Shuttleworth: No money in Linux desktop

By   |  October 28, 2008

Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth says that there is no money to be made from the Linux desktop. Unless of course you have decent services to wrap around it.

According to long-time open source commentator, Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols, Shuttleworth said yesterday in a press call that Canonical has always seen the desktop as a “zero revenue” product. “I don’t think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop,” he said.

Shuttleworth, who founded Ubuntu with a portion of his personal fortune, said that he’s “never seen selling shrink-wrapped packages of free software as a workable idea. The only way to build business around software is with [added costs] services.”

Interestingly, there are a number of commentators that work with other popular Linux distributions such as Mandriva and Suse that beg to differ with Shuttleworth. Some even go so far as to say that not only is there money to be made from the Linux desktop but that Shuttleworth’s big bank balance approach has in fact undermined their ability to make a buck selling Linux.

For the full story and discussion visit CNet.

Comments

17 Responses to “Shuttleworth: No money in Linux desktop”

  1. Adam Williamson
    October 28th, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

    Hey, I’m famous!

    Just to stress, this is entirely my own personal opinion. Please don’t associate it with the official opinion of Mandriva, which is very different.

    But yes, Mark’s “I have a big pile of money, hahaha!” business model can’t help but get up your nose if you have to try and compete with it. Just try it. Imagine there was a new tech comment site which had three times as many paid staff, a giant marketing budget, didn’t run any ads, and offered to ship a shiny printed magazine to all its readers. For free.

    That’d be fun, huh?

  2. Adam Williamson
    October 28th, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

    I wrote a full blog post on my position: http://www.happyassassin.net/2008/10/28/why-i-dont-like-canonical/ . Hopefully, that explains it more clearly.

  3. Nico de Wet
    October 29th, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

    I believe what Mark is pointing out is well known and common sense. That being said the title of this article is a bit misleading and I don’t think it reflects what he was trying to say. The article does however hit the nail on the head with “Unless of course you have decent services to wrap around it.”

  4. Ivan
    October 29th, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

    Give it some time, and then Google: “why i dont like adam williamson” and I’m sure there be plenty results … hehehehe. (What goes around comes around.)

  5. Adam Williamson
    October 29th, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

    Nico: Yes, as Red Hat has proven. The fact is that all Mark ever says is the word “services”. When have you heard him explain exactly what services Canonical is going to provide? When has he explained whether he will a) somehow beat Red Hat at its own game, b) come up with something no-one else has thought up yet, or c) somehow make money off selling tech support to Linux fans (good luck with that one)? That’s the fundamental problem. If he had a detailed plan of exactly what ‘services’ it is he’s going to sell and how they’re going to make money; fine. I’m yet to see such a thing, though.

    Ivan: Your point being?

  6. Nico van der Walt
    October 30th, 2008 @ 11:43 am

    @Adam Williamson: I have read your blog on why you don’t like Canonical and came to the conclusion that you do not have any clue what Linux is all about. One of the reasons I love Linux is that it is not driven by greed and that it installs a sense of community participation. Mark Shuttleworth made his fortune out of a service he provided using open source software and now he wants to give back to the community. What’s wrong with that?

    Linus Torvalds didn’t have his mind set on billions of dollars when he created the Linux kernel. The same goes for the thousands of open source developers contributing to open source projects. They contributed their time and effort so that others can learn and have the benefit of their work. It is totally wrong of you to expect that the revenues of a few companies must be protected by stifling the innovations of communities like Ubuntu’s.

    The word Ubuntu fits in perfectly with the idea of open source.

    This is not to say that people can’t make money out of open source. Lots of people are doing it successfully. I believe that there is a lot of services people can deliver around open source.

    I take my hat of to Mark Shuttleworth for the work he is doing. He has enough money to retire but yet he is constantly in the news for his achievements like being the first African in space and starting the most successful Linux distribution the world has ever seen. If only there were more people like that in the world.

  7. Adam Williamson
    October 30th, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

    I have read your comments and come to the conclusion that you’re completely missing the freaking point.

    If you believe in the wonders of community development: great. Go use Debian. Don’t use Ubuntu, because it’s not a community distribution. It is run by a company and developed, in the majority, by paid staff of that company.

