Ubuntu, Ubuntu, Ubuntu. Probably a word that for many is synonymous with Linux. Forgetting that Ubuntu is a distro that new users often try first and forgetting the many users who champion it, Canonical in the last week or so has made some many bold statements/steps/implications in regards to its future, its position in the OS & Linux world, but most importantly of all, where it may get its revenue from.
Lets look first of all at the news that the default search engine packaged with its browser, will, allegedly as of 10.04 be Yahoo. Rick Spenser from Canonical is reported to have said:
This won’t in any way effect the ability of a user to choose and use the search provider of their choice. It’s literally 2 easily discoverable clicks to change this setting, a simple matter of switching to that search provider in the chrome by clicking on the icon and choosing the desired provider….
The deal with Yahoo will involve a revenue sharing, presumably in which Ubuntu is hoping to create a decent little income from. Before we look at the implications of that, there is some other (slightly older news) in regards to Ubuntu One.
Its been reported that Ubuntu One will be available on the Windows platform as of this year. The Ubuntu One blog had this to say on the matter:
This year at PyCon members of the Ubuntu One development team will focus on helping these users. The principal areas we’ll work on are porting to the Windows equivalent of D-bus, inotify, an installer, and a file manager plugin. If you’re heading to Atlanta in February, and this sounds interesting to you, please join our sprint.
You can visit the Ubuntu One blog here & read the registers coverage of the Yahoo deal here.
So whats the problem?
Second time Ive asked this question recently. The last time was when the question of proprietary software for Ubuntu was considered.
So now we are here again.
Whatever your view on Canonical, its decisions and its future, to me there is a very “Microsoft” smell about Yahoo. We have to remember that Microsoft is /in the process of buying Yahoo and thats maybe where the first problem is.
There are some who think that any incursion Microsoft makes (however indirect) into the world of Linux is part of some master plan to remove competition and dominate the desktop. There are some who think Microsoft has nothing but good intentions and is entering into a more open and friendly era…and there are those who could not care less either way.
I am somewhere between all three. Lets forget about the Yahoo link to Microsoft and consider that this could produce revenue for Canonical to further improve its product, services and end user experience. Could this not simply be a case of “money is money”?
Microsoft is not “evil”, to suggest so would suggest that Microsoft is a living entity, so whats wrong with indirectly taking Microsoft cash? and looking towards Ubuntu One on Windows, where’s the issue there? It is not simply opening up another potential platform of customers for Canonical to get revenue from? Surely if Canonical is happy economically then the end user will benefit?
Well, yes and no. In respect of Ubuntu One (which is a service that is being sold) I think the benefits of opening it up to as many people as possible are obvious. Theres also the advantage of syncing files between Linux/Windows platforms and since Ubuntu One IS a service, I see no issue with Canonical trying to maximize their earning potential.
Then we look at the Yahoo issue. The argument goes something like this, “If you don’t like it you can simply change it back” But is that really the point? Since Google is already entrenched as peoples engine of choice (in the main) should this switch to a less popular engine be dealt with via an opt in policy not effectively an opt out one?
Regardless though on your views in respect of Yahoo, let us not forget that Microsoft is in competition with Linux. Do you really think Microsoft cheers every time another user moves to Linux? Do you think they crack open a bottle of Wine when someone champions Linux? Do you think Microsoft has a grand vision where eventually they no longer have market share? - I think its safe to say they don’t and it is for this reason why I have always viewed anything Microsoft (or any competition) has done in respect of FOSS/Linux with suspicion. Now for Microsoft I can see a win win situation here:
Through their acquisition of Yahoo AND the extra hits that they will undoubtedly credit to Bing, it will give a far more respectable showing for a battle against Google which at present time (according to figures) does not seem to be able to be won.
with a rather more cynical head on (and im sure if its correct is completely unintentional by MS) ;) but consider this:
You are Microsoft, you see the largest Linux distro becoming more popular on the desktop. You realize how unpopular the Microsoft name is and offer a search deal to that Linux company in the knowledge that there are going to be users who will separate, in fight, challenge and argue…all good disruption to a competitor that you can’t defeat in the long run because its free. Surely both outcomes produce a win/win situation for Microsoft?
So what are people saying?
A very interesting blog post from Richard A Johnson (which can be found here) states that whilst firstly the Yahoo deal has not been set in stone, it is a good thing and he has made a well written article where he says:
….We have this great product, but if we continue being split on whether the Free Software side or the Open Source side is the correct side, or we shouldn’t be doing these types of deals, let’s just keep our mouths shut and enjoy this lovely rock canopy we have created for ourselves. Oh, here comes a big bomb, Novell. I am not about to rip on Novell, sorry Boycott Novell. I do not agree with their merger whatsoever, but I am a first hand witness of the good that has actually come out of the deal…..
