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Shuttleworth Says Canonical Is Not Cash-Flow Positive 304

eldavojohn writes "Mark Shuttleworth, the millionaire bankroller who keeps Ubuntu going strong, has revealed 'Canonical is not cash-flow positive' just as version 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) of the popular Linux distribution is released today. In a call, he said he 'had no objection' in funding Canonical for another three to five years. He did say, however, that if they concentrated on the server edition of Ubuntu that they could be profitable in two years."
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Shuttleworth Says Canonical Is Not Cash-Flow Positive

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  • The server version? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stinerman ( 812158 ) <nathan.stine@gmail.cTEAom minus caffeine> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:06AM (#25569725) Homepage

    He did say, however, that if they concentrated on the server edition of Ubuntu that they could be profitable in two years.

    The server version, otherwise known as Debian.

    Hasn't this gone full circle? The Debian release cycle is too long and uncertain so out comes Ubuntu. Ubuntu takes from unstable, fixes some bugs, adds some polish and makes a decent desktop OS. Now Ubuntu wants to concentrate on the server which is exactly what Debian stable is for? Please. Canonical would be better served by just supporting Debian.

  • by jcookeman ( 843136 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:10AM (#25569797)
    I doubt that will pay their bills though. No?
  • Re:Really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anarke_Incarnate ( 733529 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:12AM (#25569831)
    The reason they use it for smaller companies is that they are probably NOT paying for support and don't call for things like kernel fixes or package fixes. What kind of support does Ubuntu have for tools when not even all versions of RHEL or SLES, let alone Oracle Linux are supported? Where is the OMSA package for Ubuntu?

    The name helps sell PHBs, but the support from either RH or Novell is far better. I am sure Canonical can do well, but will they put boots on the ground in enough time to support outages?

    What is the model for cloning machines, deploying machines and such?

    What is the structure for connecting to various directories?

  • Hands Down (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <[enderandrew] [at] []> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:14AM (#25569871) Homepage Journal

    Hands down?

    I'm curious to find one single major advantage Ubuntu has over Red Hat, CentOS, SLES, or openSUSE in an enterprise environment.

  • Doesn't surprise me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:16AM (#25569893)

    Desktop users are not the ones likely to need to purchase support contracts, aside from business environments. Every business that I've worked for that has used Linux has used Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation for that very reason. Canonical's big problem here is that they have taken over a market where the majority of sales come from people buying off-the-shelf licenses or through OEM sales. the only way that they could get around that would be to charge say... $20/copy of Ubuntu to Dell, Asus, etc. to provide support for their netbook users.

  • Slack vs Ubuntu (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lymond01 ( 314120 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:18AM (#25569943)

    Here at the University, our department has a few clusters and a few standalone processing machines with a bit of disk attached. We were using ROCKS on the clusters and Slackware on the standalones, but then ROCKS went south in terms of hardware recognition, installation ease, and reconfiguration ease (so says my cluster admin). Now we use Slackware on everything.

    However, when I asked him if he would like to try to use something with dependency checking, he suggested, not Debian, but he felt the server version of Ubuntu was essentially Debian anyway. Ubuntu's nice, but for us it all comes down to how easy it is to change, install our non-standard apps, and how often it requires updates.

    Thoughts from the /. community?

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:27AM (#25570083) Homepage

    Give me a Commercial version that is a bit more polished and has the important stuff already installed and ready instead of me having to go and run the installers to get everything ready. also get a "remote help" system in place so aunt millie can press "help me" and type in my email address and then I can easily help her with it, or she can call you and get paid support.

    Honestly, Ubuntu is ALMOST there. if it takes a pay for version for me to point the Friends and family at then so be it.

  • by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:27AM (#25570087)

    Hasn't this gone full circle?

    No - the predominant attitude in the industry is "if you don't like it, then fork it" - so they did. Why did they do it? I think that you answered it yourself with the very next sentence:

    The Debian release cycle is too long and uncertain so out comes Ubuntu.

    When you see how the mirrors are getting slammed right now (8.10 is on most of them), you simply must realize that Ubuntu has stolen most of the mindshare aware from Debian. Is that not good?