    The point is that Ubuntu is not a community distribution. As a commercial distribution, it has to work on commercial terms. For a commercial distribution to be valid, it needs a sustainable funding model. Raid Mark Shuttleworth’s Bank Account is not a sustainable funding model, because Mark Shuttleworth’s bank account is not infinite. Sooner or later, it will be empty.

    The fundamental problem is this: Ubuntu, the distribution you know and love, is the result of the paid labour of hundreds of people. No amount of rainbows-and-unicorns hand-waving about the miracles of community participation is going to change that. Those hundreds of people have to get paid somehow. Where does the money come from? Right now, it comes out of Mark Shuttleworth’s pocket. That is not going to work forever. There needs to be a model whereby someone, somewhere, needs a product or service that Canonical provides enough to pay Canonical money, and it makes sense for Canonical to keep giving that money to the people who make Ubuntu. Until that happens, Ubuntu as it currently exists is not a sustainable proposition.

    If this never happened, Ubuntu would not die. But it would become a community distribution, and Ubuntu-as-a-community-distribution would be very different from Ubuntu-as-a-commercial-distribution. How do you propose replacing those hundreds of paid staff?

  8. noticiasDrake » Blog Archive » Por qué no me gusta canonical
    October 30th, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

    […] ahora solo he  citado implícitamente el modelo de negocios de Mark Shuttleworth / Canonical (La calificación de mi contestación en ZDnet cayo a -21, mi […]

  9. Texas Twister
    October 31st, 2008 @ 12:14 am

    This is the kind of sour grapes offered by people in all kinds of businesses when they feel they are being undercut. It gives no attention to the rights of Canonical/Shuttleworth to spend their money as they choose and run their business as they choose, but focuses solely on what the competition considers “fair”.
    I supplement my income with balloon entertainment — balloon hats and animals for children at parties and restaurants mostly. In this business, I’ve heard tirades against those who work for less than “the going rate” or (heaven forbid!) for free — they make it harder for us to charge what we’re worth! That’s the wrong answer. The right answer is to be worth more! I’m not about to be caught doing a poorer job than someone discounting their services or working for free.
    So if Canonical is on such a catastrophic course — how about just try to outlast them? Then if/when they implode, pick the best from their code base and clean up the spoils.
    The truth is, Shuttleworth, came in at a time when many distros were trying to accomplish the same aim and succeeded where other successes where marginal and spotty. All distros are now better in part due to the impetus given to the whole industry by Ubuntu’s success.
    As long as it lasts, I’ll take it — thankfully!

  10. Adam Williamson
    October 31st, 2008 @ 8:20 am

    Texas: if someone can work for less money than you and still make a living, fine. If a guy decides to spend his free time doing balloon shows for free after he finishes his regular job…well, heck, bit of a pain for a paid professional, but you can’t really complain. However, how would you feel if some rich guy showed up in town and offered all the kids balloon animals, laser light shows and Kanye West chasing a bear on a unicycle, for free? That’d be a bit tricky to deal with in your line of work, I’d bet.

    “It gives no attention to the rights of Canonical/Shuttleworth to spend their money as they choose and run their business as they choose, but focuses solely on what the competition considers “fair”.”

    I have exactly as much right to point out the flaws in the Canonical model as Mr. Shuttleworth has to implement that model. This is called “fair comment”.

    People keep talking as if I called for Canonical to be wound up or Mr. Shuttleworth banned from investing in it or something – that’s the only context in which your talk of “rights” makes any sense. I never did any such thing. I never at any point called into question his legal right to whatever he darn well pleases with his money. What I said is that I believe that the way he has, perfectly legally, chosen to spend his money is ultimately a destructive one for the ecosystem of commercial Linux development. That’s not ‘sour grapes’, that’s a perfectly legitimate analysis of the situation.

    I don’t understand why Mr. Shuttleworth, alone, gets a free ride. If Steve Ballmer or Johnathan Schwartz were out there giving a conference call about how they weren’t making money, had never made money, and didn’t have a clue how to make money (except that it involved ‘services’ in some way), they’d be getting a gigantic mauling. When Mr. Shuttleworth says it, everyone just nods along wisely, and pointing out the problems is considered “sour grapes”. What’s that all about?

    And how are you measuring Ubuntu’s ‘success’? It’s got a microscopic percentage of the ‘operating system market’ – the sector Mr. Shuttleworth wants you to believe so badly that it’s competing in. It has no significant foothold in any other segment of any general computing market. The only place where it’s ‘succeeded’ is in the Linux distribution market – the area Mr. Shuttleworth treats with such contempt. By any other measure, it’s not succeeding anywhere.

