Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, spoke once again about the future of Ubuntu at this year’s OpenStack Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. He openly admitted that they failed to take Ubuntu mainstream in personal computing:
“I feel responsible for miscalculating effectively, was our push into personal computing: phones, tablets, PCs.”
This was after Canonical decided to drop a bunch of their “amazingly successful” projects such as Ubuntu Phone, Unity and the convergence shell. It might sound like a return to the early years of Ubuntu, when the desktop shipped with GNOME and when they were focused on the OS, however, let’s face it… Ubuntu desktop is dead and here is some proof:
“The desktop remains really important to us (…) but as a business, we chose to focus on these two: the cloud, where we are very strong, and IoT”
For the past five years, I’ve been saying it was impossible for Ubuntu to get mainstream and after lots of failed product launches and resource wasting Canonical’s CEO seems to have arrived at the same conclusion.
Bash me all you want Ubuntu enthusiasts, but remember Ubuntu desktop is not a source of income for Canonical and any reasonable CEO will mercilessly kill any product that isn’t profitable. Even Shuttleworth is learning this:
“People who depend on us, who are really our customers in the cloud and at the edge, that’s better focus on the things they care about.”
Some quick facts about Ubuntu:
- Enterprise customers aka “the guys who pay” don’t care about Ubuntu desktop because it lacks software support making it barely usable in any real-world context;
- The average consumer, the “personal computing” category, doesn’t care about Ubuntu at all – most people don’t even know there’s anything else other than Windows and macOS;
- Ubuntu always had a bad Marketing/PR strategy: they tried to enter the mass market of personal computing with a product full of indecipherable error messages and an ugly UI. I’m pretty sure Microsoft, Apple and Google already proved people really value simplicity and a great design on computers;
- The server/cloud solutions by Canonical are good because Ubuntu “builds on the foundations of Debian’s architecture and infrastructure”.
Why would then Canonical waste resources trying to win in the personal computing space? Founder Mark explains:
“I had dreamed of Ubuntu sort of going mainstream (…) better focus on the things [our customers] care about (…) that required some changes in the business. Those are, at an emotional level, challenging changes…”
The first rule of business: the purpose of any company is to make money. It doesn’t matter your business sector or products; if you’ve to change the core of your business to make money you just do it without emotional attachments – if you can’t handle this do not launch a business, ever.
Canonical did the right choice by dropping all those products, however, they could’ve spared the embarrassment if they just really understood the personal computing market and did some basic arithmetic (using Microsoft Excel?) on their abilities.
Eventually Canonical will also drop the desktop because they can’t profit from it. Some community such as UBports will take over it, but unfortunately, we will have to wait about 5 years to see it – because of the challenging “emotional level” changes.
IoT: the one and only future
“The three legs of computing: personal computing, datacenter/cloud computing, and edge – the IoT world, which is neither datacenter or personal. (…) Clearly, Ubuntu is the de facto standard now for cloud computing and the datacenter — and also, I think, arguably, for the edge.”
Okay, the following video sums my thoughts on Ubuntu being a standard on the datacenter:
Their assertion is based on W3Techs data that says “Ubuntu is used by 35.9% of all the websites who use Linux” which is complete bs because:
- For W3Tech “all websites” actually means “only the top 10 million websites”;
- There are about 1 billion websites;
- Websites are only a small percentage of what data centres are hosting. Large databases are not considered;
- Smaller websites (non-top 10 million) usually run on control panels like cPanel and Plesk who, in turn, run over CentOS and CloudLinux, not Ubuntu;
tl;dr: W3Tech data can’t be used to say that “Ubuntu is the de facto standard now for cloud computing and the datacenter”.
Focusing on IoT: this is the real opportunity for Canonical since:
- The IoT market will reach $267B by 2020: it’s going to be big, bigger than the personal computing because it’s expected that every single person on the planet will own dozens of this devices;
- IoT devices require a lightweight OS: only *nix systems can provide this;
- Ubuntu is backed by Canonical: there will be big IoT names and they won’t just use Debian or Archlinux on their systems, they will use whatever is backed by an established company such as Canonical – someone to blame if things go south.
It’s obvious that Canonical has a very big competitive advantage in IoT. They just have to realize this and drop every other project in order to free the resources they need.
What about the Ubuntu enthusiasts and the open-source community? Well, it’s time to wake up and realise that Canonical is (now) just like any company – they do whatever is necessary to make the biggest possible amount of money. Open-source isn’t just about a cause, even when we find large communities writing code someone will, eventually, profit from it.
I believe that eventually, some community such as UBports will pick the desktop version of Ubuntu. This kinds of communities are small subsets of the computer industry and keep some “technologies” alive for themselves.
tl;dr: Canonical is a company lead by a guy with an emotional attachment to the idea of becoming mainstream. After dozens of failed attempts, its bank account became dry and he woke up from the dream. Now, in an attempt to save the day, he decided to drop everything and bet on the IoT market – this is a smart move because their OS is technically perfect for IoT and the future big names in the field will use Linux and need someone to blame if things go south. Unfortunately, they haven’t dropped the desktop yet and this can be a resource problem.
Watch the full interview with Shuttleworth here.