Although this “rock” which the author has placed Linux users under doesn’t really mention the Plurk incident or the patent portfolio of Microsoft does it? It also fails to mention that Microsoft is not merely a company that is been hit by criticism because its large, its hit because of the allegations of its actions and at the end of the day it is not in Microsoft’s interest for users to prefer it over their Windows platform or their way of doing things. Regardless of your take on Microsoft actions past or present, you can’t disagree that fundamentally Microsoft has no wish to see any user move to Linux from its platform. A lost sale is a lost sale for Microsoft.
And whilst we are on the subject, Novell deal good for them? Really? After witnessing the reactions on the net (and in the friends/colleagues around me) from what I saw it was hardly good. I fully believe that Novell could be sitting where Canonical is now if it wasn’t for “that deal” and the mantle of most popular distro could have been theirs for the taking.
If there is to be a substantial penetration of the desktop market by a single Linux distro, I personally doubt it will be Novell providing it. I will ask you to read Mr Johnson’s entire article so you can decide for yourself.
Boycott Novell have also written a piece explaining the dangers of deals with Microsoft, which can be found here.
Looking around the web now;
Heres one user who see’s a relationship with the Pro-Mono position he perceives Canonical taking and the news about Yahoo:
Yeah there are anti-mono people running all around, but since ubuntu took a pro mono stance so why are so many now surprised on the yahoo/bing thing ? It would be news if debian or fedora switched to bing, since both are anti-mono/ms but ubuntu ? No surprise for me …
Heres a user commenting in a similar fashion to the way I stated earlier:
Changing the default search engine is two clicks away (literally), so just change it if you don’t like it.
To which I would answer, if its a change from the “norm” why should we? Why can’t users have the option to opt-in to Yahoo or change Google to Yahoo if they don’t like it?
Heres a user who is not happy at all with the idea:
This is a fishy deal and done purely for dollars versus the users’ expectations and experience, and against Mozilla who are unequivocally a far more important player for open source and software freedom than Canonical’s rebadged Debian (although Ubuntu did initially start out by making all the right noises).
Ok – ubuntu is going downhill quick … Now has me rethinking our linux strategy.. They do realize that yahoo will be powered by Bing (MS) eventually? LAME.
You can find these comments (and many more) over at Phoronix.
I think that its important to remember the work Canonical has put into getting Linux more exposure and providing as user friendly distro as they can. There are many happy people who champion and use Ubuntu on a daily basis. Canonical though has to be aware of public opinion and how it could affect their future.
I personally migrated to Linux and FOSS after repeated let downs by Microsoft technology, I am loathed to give my custom to them again until they produce something which can compete with what I use now; thats either directly or indirectly. I am rather disturbed that after years of being dictated to as to how to do things by Microsoft, when I finally break away and get a better experience, I see Microsoft trying to creep into that better experience. Having said that Ubuntu is not on my main rig.
Conversely though, Canonical deserves to make money, as I say Canonical has made a great product that many people enjoy, but they need to keep in mind that whilst they may need revenue to keep “alive”, they are just as dependent on the users to keep with Ubuntu. Now its obvious that to change back to Google is a simple step, but could the perception of Yahoo provide a negative feeling from its user base towards Canonical?
I find it hard to believe there are many users who will think, hey great! a different search engine to try! and I’d be rather dubious of anyone who claimed they had wanted to try Yahoo in the past and not just simply typed its url into their browser, everyone else will simply switch to the search engine of their choice, which tends to suggest that a forced search engine is not of real value to anyone.
Time will tell and whether you like the idea or not, if the rumblings are true about Yahoo/Microsoft then Canonical will be getting cash (in a rather around the houses way) from Microsoft. If thats the case they can only hope that they don’t experience any bad feeling similar to Novell, else it will be another distro holding top spot as most popular very shortly.
With Ubuntu seemingly going in a pro-Mono direction, Mr De Icaza getting his MVP & Yahoo getting a default search status, without conjuring up any allegations of foul play, what we can say is Ubuntu seems to have a growing Microsoft theme about it. (Either directly or indirectly)
And what of GIMP? Have we had confirmation if it is definitely to be left out of 10.04 and if so replaced with what? A Mono app perhaps?
A bad thing? Ask yourself, why did you leave Windows for Linux in the first place? – you may get an answer.
Goblin – firstname.lastname@example.org