  11. Alban
    October 31st, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

    I must say Adam is right. Canonical is a commercial company, and as a company what they are doing is basically dumping.
    When Linux people hear about Microsoft giving free XP or even computers, fully equiped with Microsoft products, for free to, say, developing countries schools, they (the Linux people) generally freak out and bash the evil Microsoft for unfairly competing against Linux (see http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/10/28/1448207 for example).
    Yet, that’s exactly what Canonical does to other commercial distros. And everybody gleefully agrees. Two systems ?
    How long until Canonical drives Mandriva and Suse out of business ? And how long, after that, until Canonical also dies, from lack of funding when Shuttleworth decides it’s finally not worth it ? And what after ?
    Look around Linux distros, you’ll see that 100% community backed distros are utopian. Debian, Slackware maybe, but for the masses ? Fort the Desktop ?

  12. Jack Kent
    November 1st, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

    So according to Adam, what needs to happen is that the community needs to force Mark Shuttleworth to “spread the wealth around”. Hogwash. This kind of mentality will bring innovation to it knees. I applaud Mark for spending his money on polishing an already good distro. Why oh why must we whine and complain. You are free to leverage Ubuntu and create something totally different if you wish, so that you can stand on the shoulders of all of Mark’s money!

    But if you can’t compete on substance, by all means, tear into them. However, you have absolutely no right to judge or complain (not that it won’t stop you). I for one stopped using Mandrake when the first version of Ubuntu was released and was amazed at the level of polish. (of course I absolutely love the fact that it is based on Debian, I wish more distros were).

    And now I wait for my lashing.

  13. A mí no me gusta Canonical: Adam Williamson | Tux en Español ::
    November 2nd, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

    […] ahora solo he  citado implícitamente el modelo de negocios de Mark Shuttleworth / Canonical (La calificación de mis repuestas en ZDnet cayó a -21, mi peor […]

  14. Adam Williamson
    November 3rd, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

    “So according to Adam, what needs to happen is that the community needs to force Mark Shuttleworth to “spread the wealth around”.”

    Please stop putting words into my mouth. I said nothing of the sort.

    “You are free to leverage Ubuntu and create something totally different if you wish, so that you can stand on the shoulders of all of Mark’s money!”

    Which would make our position inevitably either as unstable as Ubuntu’s, or more unstable. No, thanks.

    “However, you have absolutely no right to judge or complain (not that it won’t stop you).”

    I have a perfect right to do exactly that. As I said, it’s called fair comment. You appear to consider yourself to have a right to judge and complain about Mandriva – after all, you do so in your post – so why do I not have the right to raise concerns about Canonical? Can you say “dual standards”?

    “Why oh why must we whine and complain.”

    I did neither. I explained why the issue of sustainable funding for Ubuntu is important, and expressed my concern that it has not yet been demonstrated.

    Basically, you’ve completely missed the point of my arguments – despite me painfully rehearsing them in several ways, in several places – and written a bunch of irrelevant drivel. Well done.

  15. Joe
    November 16th, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

    Long before there were any Linux distributions, there was just one guy, spending his own time and energy on producing the Linux kernel. The spirit and founding principles of Open Source have always been to rely on the voluntary contributions of the people involved, whether that means one guy and his PC or some rich guy who hires 100 other people with PCs. To call the playing field unlevel and to moan about not being able to run a sustainable business running a Linux distribution is getting things the wrong way around. Without the community contributions, Mandriva would not exist. The sustainability of Canonical is irrelevant. Canonical is one man’s effort to use his resources for the betterment of a project close to his heart. A project who’s fundamental premise is not commercial, but community driven. For Adam Williams to suggest that the success of commercial entities is in any way related to the success of a community driven project is self-serving in the same way as any businessman who’s business is threatened by forces he can’t control. If your model doesn’t work, find a new one. Canonical’s model works. If it runs out of money, so be it. Linux has always been a community not a company.

  16. Why I don’t like Canonical (Español) (Spanish) « Las ideas no duran mucho. Hay que hacer algo con ellas.
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  17. Por qué no me gusta canonical según AdamW « sadtyus word’s
    December 25th, 2008 @ 3:36 am

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