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Linux Business

Is Ubuntu Selling Out or Growing Up? 345

AlexGr notes an article by Jeff Gould where he says " Sometimes I wonder whether Ubuntu is really an open source software company any more. Yes, yes, I realize Ubuntu is not a company at all but a free Linux distribution, GPL'd and open source by definition. But still, the Ubuntu distro is sponsored by a traditional for-profit company. The answer that has recently emerged to this question is, "yes and no." Yes, of course, because Ubuntu's web site promises that the distro "will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates." But Ubuntu the enterprise ecosystem — understood as the collection of desktops and servers running Ubuntu in a given organization — is not."
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Is Ubuntu Selling Out or Growing Up?

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  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:19PM (#23255538) Homepage
    Nowhere the GPL forbids making a profit from GPLled software, as long as you adhere to the conditions of the GPL.
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:22PM (#23255594)
    Shuttleworth has never pretended Ubuntu was purely about being nice to the community - he always planned that one day it would bring some money in.

    It follows that Canonincal has to offer something that they charge for. And seeing as they've pledged that the distribution itself remains free, it makes sense that the things they charge for are the kind of things a business might need and might be prepared to pay for - support and bells and whistles that aren't in the free version and frankly aren't terribly relevant to the individual with one or two systems.
  • Redhat (Score:1, Insightful)

    by minusthink ( 218231 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:23PM (#23255620)
  • by mofag ( 709856 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:25PM (#23255644)
    Open Source isn't some hippy anti-capitalist religion. Its a way of doing business. If you alienate or disqualify companies who want to make a profit from being "true open source" then I and many like me will have to go back to releasing proprietary software only. What pap! When people like this get to air their views, this whole free speech and the internet thing have gone too far.
  • Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <[enderandrew] [at] []> on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:26PM (#23255664) Homepage Journal
    Does the submitter of this story understand the distinction between free as in beer, and free as in speech?

    They are questioning whether or not Ubuntu classifies as open source, because the parent company might want to make money. The entire preposition here is flawed and silly.
  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:31PM (#23255738)
    It takes the author quite awhile to get to his point about the greater Ubuntu ecosystem being non-free. His point is:

    Canonical has introduced a new twist into the Ubuntu business model with the launch of its Landscape systems management and monitoring tool. Basically Landscape is very similar to Red Hat Network. It allows you to track the configurations and status of all your Ubuntu desktops and servers, and to install updates under central control (though with full customization options). And the catch is? This is completely proprietary code. It's not GPL'd, you can't see the source, and you can't get it for free. In fact, you can't even have the binary, because Landscape is provided as an online service only. Only the Landscape client is free and open source, which it has to be of course because it cohabits physically with the kernel on each of your Ubuntu machines.
    (emphasis added)

    So his complaint amounts to: "Sure they give you the source code for all distributed binaries, but they don't give you the source code for a subscription-based online service that they run."

    For those of us who believe in software freedom, the question is really "does software freedom extend to web services?" Is providing someone with a web service akin to providing them with a binary? That is, you should give them access to the source code (where I'm using "should" as shorthand for "it's the free software thing to do").

    The fact is that this is a point of contention in the community. It was debated considerably during the writing of GPLv3. Both sides have valid points: on the one hand, an online service isn't distributing software to end-users. On the other hand, this may be a "loophole" that allows companies to modify free software, but deny the eventual users of that software the ability to use the changes or further modify the code.

    The author was inherently assuming that not providing code for web services was non-free. But really that's an unfinished debate, and he should have pointed out the nuances.
  • by CaptainPatent ( 1087643 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:31PM (#23255744) Journal
    An open source project having roots in a for-profit company is not a problem.

    If they start data-mining Ubuntu computers for profit or something just as devious - THAT's a problem.
    I'm going to use Ubuntu as long as it remains free of evil and cost. If one of those changes, I'll move along to a different distro, but as long as they have the most easy to use open-source desktop environment and continue to develop this project as quickly and as beautifully as they are I'll continue to use it - simple as that.
  • The problem is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:38PM (#23255850)
    That a non-trivial amount of free software users claim they care about "Free as in speech" but really want "Free as in can I crash on your couch?" There is a mentality among people like this that free software CAN'T cost money, and that for-profit operations are bad and such.