  • by Markspark ( 969445 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:33AM (#25570169)
    yeah, but still the fact that the increase of linux is almost 90% in little less than a year, it seems as though the ball has started to roll.
  • by GauteL ( 29207 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:35AM (#25570203)

    ... for users.

    I'm thinking easy on line storage integrated with OS and applications. Similarly they could offer backup space, email accounts, web space, picture storage and sharing,, Jabber service, OpenID, etc.

    Think ".Mac/MobileMe" style services.

    I would certainly be willing to pay a reasonable subscription fee for a nicely integrated service.

  • Open Source Funding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:43AM (#25570331)

    This raises an interesting point that I'd like to see /.ers discuss:

    Without the charity of well-to-do geeks or companies that fund open source development from profitable product lines, can Open Source succeed at the enterprise level?

    This thread is a good example of the first case. Sun/Open Office, the Google/Mozilla "relationship", IBM, et al./Eclipse are examples of the second as is the general practice of different companies employing Linus, Guido and a few other key people to keep Linux/Python/etc going.

    Without the strong investment from those with deep pockets, can Open Source software progress at the rate needed to remain viable in the enterprise? What happens when the product lines funding those projects start losing money?

    If you respond with counter-examples, make sure you do a proper accounting of who is really doing the development work on the project. Is it people in their spare time or is it paid workers being funded by the revenues from other projects? And, of course, focus on Open Source software that is being pushed and is _viable_ for enterprise use - hobbiest level software and boutique libraries will always have volunteers available.


  • by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:50AM (#25570457)
    This makes sense. Usability and polish issues aside, the biggest things holding Linux back are a consistent face behind the Operating System and perceived value. Canonical standing behind Ubuntu solves the first (note this is about desktop versions, not server). Releasing an ultra-polished pay for version would solve the second. The general public will not use something that is free because the perceived value is so low; "They're giving it away, it must not be that good."
  • by rzei ( 622725 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @11:53AM (#25570495)

    I think that you answered it yourself with the very next sentence:

    The Debian release cycle is too long and uncertain so out comes Ubuntu.

    I totally agree. Debian is great, but as they don't have as good release cycle as Ubuntu, there are quite many packages which are way beyond usable as those cannot be upgraded in a stable Debian.

    Of course it's a matter of stability also, but a release cycle would eventually do only good for Debian also. Just think what would happen if Debian and Ubuntu Server could unite at one point.. Not knowing the specifics, but I guess many debian devs/maintainers already receive paychecks from Canonical.

    Debian has great number of great maintainers, and have set the bar on package management to a whole another level for everyone in the operating system field.

    Ubuntu in the other end has revolutionalized the desktop, essentially by adding "listening users needs" and "release cycle" to already good Debian recipe.

    For support, Debian based (server) system is something I could consider buying that. As long as they can handle cost being accessible to ISV's.

  • by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @12:35PM (#25571207)
    or to crunch the numbers another way - Windows lost 5.5% of the desktop market in a little over a year....

    ouch, I bet that smarts.
  • Re:Really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak ( 773371 ) <obsessivemathsfr ... .net minus physi> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @12:40PM (#25571301) Homepage Journal

    The problem is that Ubuntu's strengths don't carry over to Ubuntu Server, especially when you deal with SysAdmins that know what they're doing.

    And that group does not include most Windows Admins running Windows servers.

    Ubuntu's GUI tools other successes on the desktop make it a direct competitor to windows desktops, and these same features make it a direct competitor to windows servers. Windows servers have nothing else to offer apart from their GUI interfaces and integration with clients. But with the demise of the backwards compatibility camp [] at Microsoft, the latter feature is in question, leaving Ubuntu primed to usurp not a few Microsoft shop data rooms in the near future.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2008 @12:51PM (#25571563)

    hmm... if I did my (bad) math right, it takes _only_ 267 years until Linux covers 100% of the market.
    Desktop Linux ... here we come...

