Ubuntu and Amazon Make Uneasy Bedfellows

Well it’s been another tempestuous week here in the Linux blogosphere, rounding out a month that never ran short on controversy, to put it mildly.

The topic du jour this time? None other than Canonical’s decision to integrate Amazon results into searches done through the Dash on Ubuntu’s Unity desktop.

In fact, the rowdy Slashdot masses had to get riled up not just once but twice — the second following Mark Shuttleworth’s calm explanation — before Canonical finally announced a kill switch.

Did that make everything “all better” for Linux fans? Well, let’s say the jury’s still out.

‘Another Reason Not to Use Ubuntu’

“I can’t imagine ever wanting paid search on my desktop,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl down at the blogosphere’s seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon.

“If I want to buy something from Amazon, I will go to Amazon,” Mack added. “This is simply yet another reason not to use Ubuntu.”

Others were more forgiving, however.

‘I Find It Difficult to Be Angry’

“Shuttleworth’s unfortunate choice of phrase aside, I find it difficult to be angry at Ubuntu for adding shopping integration which is trivially removable even without any ‘kill switch,’ however welcome such a feature is,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza said.

“Windows has long had store integration in media player and iTunes has no reason to exist without it, so Ubuntu contrasts only with other Linux distributions,” Espinoza added.

“I am far more concerned about quality and testing than I am about the potential for Amazon to know what music I’m searching for,” he concluded.

‘If You Don’t Like It, Change It’

Similarly, “I can see Ubuntu’s perspective on this, honestly,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “It’s a way for them to start bringing in some revenue without charging the end users for Ubuntu. I get it.”

Of course, “I still don’t like my operating system being used a for a front end to sell me stuff,” Linux Rants admitted. “Modern media is practically an excuse to advertise, and it’s getting fairly aggravating.”

Still, “Canonical was kind enough to include a kill switch (which I will be using), so I really have no problem with them doing this,” he concluded. “This is Linux, after all. If you don’t like it, change it.”

‘They Have to Eat Too’

Indeed, “folks, we have to pay our bills,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol agreed.

“I think Canonical should be honest and say it has its needs (money among others),” Ebersol suggested. “It’s better than pretend that Ubuntu is a cool Debian.”

And again: “You have to allow a developer room to monetize their software,” concurred Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “They, like us, have to eat too.

“We should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer,” Lim added.

‘They Are Bleeding to Death’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a dark view.

“There isn’t any money using Linux on the desktop,” hairyfeet said. “Thanks to the redistribute clause, which honestly needs to go, there are really only three ways to make money while using Linux: 1. Support contracts a la Red Hat; 2. The ‘buy me a beer’ tin cup model; or selling hardware a la the routers and cell phone companies.”

Unfortunately, “none of these things really work for desktops,” hairyfeet added.

“In the end you see Canonical doing this because they are bleeding to death, simple as that,” he concluded. “Shuttleworth announced two years ago he wouldn’t sink more money, and even after firing the Kubuntu guy and trying a dozen different ideas, from Ubuntu server and cloud to Ubuntu TV to Ubuntu netbook, they just can’t make it work.

“Final prediction? Not enough money from Amazon to save them — users already jumping like rats from a sinking ship — and Canonical joins the pile of dead distros in less than two years,” hairyfeet predicted.

‘Making Money Is Hard’

Not everyone saw it that way, however.

“Making money on the consumer desktop as an open source vendor is hard, as Canonical is finding out,” offered Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

“This current approach is an attempt to monetize users by collecting Amazon affiliate revenue, making Ubuntu the second-largest adware OS after Android — and even Google has trouble monetizing Android,” Travers pointed out. “Consumers have a different idea of computers than businesses do, and they have different expectations of software as well.

“In fact, I would go so far as to say that the consumer desktop is out as far as a money-maker,” Travers added.

‘It Is Unlikely to Be Successful’

The key problem is that “while businesses are typically willing to buy update subscriptions and other services for their software, consumers tend to want to adopt a purchase-and-forget approach, which makes commercial software viable, but makes open source business models problematic,” Travers explained.

“This isn’t to say that there is no room for open source software in this area, but rather that the business models that work when addressing businesses don’t work when addressing consumers,” he opined. “I think that the way forward will eventually be to get desktop vendors to contribute code and their own value-added services rather than for a third party to do that.”

In any case, “I am skeptical that Canonical will ever be profitable in the consumer space,” Travers concluded. “This is an effort, but it is unlikely to be very successful.”

‘It’s All Good’

Last but not least, Ubuntu and Amazon are “both innovators providing very useful services to users,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “Integrating them in some way makes sense. As Shuttleworth pointed out, you can do local searches without Amazon and you can search the web without Amazon. It’s all good.”

Both Amazon and Canonical need revenue, he added, and “this plan is a reasonable way to support both. I have done business with both companies and I trust them. I have never known either to be anti-competitive or to cheat in any way.

“I remember when both companies were laughed at for not having a business plan,” Pogson said. “Now that they are succeeding, we should applaud, not criticize.”

In short, “I admire the efforts of Canonical to spread GNU/Linux,” Pogson concluded. “They are making the world a better place. Good for them.”

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+.


  • Kill switch and all, it still makes sense to me. As was pointed out,’they got to eat’. And in case nobody noticed it but the fact is intrusive ads are all over the place. The Amazon thing is easy to ignore.. Slashdot gang this isn’t it..

  • One (individual, or corporate entity) simply can’t take a high-handed approach to dealing with customers, and survive.

    I predicted a lifetime for Canonical of five years, back when Shuttleworth told users to get over the placement of object(s) on the desktop.

    Looks like Canonical’s right on schedule.

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