Business opportunity in Ubuntu

Two quotes from yesterday’s Community Council meeting:

<sabdfl> Ubuntu service revenue rightfully belongs with Canonical, and we are committed to (and have demonstrated in practice) sharing that with projects which are in the relevant pipe


<mdke> I don’t like reading that Canonical owns Ubuntu. I’d like to see a concept where Ubuntu is a community driven project, with Canonical as the major funder and employee of many developers.
<sabdfl> mdke: i appreciate that’s a noble idea, but i don’t believe it’s workable

No comment needed.


26 Responses to “Business opportunity in Ubuntu”

  1. 1 Roman Shtylman March 2, 2011 at 10:19

    I suppose it was only a matter of time…

  2. 2 Robbie March 2, 2011 at 11:06

    ” I don’t like reading that Canonical owns Ubuntu. I’d like to see a concept where Ubuntu is a community driven project, with Canonical as the major funder and employee of many developers.” If this was some attempt to say Red Hat does this with Fedora or Novell with OpenSUSE…then I have to call bullshit, as those distros are just test grounds for RHEL and SLES.

    • 3 skitterman March 2, 2011 at 11:39

      I didn’t see anyone saying that at the meeting and I’m certainly not saying it now. One of the reasons I switched to Ubuntu from OpenSUSE is that I wanted to be using the same code base as what the primary sponsor considered to be their actual product.

      Personally I saw this as a discussion about what Ubuntu should be for it’s own sake. I don’t think comparison with other major corporately sponsored distributions is relevant.

      • 4 Jef Spaleta March 2, 2011 at 14:00

        Mixing a community project with a product has consequences when inevitably the business interests surrounding the product and the community interests surrounding the project come into conflict. I’m not saying its impossible to navigate when those interests are tightly interwoven…but it is harder.


    • 6 Vincent Untz March 3, 2011 at 13:20

      Err, you’re misinformed about openSUSE. It’s certainly not a test ground for SLES. It turns out that SLES is (or at least, the past few releases were) based on openSUSE, but that doesn’t make openSUSE a test ground for SLES…

  3. 7 Iñigo Alonso March 2, 2011 at 11:13

    Any revenue from a service morally belongs to the ones providing the service. IMHO

  4. 8 Jono Bacon March 2, 2011 at 12:49

    I think you are pulling two quotes reasonably out of context (well, they are in context, but the wider discussion provided points that you don’t reference).

    Two things that should not be a huge surprise:

    1. Canonical seeks to generate revenue from Ubuntu. This has been made clear from the start, and it seems reasonable that a company that spends millions of dollars investing in Ubuntu should reap some revenue to cover that investment and fund further investment (and the Banshee revenue is certainly not going to generate nearly enough to cover it).

    2. Canonical does have some decision-making power in the Ubuntu community, and I believe it has reasonably earned it. Note the word *some* – I do strongly believe in open governance, transparency, and accountability, but I think we reasonably provide this (and if we need to improve, let me know and I will strive to help). You have been to a UDS, Scott, and you know how much input community members can and do have on the process.

    To be clear – I am not for one second suggesting we are a revenue-free-entirely-volunteer-led project, but I am also not suggested we are led by a dominant-money-grabbing-dictatorial-company.


    • 9 skitterman March 2, 2011 at 12:55

      That’s all true. Community members do have a lot of input on the technical decisions in Ubuntu. This discussion wasn’t about any technical decisions so that’s not terribly relevant.

      From a business perspective though, it’s very clear that no one outside Canonical should rely on any revenue that can be affected by changing a package in the Ubuntu archive.

      Having read then entire IRC log of the meeting a couple of times, I don’t think there’s significant context missing.

      • 10 OdyX March 2, 2011 at 13:06

        Is said log available publicly somewhere ?

      • 12 Steve George March 3, 2011 at 06:02


        On the business side, can you explain why you have the expectation that a business would be able to make money from changing a package in the Ubuntu archive?

        Perhaps there’s a parallel in OSX/Windows or RH/SUSE that you’re thinking of?

        These are honest questions, I have no preconceptions on your reply.


      • 13 skitterman March 3, 2011 at 07:39

        To stick to the case being discussed, Banshee had an arrangement with Amazon that because it depended on the package having a particular affiliate code in it was subject to Canonical redirecting the revenue. On Windows or OS X where there isn’t an intermediate distributor this doesn’t happen. So it seems to me like any company that might depend on a package in Ubuntu remaining unpatched for revenue would be taking a significant business risk.

    • 14 João Pinto March 2, 2011 at 15:25

      I am sorry I must disagree, the other points were just drivers for the conclusion.

      Let me be very straight, I brought this topic with no expectations of an outcome, despite interest from a least one CC member. My goal was to get some clarification about how the Ubuntu -the community distro- is driven, it was not about decision power as some people interpreted.

      Those quotes are very clear on one of the most frequent causes for non technical conflicts in our community, some of us, until now, did not have a correct understanding on how Canonical business had capacity over the Ubuntu product, such lack of awareness was providing wrong expectation -for some-.

      • 15 Jef Spaleta March 2, 2011 at 16:29

        It’s important to note that the published “Official Ubuntu Book”, repeatedly states that the foundational goals of the group which Shuttleworth put together intended for the project to be community-driven. Shuttleworth’s latest statements appear to be in direct conflict with the established “official” history.

