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Monday, 11 April 2016 11:03

'Ubuntu is everywhere' but Canonical is still in the red

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In the run-up to the release later this month of version 16.04 of the Ubuntu GNU/Linux operating system, the company behind it is promoting its product with the slogan "Ubuntu is everywhere".

Canonical, the company in question, has now been releasing Ubuntu every six months since October 2004. And to be sure, it has been instrumental in spreading the use of Linux in many spheres.

But, there is still red ink on its balance sheet.

There are various Linux distributions that are being used for a myriad things these days; when it comes to many things, the chances are that Linux is being used.

Watches, cars, microwave ovens, cooking ranges, heating systems, thermostats, insulin pumps, lighting systems, sound systems, routers, modems, switches... one could go on. The manufacturers find it convenient to use the Linux kernel and modify it to their needs.

In some cases, they use Ubuntu, true. In others, they use SUSE, openSUSE, Red Hat, CentOS, Debian... again one could go on.

When it comes to Canonical, one is always curious to know how long things can go on without turning a profit. Being a private company, the owner Mark Shuttleworth is under no obligation to reveal earnings or losses.

Shuttleworth reportedly started the Ubuntu project because he was angry about the cost of software in his own country, South Africa – in this case proprietary software, aka Microsoft. He is said to have been driven by the idea of providing something that could replace it, so that South Africans were not exploited in this manner.

Having been a Debian developer himself for some years, it was but natural that he would choose this distribution as the base for his project.

He was not walking on air; he had plenty of money from having sold a very successful business, Thawte. At that point, he was in a position where he needed to do nothing else for the rest of his life – and he would still have been in a position to hand down enough moolah for the next three generations to enjoy a life of leisure.

But he chose to start Canonical. And despite a huge amount of criticism — he is to blame for a goodly part of it — Ubuntu has continued on its merry way. It is widely used, and if one were to go by the PR efforts of the company, there is revenue coming in from various sources.

Only, it is not enough to break even, leave alone generate a profit. Were that to happen, I am sure that Shuttleworth would be eager to proclaim it. It would be a good fist in the face to all his critics and detractors.

In the early years, Canonical indulged in free giveaways and the like. Over the last few years, the company has cut back and is now running on a much reduced budget. But there are no signs that the funds in the kitty are running out.

I have been a critic of Shuttleworth from time to time but I like his spirit. He is no fool when it comes to business and he is a pretty dogged individual to judge by his persistence in the face of a lot of negativity since October 2004.

It would be good to see him succeed and at least break even so that Ubuntu stays on the scene in its current form.

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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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