  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @12:54PM (#25571603) Homepage Journal

    Saying your sales are up x% is a gimmick when the entire market is actually up x+3% sure, but when you say my marketshare is up by x%, that's not a gimmick. And Linux's market share is definitely up according to that chart. Vista doesn't particularly count IMO, you have to take Windows as a whole - because those who are used to Windows will often just take Vista with their new machine. You don't get many machines that come with Linux by default, but lots of PCs just come with Vista these days, and obviously a lot of people either don't know the difference between Windows versions, or still want Vista just because it's the latest thing. So for Linux adoption to be on the rise it shows that people are choosing Linux over Windows.

    I wonder how much of the Linux adoption was spurred by devices like the EEE PC or Linux based mobile phones, how much was just webservers, and how much is due to more user friendly distros on desktops and laptops? And if they count Linux on mobile phones in their stats, do they count Windows Mobile as Windows? There's also the matter of what websites the stats are gathered from.. I'd love to see the stats google have on OS hits to google for each country they operate in.

  • Re:Really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yetihehe ( 971185 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @12:56PM (#25571663)
    I think you haven't tried debian AND ubuntu. Ubuntu IS easier than debian, it's small things but overall configuration is easier and installing new packages and services is easier. My company's small development server is now on ubuntu (but desktop edition, we use windows for workstations, we sometimes need to check pages under linux).
  • On the one hand... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:51PM (#25572535) Homepage Journal

    ...the Renaissance relied heavily on such donations from sponsors. People like Leonardo da Vinci simply could not have operated without them. This is a valid model to work with, as history has unquestionably shown, but it's unstable if the rich and powerful get unseated, as happens when the economy collapses.

    The other option is to have a public sector Open Source laboratory, funded through the tax system. Americans hate taxes, though, even in those cases where the alternative costs them more, gives them less freedom and has less accountability. It would mean convincing a lot of skeptical (possibly paranoid) people that the Government was capable of running such a facility in a mature and intelligent fashion, and that it would do some good. A "National Institute for Open Source" (NIOS) might not even require taxes to be raised - I imagine the costs for such a place would be well below the variations in the price-tag for NIST, NIH, NSF and related organizations already in the public sector. And even if it did involve raising taxes, how much does it take to have a few dozen people on workstations covering the full scope of supported hardware? Adding a 0.1% raise to the uppermost tax bracket that nobody on this site even comes close to would more than cover such a facility, and frankly the amount they'd "lose" would probably be less than they amount they lose behind the sofa or pay on designer shoes in a given week. In other words, they'd either not notice or not care.

    Remember, this NIOS doesn't have to be big or sophisticated. A handful of people who are skilled coders and skilled QAers testing and debugging software deemed "critical" for Government users (the Linux and *BSD kernels, for example, along with GCC, Glibc, and a selection of fundamental tools and libraries) on all hardware the Government users deemed "important" (which is everything Linux runs on, other than perhaps the Vax, but given that they hold onto old hardware...) and you've covered everything a NIOS would need to do. It wouldn't be a distribution, it wouldn't favour any particular system or technology and it wouldn't be concerned with mainstream applications. Applications are the affairs of vendors. Governments should only be concerned with ensuring the foundations are correct and solid.

    Of course, everyone has a different idea of what a NIOS would do. My vision won't necessarily be the same as other people's, but I do feel that my vision would be doable, cost-effective, genuinely justifiable as being in the national interest and sufficiently outside of the scope of competing with the private sector that nobody would feel threatened or believe that the competition they were facing was getting an unfair advantage. Microsoft has reused Open Source code in the past - network stacks from BSD, Kerberos for security, NCSA's webserver for part of IIS, etc. Other vendors doubtless do the same. Having a dedicated facility for debugging such code therefore IMPROVES the position of the vendors out there, as they can then focus on genuine added value, rather than duplicating all the QA and refactoring work. It would eliminate part of the common denominator that was unnecessary, wasteful and not really getting done anyway (as demonstrated by all the bugs in Microsoft products).

