Ubuntu: Eight Long-term Reality Checks
It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Nine Lives Media Inc. launched WorksWithU, the independent guide to Ubuntu. When we started this site we made a few assumptions about how the Ubuntu community and Ubuntu business markets would evolve. How have those assumptions evolved from 2008 to 2010t? Here’s an eight-point reality check.
1. Ubuntu In the Server Market
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: By 2009 or early 2010, we expected some of the major server hardware makers to offer Ubuntu Server Edition as a pre-installed option on some of their systems.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Some early Ubuntu Server Edition partners faced their own challenges (prime example: Sun getting acquired by Oracle). Meanwhile, most of the x86 server vendors focused the bulk of their efforts on Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux support. Several niche Ubuntu desktop and notebook makers — most notably System76 and ZaReason — have introduced Ubuntu servers.
Still, we didn’t anticipate the server market transitioning to more of a hosting and cloud services market. The economic recession forced many businesses to re-think whether they wanted to deploy servers and applications internally, or simply leverage pay-as-you-go hosting and cloud models. Canonical has adjusted appropriately. A growing number of hosting providers now offer Ubuntu as a platform, and Canonical has introduced Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud for companies that want to build private cloud networks.
In short, Canonical didn’t necessarily penetrate the server market in the traditional fashion. But cloud and hosted computing may give Ubuntu back doors into corporate data centers.
2. Ubuntu On The Desktop
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: Dell’s decision in mid-2007 to pre-load Ubuntu on selected PCs certainly caught our attention. That single event was one of the reasons we took a closer look at the emerging Ubuntu partner ecosystem. Dell’s Ubuntu move arrived shortly after Microsoft launched Windows Vista. So, we suddenly suspected more PC vendors would give Ubuntu a look on the desktop.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Dell has had its share of desktop successes with Ubuntu. The company claims to have shipped more Ubuntu systems than any other PC vendor in the world. But is that good enough? During the first half of 2009 through mid-2010, Dell’s U.S. website only offered Ubuntu netbooks with the occasional laptop promotion sprinkled in. Ubuntu desktops were nowhere to be found on Dell’s U.S. website… until late July 2010.
Other PC vendors have dabbled in Ubuntu, but the real successes involve two familiar names to the Ubuntu crowd: ZaReason and System76. Ubuntu’s best chance for mainstream desktop deployment seems to be in emerging economies, where many government organizations, businesses and schools are seeking low-cost, easy-to-deploy systems. In many cases, those organizations don’t have any Windows legacy PCs in place.
3. Ubuntu On Notebooks and Netbooks
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: We spotted the netbook trend pretty early. By mid-2008 at OSCON, Canonical was showing off Ubuntu Netbook Remix Edition. By the end of 2008, Ubuntu netbooks were widely available in U.S. retail stores. Merry Christmas, Ubuntu lovers. Microsoft, meanwhile, stumbled badly because Windows Vista was too bloated to run on ultra-small netbooks. Canonical had a hit on its hand. By February 2009, HP jumped on the Ubuntu netbook bandwagon. We expected the trend to continue…
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Ubuntu netbooks are still widely available from online retailers. And we expect some more big-name announcements later this year. But Microsoft, backed by the successful Windows 7 launch, has emerged as the dominant platform in the U.S. netbook market. Also of note: Netbooks continue to sell well, but the media seems preoccupied with tablets, where a war between Apple’s iPad and Google Android seems to be brewing.
4. Ubuntu On Mobile Internet Devices
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: In June 2007, Canonical had high expectations for so-called Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), which fit somewhere between the smart phone market and the netbook/notebook market. Canonical expected a range of MIDs to offer WiFi capabilities and to serve as mobile communications devices. WorksWithU offered pretty balanced coverage: We tracked potential MID momentum but didn’t necessarily see a lot of activity in the fledgling market.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Tablet computing chatter — involving Apple’s iPad and Google Android — has largely replaced the old MID discussions. Apple has a hit on its hands, major PC vendors are turning to Android for tablets, HP acquired Palm and WebOS to get into the tablet game, and Microsoft is scrambling to respond by late 2010. We’re also watching the Google Chrome OS development efforts, which involve Canonical. Where does Ubuntu fit in? We need to take a closer look at the market.
5. Canonical’s Revenue Streams
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: Frankly, we assumed Canonical would generate revenues through traditional IT services — by supporting Ubuntu and Ubuntu Server Edition for corporate customers. Recent estimates peg Canonical’s annual revenue around $30 million.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: WorksWithU didn’t anticipate Canonical’s decision to pursue some additional revenue streams. Namely, the Landscape systems management, systems monitoring and cloud management solution; and the Ubuntu One personal cloud service for storage, music and other content. Critics say Canonical is stretching itself too thin with too many business development efforts. But WorksWithU is intrigued, especially since so many open source companies bet their entire business on a single product and often fail to escape niche status.
6. Ubuntu’s ISV Software Partners
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: WorksWithU expected major ISVs — Oracle, SAP, VMware, etc. — to gradually embrace Ubuntu by late 2009 or so. But in some cases the Ubuntu ISV (independent software vendor) program faced a key hurdle. Specifically, some ISVs were holding off until Canonical shipped Ubuntu 10.04, a long term support (LTS) release, in April 2010.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Canonical has gained some momentum in the ISV department. Generally speaking, Red Hat and Novell still dominate the Linux ISV buzz. But relationships between Canonical, IBM, Groundwork Open Source and several other ISVs seem to be growing. And WorksWithU expects at least one more Ubuntu-related ISV surprise toward the end of September 2010. A clue: A big email software provider may fall for Ubuntu…
7. Ubuntu’s Channel Partner Program
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: WorksWithU expected Canonical to increasingly pursue VARs, resellers and integrators to support Ubuntu within customer settings. Canonical has certainly focused on the channel and partners. But cloud computing and hosted computing have signaled some shifts.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: Canonical is spending more time focused on potential hosting partners, since web hosts can wind up deploying thousands of physical and virtual servers in their data centers.
8. Canonical’s Management Team
WorksWithU’s 2008 Perspective: Generally speaking, we expected the Canonical management team to be responsive to our media inquiries. Thankfully, they certainly are responsive. But we always wondered if Shuttleworth would expand the Canonical management team as the company’s areas of focus continued to expand.
Mid-2010 Reality Check: We got our answer when Shuttleworth transitioned his CEO title to Jane Silber in March 2010, and also hired Matt Asay as COO. We’re still watching to see how the Canonical management team blends and evolves. The company still doesn’t share much info about its financial performance. But when it comes to Ubuntu-related media inquiries, Canonical remains responsive.
In many ways, the Ubuntu community has evolved far differently than WorksWithU initially expected. Back in 2008, WorksWithU likely spent too much time wondering how Canonical would promote Ubuntu in traditional PC and server markets vs. Windows. Fast forward to 2010, and new opportunities (the cloud, hosting centers) and new challenges (Google Android, Applie iPad) have forced WorksWithU to rethink our Ubuntu coverage multiple times.
As you likely know, I spend considerable time hopping between our media sites — The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and WorksWithU. Each time I log into the WorksWithU blogging system, I’m amazed by all the reader comments.
Thanks for taking this journey with us.