    I think it is one of the problem OSS faces in terms of getting more companies to adopt that style. For every person that is actually honest about simply wanting the freedom to modify their software, but being perfectly ok with still paying for it, it seems there is at least one person who just wants a free lunch, and only spouts OSS dogma because they believe it'll lead to them getting more for free.
  • by ickoonite ( 639305 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:45PM (#23256000) Homepage
    For fuck's sake. It's never good enough, is it? Like the binary drivers thing or countless other trifling irrelevancies before it, this is a classic example of why open source has as many detractors as it does supporters â" the polarising ideology of its most ardent supporters. To these types, if you are not with them, you are against them, an open source hater and betrayer of the cause.

    But seriously â" let's look at Ubuntu for a moment. It's one of the freest and most principled distributions of Linux out there, building off the same dogmatic (some would say excessively so) tradition as Debian. A default install of Ubuntu does not contain any non-free software (in that most pedantic sense), but a lot of distributions make no such distinction. So to try to paint it as the product of some evil conglomerate is disingenuous at the very least.

    The fundamental issue here is in their dogmatism, open source's most ardent supporters become like the architects of a communist régime, where all enemies are members of a bourgeoisie that only ever gets bigger. At first it is just the most blatant offenders â" wholly proprietary companies like Microsoft. Then it is companies like Apple, whose commitment to open source is, shall we say, pragmatic. Finally they come for the most well-intentioned - companies like Canonical, who are behind Ubuntu. Why? One can only assume that it stems from some frankly communistic hatred of money.

    This is misguided, because in the real world, even free is not free. As we are well aware, many open source contributors are paid to work on open source projects by their employers - IBM, Novell, Apple, Sun. And indeed, every open source contributor that is not still living with their parents has to work to live. Money buys food and shelter; money buys the free time to devote oneself to contributing to open source. And it buys things like the thousands of Ubuntu CDs that get pressed and distributed for free. Yes, someone had to pay for those.

    Ideology is our enemy. The wars of the 20th century were wars rooted in ideology; in the 21st century, religious ideology seems to have once again reared its ugly head. If we were to try to think a little more pragmatically and a little less ideologically; in terms of shades of grey rather than black and white, then the world would genuinely be a better place.

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:53PM (#23256136) Journal
    It's really funny, this whole selling out business.

    When I first started using Linux, I used Debian because of apt and because the ideology appealed to me. Then I immediately started making compromises in the name of getting shit done and having a difficult time installing and maintaining those compromises.

    Ubuntu lets me make the choice to sell out in the name of getting shit done. Through the restricted and multiverse repositories, it makes it easy to do so. But it also lets me see exactly where I'm doing so, and makes it easy to stop doing so if I should wish, though of course not without consequences.

    People who wish to be uncompromising in their principles or need the capacity to roll out systems with the confidence that they are not legally encumbered can do so, while people who respect the ideals but are ready to compromise can do so with foreknowledge and a minimum of fuss.

    This is showing a great deal of respect for the positions of a great many users and would-be users.
  • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:55PM (#23256160) Journal
    Its a way of doing business

    It can be a way of doing business, but it isn't some corporonazi mammon worshiping religion, either. Open source simply does what you need it to do the way you want it to do what you want. If you want to use it for business, it can be used for that. If you want to simply give, it can be used for that as well.

    And I though vi vs emacs was bad...

    this whole free speech and the internet thing have gone too far.

    I'll leave it to the younger slashdotters to flame you for that particular piece of "wisdom".
  • by bsharma ( 577257 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:13PM (#23256430)
    You type an address, they mail you a stack of CDs - High quality OS, Applications, web based updates - And THEY PAY FOR SHIPPING. Not a single Virus, malware, trojan etc., How much more FREE can anything get?
  • by lewp ( 95638 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:23PM (#23256560) Journal
    I don't even use Ubuntu, but this guy appears to be saying that they're not "open source" because they try to make money off support and don't give away the server side of their RHN-style web service. Really? So the two vectors through which open source companies are "supposed" to make money (support and value-adds) are no longer acceptable either? Fuck off.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:28PM (#23256622) Journal
    From the summary:

    But Ubuntu the enterprise ecosystem â" understood as the collection of desktops and servers running Ubuntu in a given organization â" is not.
    "Is not"... What?

    Canonical sells tech support for people and companies that want to use its freely available distro. And that makes them bad.. how exactly?

    I've managed to use Ubuntu (studio) for a couple of years now, and I've never needed any help beyond the Ubuntu users' forum (which didn't cost me a cent). If this is Canonical's insidious plan to enrich themselves outrageously, I don't think it's such a good one.

