I’ve been reading with interest the issues raised by some over the recent news that Dash search results in Ubuntu 12.10 are to include searches with Amazon.  As with any new announcement (and in particular with a big name distro such as Ubuntu) feelings are strong.  “It’s the end of the world”, “Canonical have shot themselves in the foot” and a cacophony of cries proclaiming the end of the world.  The reality is somewhat different, but then especially with the more vocal names on the net, why let reality ruin a good end of the world story?

Currently I’m using 12.04LTS having recently put my family PC over to Canonical’s offering as it offers a very friendly system which my whole family can use without incident.  I’ve been very happy.  For me the Unity interface took a while to get used to, however I now find it rather intuitive to the point where when using XP at work I find my mouse pointer drifting to the left-hand side of the screen to invoke the Unity launcher.

That aside, the news that Canonical will be including Amazon search results, for me is a good thing.  We can talk about alternatives, we can talk about numerous options the consumer has in tech-space, but at the end of the day, we need to consider that companies with employee’s need to make money and whilst that might sit uncomfortably with some, it’s a fact of life.  Working for nothing and good will only stretches so far.  I am assuming that whilst the Amazon search results are not paid placement ads, Canonical will get money from a purchase where the user has been led by Ubuntu? – If so, no problem with me.

Advertising (rightly or wrongly) exists in every facet of life, from the side of an F1 car to footballers on a pitch.  Even local schools and colleges will have some endorsement/relationship with a business – local or otherwise.  And why is that a bad thing? The fact that people can rant about “advertising” means that the aforementioned advertising is hardly covert or underhanded.  If they wish, they can ignore it or boycott it or whatever satisfies their need to express their “disgust” at commercialism.  If I ever do have to suffer the TV, I’ll switch over when the adverts are on.

Canonical needs to make money.  I’m sure if they could live off happy users and praise, then they would be a thriving company.  If Canonical is getting something from the Amazon search, then good for them.  I’ll support them.

Amazon

Whilst I expect this will meet with the disappointment of some, I am a great supporter of the Kindle.  I give the follow example of my experience of Amazon purely because the majority of my contact with company is literary based.

Over the last few days my Kindle developed a fault.  After logging into my Amazon account, I clicked on the “call me” function and had an almost callback on my mobile with a helpful assistant who sent a replacement Kindle to me for free (arriving within just over 24 hours!)  Now add that to the service which I receive for my e-book purchases and it all adds up to a company which will receive my custom time and again.   Am I forced to used Amazon? No.  Has Amazon locked me into its service? No.

Whilst Amazon has many services/products on offer, I give the above one purely because ebooks are usually my only interaction with the company.  There are some very critical remarks levelled towards Amazon and it would be hypocritical for me not to highlight my use of the service.

But what of DRM and .mobi format? – It’s that DRM word again and certainly where Amazon is concerned with its ebooks its been bandied about often.  It’s a non-issue.  To me it’s made by people who have a freedom agenda, however skip conveniently over reality in order to promote it.  Whilst certainly for the Dash/Amazon partnership there is more to it than merely e-books, since my main interest with Amazon is e-books, I have focused on that facet for this piece.

Purchased an e-book with DRM? A couple of clicks and its gone, using a package such as Callibre or similar.  Want the .mobi format in .epub? – again, a couple of clicks, a few seconds wait and its done.  There’s no issue.  DRM is becoming less of an issue and even the most non-tech savvy are able to remove any restrictions DRM or similar puts upon them.

Privacy & Search

Along with the freedom crew, we have the privacy crew tagging along for the jaunt.   Now let’s make something clear, I am all for online privacy, but as is the case in many facets of life, there are people who take it to the extreme.  One such example comes from a comment on Mark Shuttleworths blog which I think highlights for some, that they won’t be convinced the “men in black helicopters” are not listening. – I’d suggest for those people to maybe consider using their PC in a quantum singularity whereby since even light itself can’t escape, there’s very little chance of their data getting out either.

would have liked more detail on the privacy concerns though. When he says that they are handling the searches what does he mean exactly? Is there an Ubuntu server which acts like a proxy for all searches?

Now come on.  Lets consider that there is something you wish to have as private on your Amazon search for a deal on a PC, the question I always put to these people is: If you are so concerned about privacy, how do you know you are not being monitored at an ISP level anyway? (btw check the T&C of your ISP, I think you will find quite a robust wording there)

There’s nothing like clutching at straws when trying to make a “privacy” view and failing going back to the stone-age drawing pictures on caves, we can run with a privacy concern with absolutely everything.  How do you know your distro doesn’t have a “secret” back-door? Have you checked all the code contained therein? – Of course you haven’t and there comes a time when you have to consider who exactly would be interested in YOUR data, especially what when it relates to deals/items you are considering on Amazon – Or even a local search of your system – Its moot anyway since Mr Shuttleworth clearly explains how to avoid this.

Name me one case from anywhere in the world where intrusive covert surveillance (in respect of your home computer) was used to target an individual.  The amount of data passing through cyberspace is staggering, who on earth would have the time or inclination to single YOU out for something you’ve looked for which happens to pull up an Amazon product?

In closing

So if we remove the privacy concern and the advertisement issue has been dispelled by Mark Shuttleworth himself, whats left?

Last but not least we have the Microsoft Advocates and there’s none so vocal as the one’s that attempt to disrupt talk of alternatives to Microsoft than on comp.os.linux.advocacy over on Usenet.  After news of the Amazon relationship with Canonical was announced, we see the Microsoft advocates scurrying around in a miasma of insults, of course each one not wanting to mention that Amazon, a very successful company has put their name to a Linux distro (which if these Microsoft Advocates are to be believed, is full of bugs and not fit for purpose)

I am quite sure the Microsoft salesperson/advocate would love the disquiet about a relationship between Amazon/Canonical, it further weakens their position when successful companies such as Amazon are putting their name to Linux.  So I expect the vocal critics of an Amazon relationship (of sorts) would receive the Microsoft Advocacy thumbs up.

It must be quite a frightening time for our erstwhile Microsoft Advocates since the message of alternatives is out there and large successful firms are getting involved in a plethora of Linux related projects across the industry.

Dash/Amazon? Who cares?. A storm in a teacup and if anything a testament to how Ubuntu is being looked at by other firms who want to get involved.  I’d say good on you Canonical.  Mark makes comment about many users being Amazon customers, to which I’d agree and whilst some would have Linux cut ties with companies like Amazon, its what the mainstream consumer wants – you know, the ones that will move to Linux from Windows and maybe increase it’s usage?  Or maybe we should all just campaign to make Linux as non “mainstream” as possible and keep it for the select “l337” few. Lets go back to the command line and forget about DE’s? – In the real world the majority of users, expect or brand new, merely want an OS that performs its tasks in a friendly appealing way.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com

Skype: tim.openbytes