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Canonical: The Next Apple

By Katherine Noyes
Mar 14, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Given all the legends surrounding Apple's widely mourned Steve Jobs, it's not entirely surprising that comparisons should be made any time another tech leader begins to resemble him in any way.

Canonical: The Next Apple

Case in point: Mark Shuttleworth. The billionaire Canonical founder has actually been compared to Jobs on numerous occasions before, but lately the discussion was renewed afresh by a recent post on Linux Advocates.

"Is Canonical heading in Apple's direction?" is the title of said post, which was penned by none other than Muktware founder Swapnil Bhartiya, and it sparked quite a lively conversation on the young Linux news site.

'Canonical Didn't Do Anything'

"Canonical never addressed any major issues facing the Linux world," Bhartiya charged. "When Adobe decided to stop AIR support for Linux, Canonical did not do anything. Then Adobe decided to stop supporting Flash and again Canonical didn't do anything and left the users on their own.

"When secure boot became a serious concern, Canonical didn't do anything; it was a Red Hat developer Matthew Garrett who worked on a solution," he added. "So what is this largest open source project doing for Linux or other core open source projects?"

Adding further fuel to the fire was a later Muktware post, again by Bhartiya, accusing Canonical of fraud in its collection of donations for the support of flavors such as Kubuntu.

Bottom line? A considerable amount of "Ubuntu hate," as TechRepublic's Jack Wallen recently put it, in the community these days.

Down at the Linux blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge, everyone had a pet theory.

'A Different Set of Priorities'

"Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien told Linux Girl over a fresh Tequila Tux.

"I can defend any of the steps Canonical has made individually," O'Brien explained, "and I think in many respects Ubuntu is a lot more innovative than other distros. A lot of people in the Linux community love innovation as long as it doesn't change anything."

However, "I think Canonical is moving in a direction distinctly different from a 'community-oriented' distro," he added. "I think if I were paid to work there I would find it to be a great place to work with a lot of great stuff being developed. But if I were a community member, I would be looking for a new project to get involved in.

"That doesn't make Canonical evil -- just a company with a different set of priorities," O'Brien concluded.

'Worried for the Project's Future'

"I'm really not sure what direction Canonical is heading in, and quite frankly Shuttleworth's last rant -- accusing people unhappy with Ubuntu's latest direction of being elitists who prefer a hard-to-use Linux, even though that is the exact opposite of what people have been upset about -- leave me worried for the whole project's future," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined.

"Unity is actually much harder to get work done with," he added.

"Mark Shuttleworth seems to have not understood the big picture at all," blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. "The idea that Canonical should try to outdo Apple and M$ in what they do is absurd.

"Apple bundles over-priced hardware with their software based on BSD Unix and M$ forces OEMs and retailers to bundle their latest release of an OS from Hell," Pogson explained. "Both companies rely on monopoly to rip off millions of consumers."

'A Failing Leap of Faith'

FLOSS, on the other hand, "is about the world cooperatively making and sharing software," he added. "The only obstacle to ultimate success of GNU/Linux is retail shelf-space. Remember the eeePC? It sold out globally when it shipped with GNU/Linux."

There's no need for radical change, in other words. "Just keep doing what's been working, promoting GNU/Linux with OEMs," Pogson suggested. "On the verge of success this guy is waving the white flag, demanding defeat if he cannot be like Apple and M$... It's a Greek tragedy, where the winner sees defeat and commits suicide."

Sometimes great leaders are "just greatly wrong," he added. "The error here seems to be based on the idea that a single GUI should somehow work on huge monitors or tiny smartphones.

"That's silly," Pogson concluded. "No one that I know wants a familiar and personally customized GUI with icons and menus shoehorned into something that fits on a smartphone. Because different solutions both run on some kind of computer does not mean they should have the same OS or GUI. That's a failing leap of faith that Shuttleworth makes, not logic."

'An Effort to Survive'

Mark Shuttleworth "seems to worship Apple," observed Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

"But Canonical's actions and Ubuntu's current direction have nothing to do with emulating Apple," Lim said. "Canonical really cannot follow the Apple model since it is not into the hardware business, and I think they do know that."

Rather, "Ubuntu's current direction is really more of an effort to survive," Lim told Linux Girl.

"It is not secret that Canonical invested in Ubuntu to turn a profit -- nothing wrong with that," Lim explained. "It is also pretty apparent that the company has no business model on how it will turn a profit, but as strange is it may sound, there is nothing wrong with that these days. Launch a service, get plenty of eyeballs and worry about monetization later."

The problem, of course, "is getting enough eyeballs," he noted, even as Canonical's recent moves "seem to have alienated a rather influential part of the Linux community."

'The Blessed 3'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even darker view.

"What was it I said 2 years ago when I gave them five years to live? That they would flop from one trend to another to try to find a viable business model before finally petering out," hairyfeet said. "Well there ya go, just as I predicted.

"One of the ugly truths nobody wants to talk about is 'the blessed three,' which so far have been the ONLY way to make a living while having software that is FOSS because of the re-distribution clause: 1. Services/support, 2. Selling hardware, and 3. The tin cup."

What Canonical should have done "is REALLY copy Jobs by using BSD as the basis over Linux," hairyfeet suggested. Then "they could still give back to the base packages while charging for their completed work and make enough to actually grow and hire more workers and do more R&D."

So Close and Yet So Far

Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone wasn't so sure.

"From a logistical perspective, Canonical is definitely heading in Apple's direction," Stone began.

"That being said, it's hard not to, considering where they started," Stone added. "Ubuntu is Linux, and Linux is open. By sheer necessity, Canonical started out open. Now, they're moving towards a less open position.

"This is definitely more in Apple's direction than where they started, but we still have to consider the vast chasm that still separates Canonical and Apple," he pointed out. "It's like two points on the opposite sides of a globe. No matter which direction they go, they're going to be closer together. That doesn't mean that they're actually close together."

'Still No. 1'

Indeed, "from the beginning, Canonical was meant to be a GNU/Linux distribution for the masses," offered Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. "They become popular and we can count a large number of people around us that entered the Linux world through the Ubuntu path. So, thank you very much Canonical!"

Of course, "times change, and now they are dreaming high," he pointed out. "So what? As long as the Ubuntu manifesto 'Ubuntu is and will always be free...' is valid, they can paint it black and I won't care.

"Ubuntu is still the number one distro, no mater what Distrowatch 'clickers' do," he concluded. "Ubuntu stands on the shoulder of giants and has become a giant on its own."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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