    People will complain about my idea, probably throwing in words like "socialism" in the process, but this isn't a proposal for an actual Government department. Aside from the fact that I don't have the means to set one up even if I wanted to, I am much more interested in hearing how this idea could itself be bugfixed to make it viable, or in hearing alternative ideas that people might come up with once they stop thinking about the idiotic ways Governments have screwed things up and start thinking about what a centralized facility could do in principle when it has the freedom to pursue what it likes without sponsors to answer to.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:54PM (#25572581)
    yeah, but still the fact that the increase of linux is almost 90% in little less than a year, it seems as though the ball has started to roll.
    What I see is Linux at 0.57% in Nov 07 and 0.91% in Sept 08. MS Vista at 9.19% in Nov 07 and 18.33% in Sept 08.

    The MacIntel alone with six times the market share of Linux on the desktop. W2K with twice the market share.

    Think hits to Fox News.

    W2K never saw significant sales as a consumer OS.

    Yet eight ? years later this industrious little workhorse still out polls Linux on the web.

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:00PM (#25573555)

    First off, I really appreciate the well-thought out comments to my original post. I was expecting some flame-worthy comments and am pleasantly surprised.

    Now, to make this a proper /. thread and go completely off-topic...

    I want to follow-up briefly on the NIOS idea, as it's one I've bandied about in academic circles for addressing the challenges facing researchers who need software for data management or simulation. The standard approach is to find a research angle and have a grad student develop the application in exchange for a degree. However, most disciplines are reaching the point where the requirements carry no legitimate research value or are simply beyond the skills of students. "A [OO|XML|Java|Perl|Forth] Framework for Baconian Dymanics" can only be published so many times before the reviewers catch on. And, it's not really fair for a student who should be developing research skills to spend their time writing boiler-plate code.

    Some labs are able to secure NSF or NIH funding for software development. But, once they have the money, it's rarely spent on professional developers. Instead, it goes to the lowest bidder (or a colleague's kid who learned HTML in high school) and the quality of the software takes a big hit. And, most scientific PI's have difficulty effectively managing software projects.

    It seems that the NIH/NSF could invest in a National Software Institute that provides developers for academic projects. The trick would be not to become a typical consulting shop and instead develop long term relationships with the labs while building out shared frameworks/toolchains/(pick your favorite abstraction technique) that can be used across similar projects. It would also be important to hire developers who were interested in science and would take the time to understand the domain they're supporting. And, it would be essential to develop reliable QA and validation practices to ensure that the science they're supporting is reproducible (something that most people I've worked with agree is lacking in most scientific software).

    Anyway, some of the foundational ideas are worked out in a talk I put together and have given to a number of different labs. It's more focused on how to get individual labs implementing good software development practices, but I've always wanted to see the core ideas scale to a larger service organization. If anyone's curious, the slides are at: []


  • by refactored ( 260886 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:52PM (#25574321) Homepage Journal
    If I could go to Ubuntu's web site and see
    • "Ubuntu Linux certified laptop" on the front page,
    • not deeply buried [] behind tons of "XXX recommends Microsoft Vista" crap...
    • at competitive price,
    • and ships to New Zealand

    I'd "click" on "buy" right now.

  • Re:Really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by conufsed ( 650798 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @05:38PM (#25575843)

    I run Ubuntu Sever over Debian because of the predictable release cycle, and that large companies (such as VMWare), actually support the LTS releases.

    I don't use the commercial support yet, but I like knowing its there if we need to go down that path

  • by V!NCENT ( 1105021 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @06:19PM (#25576435)

    I installed Ubuntu 8.10 for my dad on his laptop. His needs are very basic: Office 2003 (Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Visio needed, Publisher would be nice but it's not a requirement), Photomanager, Quake4 and ET:QW, iPod app(s)(Add/remove/edit files, create playlists and manage photos), web browser (IE compatible, flash), audio player, movie player (that can also play protected DVD's)

