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Thursday, 23 February 2012 12:49

Ubuntu for Android is all about the cash registers

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Oft times, when I have raised the issue of Canonical, the parent company of the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution, focusing on making money, there have been murmurs of disapproval.

People in FOSS circles don't like to talk about that kind of thing openly; making money is fine if it is done quietly, but pointing out that developing free or open source software can also be as crassly commercial an activity as, say, the activities of Microsoft, is considered to be, well, not kosher.

Now, Canonical has proved what I have been saying for quite some time - the company is starting to look to its bottomline more and more. It's been seven years and a bit since the first version of Ubuntu was released and Mark Shuttleworth does not have bottomless pockets.

Hence Ubuntu for Android, one more way to make a bit of money. The music store, the cloud, are also efforts in that direction.

The idea, if examined dispassionately, is plain silly. Why would one have, on one's mobile, a system that can be used only when one is docked into a bigger device? Wouldn't it make better sense to have that system on the bigger device itself?

There are bits and pieces of Ubuntu that one can use on one's mobile - but the existing system already has all those bits, a good example being a way to handle one's music. And there are bits which do not come along with this beast - LibreOffice, for example, isn't there, one has to use GoogleDocs.

The only word for it is that ubiquitous one which describes everything and nothing - cool. FOSS people are also big on another meaningless word - awesome. The latter covers everything from well-designed software to the underwear that someone bought on eBay.

The public information about Ubuntu for Android make it plain that this is a binary - there is no mention of source, though I presume that source for components which are under the GPL category of licences will be available - which offers some of the functionality of a full Ubuntu system.


The Ubuntu binary loads on an Android phone which is high-end - it has to be dockable. The other specs called for are a dual-core 1GHz CPU. Video acceleration is a  shared kernel driver with associated X driver; Open GL, ES/EGL. The storage needs are pretty high too, 2GB for an OS disk image.

Additionally, the mobile needs to have HDMI, a video out with secondary frame buffer device; needs to be able to operate in USB host mode and must have 512 MB memory.

That kind of device isn't residing in most pockets today.

But the money angle is more important. Canonical makes it very plain that there is per unit licensing. Let me quote: "Companies wishing to distribute an Ubuntu-branded commercial device pay a per unit service fee covering the engineering, maintenance, quality assurance, third-party licensing fees and Canonical consulting costs."

There you have it - what I have been stressing all along about the bottomline is very much in the thinking of Senor Shuttleworth.

Is the proprietary model slowly beginning to register in Shuttleworth's mind as the only way in which he can start recouping the millions that have been spent on Canonical all these years? The copyright assignment policies that he has laid down for Canonical certainly make that a possibility. He has never categorically ruled out the P word when it comes to software - I know, I've asked the question many times and never got a direct answer.

As with most Canonical moves, things happen in small doses. If Shuttleworth can turn all these commercial initiatives into a revenue stream that permits the development of Ubuntu to continue into the indefinite future, then I would be highly supportive of his endeavours.

But if this is the start of progressing down into the dark proprietary abyss, then every Ubuntu user should stand up and protest.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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