For more than a year now, Canonical has been steadily developing the for-purchase section of the Ubuntu Software Center, which has emerged as a key potential source of revenue for the company behind the world's most popular desktop Linux distribution.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

September 15, 2011

3 Min Read
Ubuntu's Software Center: The Business Side of Open Source

128px-ubuntu-software-center-icon.svg.pngFor more than a year now, Canonical has been steadily developing the for-purchase section of the Ubuntu Software Center, which has emerged as a key potential source of revenue for the company behind the world’s most popular desktop Linux distribution. If you’re a programmer thinking of selling your work through the Software Center, however, you’re probably wondering what the actual terms of business are. Thanks to a recent session of Ubuntu App Developer Week, they’ve been spelled out clearly. Read on for a look.

Beginning in fall 2010, when Fluendo’s DVD player became the first application available for sale in the Software Center, for-purchase apps have gained a steadily increasing presence within Ubuntu. The vast majority of programs available on the platform remain free, of course, but Canonical clearly believes it can generate some cash by selling games, productivity software and even e-books and magazines to Linux users.

‘The Business Side’ of the Software Center

But just what exactly are the terms under which Canonical partners with developers to sell applications? The major points, as John Pugh explained recently in an online presentation, are as follows:

  • Canonical returns 80 percent of the sale revenue (after taxes) to the developer. That may be less than the 90 percent that many developers think they deserve, but it’s still considerably more generous than Apple’s 70 percent cut.

  • Payment is made via PayPal and is processed quarterly.

  • The developer sets the app price, with a minimum of $2.99, and can change that figure at any time.

  • For now, applications must be DRM-free and cannot require licenses to work, but Canonical has hinted that that may change in the future.

  • In Pugh’s words, “We are able to consume nearly any content” — which means Canonical will approve almost any app, including those with built-in advertisements and purchasing mechanisms. This sets the Ubuntu Software Center apart from other app stores, including Apple’s.

Although unable to release any hard numbers, Pugh painted a positive image of Canonical’s success so far with the Software Center. He said approximately one new application is being added each day on average, a rate that has been increasing, and developers “so far [have] been very happy with [the program] … they are getting good sales numbers, the process was simple and they have a whole new market available to them.”

Eyes on the Mobile Market

Pugh also highlighted Canonical’s hope that the Software Center, and the streamlined process for uploading applications that Canonical has designed via the Ubuntu Developer Portal, will help bring Android-focused developers to Ubuntu. “While mobile rules right now,” he said, “it’s relatively simple for [mobile developers] to support a bigger screen with Ubuntu once they have an Android app done.” The Software Center makes it easy for them to deliver such applications to end-users.

Canonical deserves credit, then, for its foresight in leveraging the Software Center as a means of bringing to desktop Ubuntu apps that might otherwise remain exclusively on mobile devices. If Ubuntu is to remain relevant in a mobile world, efforts such as this are key.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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