    Installing (read: make everything work flawlessly and integrate it into the desktop) Office 2003 with Wine 1.17 was a pain in the behind, but I didn't need to use the cmdline to make it work (yet I did because it's easyer). Fspot impressed my dad because according to him that's how a photomanager should be. Quake4 and ETQW are... id software! Easy money... This was with the latest and greatest(?) standard nVidia driver, which happens to work on a Quadro FX (is this wrong?)(oh and my dad doesn't need a Quadro FX but he just happens to have one). iPod apps are in place. Apple software is supposed to be easy, yet my dad still doesn't understand iTunes and he loves the easyness of these apps. Web browser is Firefox with adblock plus, the proprietary Adobe Flash 9 plugin and the fake user agent plugin (set to Opera on Windows Vista) for viewing Hotmail under Linux for example. Standard Ubuntu audio player with all additional common codecs I could find. Standard movie player works great with protected media when you sh a script somewhere hidden in Ubuntu that downloads and installs the required software for protected playback that is illegal in some countries. It works with the Star Wars digitaly remastered DVD's (my dad isn't a geek or a nerd or whatever but he loves Star Wars and Star Trek XD).

    OK, conclusion? Everything works (TM) in Ubuntu but you have no chance in hell if you're a noob if you want to set up all the 'basic stuff'. Even if everybody switches to OpenDocument it's still not 'user-friendly' enough, but then again who can set up and properly configure a Windows box anyway? In other words: The year of Linux on the desktop is still too far away, if it ever comes.

  • Learn to play chess. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @06:20PM (#25576449) Homepage Journal

    Then check the prize given to the mythical inventor of the game.

    If the same speed of growth would continue Windows would be over sooner than you think.

    But to know this we have to talk again next year. What I remember is when Linux was literally smuggled in any datacentre, what I saw this afternoon in a major PC shop here in London is that 20% of the laptops in offer had Linux installed.

  • Re:Really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbailey999 ( 146222 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @08:18PM (#25577683) Homepage

    (obDisclosure: I'm the former manager of Canonical's support and service department)

    I'm curious in which way you consider Canonical's support to be inferior? At the time when I left Canonical, one Linux mag (I don't remember which one off hand, sorry.) rated us as tied with RH for providing support.

    You have actually *tried* buying support from Canonical, right? =)

    We were cheerfully providing 7x24 support, though with essentially no hold time and with an escalation setup internally that you could get relatively quickly to people with 10+ years Linux experience.

    We also did professional services gigs for folks as well, and traveled around the world doing those.

    The ISV certification story isn't great yet for Ubuntu, but the support story was one we were certainly proud of.

    Jeff Bailey

  • by jbailey999 ( 146222 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @09:09PM (#25578091) Homepage

    (obDisclosure: I used to work for Canonical and am a DD)

    Without any stats to back this up, I'm guessing that 200 full time Canonical employees could totally trounce the amount of work that the 1000 or so DDs do.

    But that's not the point, is it?

    Debian in a lot of ways is better off because of Ubuntu. Look at the quality of the bug reports in Launchpad. Debian would be totally and utterly crushed if the maintainers of the various packages had to deal with the noise level that comes into there.

    Ubuntu also makes a lot of compromises to keep average end users happy. Debian doesn't need to do that and can push for ultimately the right solution to things. Having Mark and Matt having pretty much final say on what happens in main means that when something needs to happen, it happens. In Debian, the maintainer has pretty much final say over packages and many maintainers have been known to dig in heels.

    Ubuntu and Debian are different worlds, and both are richer because of the other's existence.

    Jeff Bailey

  • Re:Really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by subreality ( 157447 ) on Friday October 31, 2008 @02:48AM (#25580493)

    Hey, don't worry. I posted at 9AM. In a few hours, somebody will respond with something that may fix the problem

    With paid support on RHEL, my experience was telling my boss "Don't worry, I opened a ticket at 9 AM. In a few hours, somebody will respond with something that may fix the problem".

    It was a very different experience from the job I had before that, at an almost-all-Debian shop (excluding a couple Oracle servers). Passing over the fact that things didn't break nearly as often in the first place, when they did, I could tell my boss "Don't worry, I'm working on it. If I haven't fixed it in a few hours, I'll pay for per-incident support from one of the contractors we have lined up." And in the years I worked there, we *never* had a problem we couldn't fix ourselves.

    In my experience, we were always much better off handling things in-house than passing the buck. YMMV.

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