Is Canonical in ISV trouble?

Repeated calls for app devs hint at a lack of traction.

Canonical has put out a call for more Ubuntu application developers, possibly highlighting a lack of traction in this area just one day before such a gap was pointed out by a competitor.

Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon put the word out on his blog Wednesday, stating his team's intention to start working on an application developer community that would be fundamentally different from all the other communities that have been built up around the Ubuntu distribution of Linux.

"With this app developer community… we need to assume that application developers are only interested in Ubuntu as a platform. They don't care how it is built or the politics involved, they just want to deliver their apps quickly and easily on Ubuntu. We need to view these folks as true consumers of our platform: they want to use our platform to do interesting things and not get embroiled in how the platform was created."

It is likely that many are going to find more than a little irony in that characterization of the desired application developer community. It's a correct description, but given the undercurrent of broader community resentment about Canonical's own apparent lack of code contributions to the Linux kernel and the GNOME project (to name a couple), I have little doubt that some will point out that this is exactly how Canonical has been treating the Linux kernel, Debian, and all the other upstream projects that appear in the Ubuntu distribution.

A recent interview The Inquirer conducted with Mark Shuttleworth only seems to reinforce Canonical's position as a consumer of open source versus a contributor.

"It's absolutely true we have no interest in the core fundamentals of the Linux kernel, none whatsoever."

But let's get that quote in context, shall we? Shuttleworth wasn't trying to say that Canonical cared little about the kernel--only that the kernel was not where he sees Canonical's focus.

"The Linux kernel was flying before Ubuntu was founded, what was missing at the time was the commitment to the end user experience, the quality of the whole integration that Ubuntu essentially brought. I don't think anybody who thinks about that seriously would say that the enormous amount of work that we do on that is not a contribution," Shuttleworth continued.

It's clear that a lot of people in the community are less than pleased with Canonical's contribution strategies, and while a precision approach makes a lot of sense, I still think Canonical is dismissing these concerns at their own peril.

This is a side issue, though, at least for today's discussion. The apparent need for application developers is what caught my eye, because this is not the first time (by far) that Canonical has tried to generate some attention for its application developer and independent software vendor (ISV) program.

Malcolm Yates, Canonical ISV Alliance Manager, made a strong pitch about Ubuntu 8.04 LTS partners and ISVs back in April 2008. In August of that same year, there were a few announcements about ISV expansion at the LinuxWorld show.

In 2009, Canonical's John Pugh, who managed Canonical's server ISV business, started connecting the drive for more ISVs to Canonical's (then) upcoming cloud initiatives. There was a continued push for server and desktop ISVs into March 2010, ahead of the Ubuntu 10.04 release.

It's not that it's automatically a bad thing that Canonical is talking up it's ISV initiatives… but this is not something you hear a lot from, say, Red Hat. It's a bit odd that here we are, with Ubuntu one of the big players in the new AWS Marketplace and within the growing OpenStack community, and they're still making active efforts to build the application community. Really? After all the push about the super-cool Unity interface, did Canonical look around and realize that no matter how fancy the wrapping, you still need to give your users something substantive, like apps?

I have no idea if Canonical is feeling the pain in this area or not. Bacon's call for a stronger community may just be a reasonable call to grow what they already have. But given that I haven't seen a new killer app in Ubuntu (or any other Linux, for that matter) in quite some time, I have my doubts.

I'm not the only one. In a rather rambly interview with The VAR Guy on Thursday, Oracle's Wim Coekaerts took potshots at nearly everyone who wasn't Oracle. Here's what he had to say about Canonical:

"On Ubuntu and Mark Shuttleworth: 'Ubuntu was not built to be a server product. They've tried to position for cloud servers, but ISVs have written applications for a particular platform--and it isn't Ubuntu. The ISV world isn't going to start testing on Ubuntu.'"

Granted, Coekaerts has no interest in playing nice with any of Oracle's competitors, so his declarations should be taken with a grain of salt. But it was interesting to hear this comment just one day after Bacon's call for a strong application developer community.

Is a weak ISV community a chink in Canonical's armor? The signs seem to point in that direction. One thing's for sure: if Canonical wants Ubuntu to soar in the clouds, it's going to need some strong applications for wings.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs 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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