        Chapter 8. The Ubuntu Community leads in with this:
        “COMMUNITY IS A WORD often used in discussions of Ubuntu. Early articles about Ubuntu bore subtitles asking, “Would you like some community with that?” The earliest press releases and communiqués from the project emphasized a “community-driven approach” to operating system development and distribution. Additionally, the highest level governance board in Ubuntu is called the Community Council. The authors of this book made a very conscious decision to dedicate an entire chapter to describing the Ubuntu community. In fact, the book itself is dedicated to the Ubuntu community!”

        The Official Ubuntu Book is ISBN 0-13-243594-2
        Copyright © 2007 Canonical, Ltd.
        and is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 open publication license,

        You can find an electronic copy of it here:


      • 16 skitterman March 2, 2011 at 16:49

        My impression is that that was accurate when it was originally written.

      • 17 Jef Spaleta March 2, 2011 at 16:58


        The question is…as the governance has evolved and the relationship between Ubuntu and Canonical has evolved… are people still working with and propagating (in good faith) the mental model and ideals as existed earlier on in the project’s history…which are no longer foundational tenets of the project structure?

        I’m not saying what was describe in prior years was better or worse. I am not saying that what was written previous was some sort of lie or a trick. I want to be clear about that.

        I’m saying if its different than what the reality is now..the discrepancy between the mental image and the reality can and will cause additional conflict as individuals working under the framework of the old reality bump up more and more often with the current reality.

        Maybe its time to re-clarify what the community/Canonical relationship has evolved into in a more comprehensive way and sort of reset the foundational mental model for everyone.


      • 18 Jono Bacon March 2, 2011 at 17:09

        I agree that clarification around the issue of revenue in Ubuntu is unclear, and Scott K has shared this feedback with me too. As i have mentioned elsewhere, the goal is document a policy on this to define that kind of clarity.

  5. 19 NM March 2, 2011 at 18:47

    Jono, no: Canonical is a for-profit company whose eventual surplus will legally be there to enrich its shareholders. It is important that we remember this. Canonical is not a trust, or a charity, or a not-for-profit. It’s a business that eventually hopes to reap *surplus value* (look it up if necessary 🙂

    As such, I cannot give Canonical kudos for ploughing investment into Ubuntu any more than I can for Tesco for ploughing investment into building more superstores.

    Now, you might argue that Canonical will find it *difficult* to make profit from Ubuntu; but that is a different argument from assuming that Canonical’s primary motivation is to do well by the “community”. It isn’t. Its primary motivation is and legally must be to do well by its shareholder – however few there currently are.

    You are an employee of a for-profit company. Mark, with his wealth, could have set up any model of organisation. He chose a for-profit one. As such, the conflict of loyalty necessarily must become ever more pronounced as that profit is sought.

  6. 20 Paul McGarry March 2, 2011 at 23:28

    Free software works not because everyone wants exactly the same thing but because there is a core set of things people can agree on even if they disagree on other things.

    When considering conflicts of interest (which will happen to some degree within any community, whether it’s members are commercial or not) I think it’s a good idea to weigh them up against (or at least acknowledge) the confluences of interest.

    Canonical clearly has a different (or additional) motivation compared to non-commercial community members. Canonical has a commercial imperative to put Ubuntu on as many peoples desktop as possible because it is through those people it hopes to derive revenue. This imperative fits nicely (if not perfectly) with a lot of the wider communities aims despite the different (or additional) motivation. It necessitates the promotion of Free Software. It necessitates a user focus. Competing for users demands a vigor that merely offering an alternative does not.

    I cannot see how Ubuntu can have been as successful as it has been if what Canonical brought to the community wasn’t vastly a net positive in terms of delivering Free Software to real people.

    • 21 skitterman March 3, 2011 at 01:01

      Don’t assume Canonical are the only ones with commercial motivations.

    • 22 sadig March 3, 2011 at 02:16


      I’m a community member, having upload rights and I have a personal commercial interest that Canonical today invests in Ubuntu to help me and others to do our daily work.

      Why is that, that so many people think the only reason why someone is thinking positiv about what and how Canonical is/was doing, that they all have no commercial interests?

      I’m happy that I’m able to work on Ubuntu and with Ubuntu, that I’m able to earn money, which feeds my kid, wife and me, because I’m using and deploying Ubuntu.
      Why I chose Ubuntu in 2005? Because it just worked out of the box, and still it just works even on large servers and desktops. And I was sure, that Mark and Canonical are doing just the right thing. Those people, these days, they just were like a meteorite. They just crashed inside a group of “old-economy startups like RH or Novell” and gave them a hard time till now.

      Me personally, I’m glad to push my ideas into Ubuntu, that I’m able to work with a solid software, good people, brilliant developers.

      Anyhow, I think, during the next Ubuntu Developer Week or Ubuntu Community Week or whatever we do on IRC, it would be a good idea to have several sessions business science 101, 102, 201, 202, 203, to explain to the Community how Business works,and especially how Linux Business worksed in the past, works today and will work in future. Mark, Jane and their crew (no not the devs) could elaborate on this topic a bit and help the wider community to understand the problems of pushing free cds to the masses and “how do we pay this free stuff at all?”

      There’s always a catch…

    • 23 Steve George March 3, 2011 at 06:09


      This has to be one of the most balanced and considered comments I’ve read through this whole thing. Thank you! You’ve just helped re-affirm my belief that we can work together by understanding each others perspective and trusting that everyone has the best of intentions.


  7. 24 foo March 3, 2011 at 00:14

    Sounds like you want Debian.

  8. 25 NM March 3, 2011 at 05:02

    Foo: Yes. The more I see of Canonical, the more I appreciate Debian. I initially applauded Ubuntu. Now I feel more and more that it was a tainted blanket. :-/

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