Canonical reminds us that Ubuntu is commercial

Ubuntu-Amazon link unsettles community

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p>As Canonical tries to make a go of Linux on the desktop, it has (again) ticked off some members of its user community with its latest effort to generate revenue: building in Amazon searches into Ubuntu's Dash search tool.

Through Amazon's affiliate program, any item purchased thorough a Dash search will send a portion of the proceeds back to Canonical.

Over the weekend, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth came out in defense of the move, indicating that this was not paid advertising, and that user privacy would be maintained for the simple reason that user information would not be communicated to Amazon for a search. If the user goes off and actually buys something, well then, Amazon pretty much will know who you are at that point anyway.

Shuttleworth stepped in it a bit when he retorted that trust in Ubuntu and Canonical was already implied since users tend to trust the Ubuntu team as authors and providers of new packages that are installed on Ubuntu. Of course, wording it as "Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root." could have been slightly less snarkily delivered.

Beyond that small gaffe, I feel like I need to jump in here and remind those who are upset by this development that Ubuntu, despite its free price tag, is still very much a commercial Linux distribution and as such it should be expected that they're going to do stuff like this.

Recall that in Canonical-land, there's no longer such a thing as community Ubuntu and enterprise Ubuntu. There's Ubuntu (and the various flavors like Kubuntu) and that's it. Products like Ubuntu Desktop for Business and Ubuntu Server are just different ways of packaging the support levels and installation packages.

That model differs from the one Red Hat and SUSE use, which is the community distro (Fedora and openSUSE, respectively) tied into the enterprise commercial distribution (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server). At Canonical, it's all one Ubuntu and variations of a theme.

To date, Canonical gets revenue from those support agreements and (hopefully) OEM deals it makes with desktop and server manufacturers. There's also the money it makes from specialized customization and integration deals, like the $9,000 Canonical charges to come out and install an Ubuntu private cloud on premises for you.

Since Canonical is a private company, no one knows how much money they pull in in each of these areas (and any other revenue stream I might have missed). But the fact remains, this is very much a commercial venture. They just don't charge you a per-instance fee for Ubuntu.

The desktop is particularly tricky. For all of Ubuntu's measured success in public clouds like Amazon EC2, there's not a lot of desktop packages used in each of these instances. So, any revenue coming in for cloud support really needs to go into packages that server users use. I'm sure there's revenue sharing going on, but I am equally sure Canonical would like desktop revenue coming in to support desktop projects.

Hence, the Amazon-Dash project.

Now, if commercialism is still really something that sticks in your craw, that's cool; but I would ask why are you using Ubuntu in the first place? Sure, it's free of charge, and there's a lot of free and open source software in there. You may even love the Unity interface. But if you don't like capitalism at work, then I submit that Ubuntu is the wrong distribution for you.

Better might be to go upstream and use pure Debian. Or cross over to Linux Mint. Or leave Debian-land altogether and try something else. I personally would not do it for this reason, but Linux is all about choice and I respect those who feel strongly about this issue.

And it could have been worse: Canonical could have stuck this in and made it impossible to workaround, but there are shortcuts around making a wider Amazon search, and you can always pull the package with apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping.

I would not rail too strongly against Canonical, though. It's not like they haven't made their intentions clear all along. This is a private commercial vendor, out to support itself and make a profit. If you know that going in, then moves like this will be, albeit annoying, not too surprising.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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