    It's possible to have a successful company, and make a profit and create some jobs and not have to be rapacious and crave endless and metastasizing growth. But rather, "just do well". Be successful, pay the bills, pay the salaries, and leave something behind.

    I think it makes them exactly what business ought to be, and was before the VC-craze turned every other MBA into the business equivalent of malignant melanoma.
  • by Insanity Defense ( 1232008 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:54PM (#23256900)

    With Redhat having proven that a Linux support company can stay the distance and make money it should be easier for Canonical to do the same.

  • by pugugly ( 152978 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:13PM (#23257104)
    I also think he is overselling that point.

    The point that Canonical tries to have it both ways - that (despite the clarity in distinguishing them in the OS) it isn't entirely opensource in practice, but it wants to act as if it were to market itself to opensource advocates - well, he has a valid point.

    That said - it is, essentially, calling them on a marketing decision. Fair enough - they are allowed to make a marketing decision which is deceptive without being dishonest, he is allowed to call them on it.

    But saying that they have a product which is not open source, and that in turn means they're selling out? Umm - no. Maybe it means they are not pure of heart and soul, but I'm okay with that. Most companies that support opensource aren't doing out of some deep, abiding divine spark. I seem to recall IBM has one or two closed source products lying around somewhere - .

    There *is* a dichotomy between making opensource products and making a sell-able product, and I haven't seen a good way to make a profit *just* selling a useful product as open source yet, without incurring some kind of subscription based support service for it.

    If someone can come up with a way to make GPL'd open source product so well made it doesn't *need* support, and still manage to sell the darn thing and make money at it, they will resolve this dichotomy. I'm not sure I see how to do it (yet), but it seems to me to be the problem that needs resolved.

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:55PM (#23257580) Homepage Journal

    When people like this get to air their views, this whole free speech and the internet thing have gone too far.

    Suck it up. Freedom is nearly a religion to me, and one of my highest values is that random jackasses get to say things I disagree with. How about this next time someone riles you: don't listen to them. They have as much right to be as vocally wrong as you do.

  • Follow the money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eddy the lip ( 20794 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @07:11PM (#23257766)
    For god's sake.

    One of the reasons Shuttleworth founded Canonical was to fund Ubuntu. He tossed enough cash at the Ubuntu Foundation ($USD10 million) to make sure it would be viable for a good long time. He's smart enough to want to make sure Ubuntu keeps being funded, so he made sure there would be a steady stream of income.

    He also founded the Shuttleworth Foundation, which is focused on education. One of the things you need for that in this day and age is....computers. If you don't want your child's education to be held hostage by a for-profit corporation, one of the things you need is a free-as-in-speech operating system to run all your important education software on.

    Does anyone seriously think setting up this particular chain is an accident? An education foundation that emphasizes the need for Free software, a user-friendly Linux distribution, and a revenue source?

    I'm as skeptical as the next guy, but Shuttleworth comes off as some kind of Heinlein-esque hero.
  • by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @09:23PM (#23258868)
    Canonical was founded by the billionaire Mark Shuttleworth. []

    He's basically putting up all the money for the operation on the vague hope that it will pay off someday. They really don't have a business model, just a really generous investor/CEO.

    So... it's basically a charity based operating system.

    Which raise the point, why is this douchebag []
    writing an article about how the company is "selling out" by making some very small moves to make money off of an operating system they spend large amounts of money on, and give away for free?

    It kind of pisses me off that random internet idiots who don't make software for a living call anyone who tries to a "sellout."

    The article mentions that they are trying to recoup a small amount of the money they are dumping into Canonical by selling some proprietary software.

    So what? I'm sick and tired of internet morons tearing apart people that actually have to work for a living. It's not enough that they give away most of their software for free and under an open source license, but if they charge for *anything*, if you develop one line of proprietary code and sell it to make a buck, some random jerkoff will mouth off at you about how "software wants to be free," and you're "oppressing" them with your price tag and your non-gpl license.

    Free software isn't a business model. None of the distros that don't make you pay money *per install* make any money. Canonical loses money, Suse loses money. The only people who make money making operating systems do so by selling some proprietary code, or (as with red hat) devising schemes to make people pay money for shrink wrapped copies of open source code. Ubuntu has by far taken the least obnoxious approach, i.e. giving away most of their software, and letting you use their repository for free updates (which others don't do), but developing some proprietary stuff they let you buy separately.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling