we all know RedHat and Novell want to earn money with their distros, but sadly, they are not as public transparent as Canonical is right now. And I also think, that most of the critics about the commercial point are raising, because Canonical and Ubuntu right now is bigger hype then RedHat/Fedora and/or Novell/OpenSuSE is.

    Counting in Linux Years, RedHat is an old fart, Novell was just a rider on the Linux train when they bought SuSE, and now Novell is also an old fart. Therefore, the awareness of Canonical in the public is much higher then the awareness of RedHat or Novell.

    No offence,


  19. Are you freakin kidding me? Canonical _more_ transparent about its business decisions than Red Hat. Both companies have their secret business plans. Both companies make press releases about new business initiatives. Canonical just likes to say the word transparent a lot because they know people like hearing it. Repeat something enough and it becomes a truism..but not the truth.

    You have _zero_ information about Canonical’s _actual_ business. You have _zero_ information about what OEM customers are telling Canonical what they want to see in Ubuntu. Those conversations are happening and they most definitely impacting what’s going on in Ubuntu and aren’t part of the public record. OEM partners are at the table with Canonical well ahead of a public statement about stuff like Unity. You were told about Unity well after development of it was begun in consultation with OEM customers. C’mon.. stop drinking the koolaid. Is there a public development roadmap for UbuntuOne? Did you forget that UbuntuOne was a private hush internal canonical thing well before it was publicly announced? Is there a public roadmap for Landscape? Hell, it took years of public beatings to get Canonical to open up Launchpad development and even then it took another round of public beatings to get them to change their mind about keeping packaging building bits closed. How quickly we forget the dark times when Shuttleworth repeatedly told people that Launchpad was going to stay closed for unspecified business reasons.

    I’ve already pointed on a specific instance when Canonical did something less than transparent in Ubuntu with regard to eucalyptus pre-releases. It’s your turn now to point out a specific example of Red Hat failing to be transparent enough with regard to business decisions. Stop defending your personal preference for one company over the other with general statements. Point to specific business decisions that Red Hat has made that you feel fail to meet the standard set by Canonical or back away from the comparative statement which holds Canonical up as somehow better in this regard. I’m more than prepared to argue the merits of such an opinion with multiple specific examples that would support the opposing viewpoint to the one you have expressed. If you want to trot out the dead horse, I’m more than happy to flog it. And trust me, the argument that Canonical is somehow a more transparent corporate entity is a dead horse.


  20. Jeff: I don’t think English is the first language of Shermann and he might not be able to communicate in a way that doesn’t sound a bit odd. I appreciate your specific and well targeted start of your debate and fully agree with your rationale, but less dead horse towards the end would have been good.

  21. Martin,
    point taken. I should have put that line in my signoff to encapsulate as an aside. I’ll do it correctly this time.

    -jef”I’ve just have this thing for dead horses since I was a kid. I think it was my way of balancing out my sisters’ obsessive interests in live ones.”spaleta

  22. In my personal view linux should be in the commercial arena, too. I don’t want linux to be free as in ‘free beer’. I don’t think programmers will code up big serious programs for free they too need some wage for their work. Canonical is handling this well(relatively, its not perfect) I think people would pay a fair amount of money for the programs they want, with the freedom included that’s all. Ubuntu will package commercial services with it since it needs some income but you shouldn’t blame it on Ubuntu, I mean if you come from windows you really should know Adwares. Now those are the real pain in the neck, may be some of you are fearing that Ubuntu will go that way too I don’d think so because Ubuntu is Open a guy can easily rip the unwanted stuff off and redistribute it, Ubuntu can’t be a full grown adware since it’ll shutdown Ubuntu. Everything should be in balance.

    About user opinions, I’m afraid that I have to agree with Mark. Since Ubuntu is redistributable and open, Canonical has all the right to decide what they are distributing, again its not a democracy.

  23. I believe what’s truly important is that the community development phenomenon continues to grow. Ubuntu is taking some interesting steps that I believe gives that phenomenon greater depth. At the same time those who move from one distro, in this case Ubuntu, to another are looking for something that works for them. This gives strength to other ideas and concepts and I believe everyone benefits as this happens. Its what happened with the inception of Ubuntu. So long as more users come to this community we will all will continue to enjoy those benefits. However these new users come to join us and whatever keeps them in it, we all win.

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