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The Business Model of Ubuntu 254

Andareed writes "Open-source software companies, such as Ubuntu (an open-source Linux distribution), are better able to respond to user request and bugs than traditional software companies, such as Microsoft. Simon Law, head of the Quality Assurance department at Ubuntu in a talk given to the UW Computer Science Club, explains why this is, and how Ubuntu is leveraging the open-source model. Simon explains how the QA department at Ubuntu differs from traditional QA departments, through its use of the open-source community at large. Most interesting is Simon's views on what motivates open-source developers to develop software, and how open-source oriented businesses (specifically Ubuntu) are making money."
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The Business Model of Ubuntu

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  • QA at Ubuntu? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by asudhir ( 987272 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:14AM (#15816582)
    If it is so good and responsive to user input, then maybe the next release will actually make wireless compatibility better instead of worse than the previous release?
    • Re:QA at Ubuntu? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Is it just me or does Ubuntu not support WPA? Hell, even my Palm Lifedrive supports that!

      Anyway, I am glad that people are realizing that this business model can work. Many current companies seem to be kept afloat through high prices and huge amounts of advirtising on every surface possible. Think of the money they could make if the back of every install CD package had a color ad for Bawls []. Ubuntu deserves a big tip of the hat.

      • I'm quite happily using wpa with my ubuntu laptop, what it's missing (along with almost every other linux distribution) is a decent configuration application which can cope with the various ways each linux wireless driver supports WPA and other less common features.

        Only suse come close to this, but everyone else seems reticent to copy their approach.

        • Re:QA at Ubuntu? (Score:3, Informative)

          by Burz ( 138833 )
          Only suse come close to this, but everyone else seems reticent to copy their approach.

          FYI, Xandros aced this back in version 3. Their wlan setup is excellent, even if the kernel suffers from some of the driver shortages that are common on Linux. At least you get ndiswrapper with it, unlike Suse.

          With Xandros 4, you can monitor interface status, enable/disable and reconfigure right from the systray icon.
    • Yepp, I've run into some problems wint the new kubuntu and wireless. For some reason it won't let me do "chanel switching" (the parameter that messes it up is "channel 6"), and since that is the GUI driven wlassistant tries to do the whole configuration fails. My solution is to "strip" that part of the command and run it like this:

      /sbin/iwconfig eth1 mode managed rate 11M key open 1234567890 essid firewall nickname mycomp
      dhclient eth1

      I've got those rows in a file called that I run as root
    • by taxman_10m ( 41083 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @10:18AM (#15816959)
      I find the Ubuntu forums to be totally inadequate. There were at least 15 different threads on how to get wireless working for my dell b130, with none of them working for me.

      I still don't understand why the latest stable ndiswrapper isn't included on whatever Ubuntu CD is offered on the website. That alone would probably solve most people's wireless issues. Everything needed to get wireless networking working should be on the CD. Not everyone has wired access, certainly not with city's and towns rolling out municipal wireless.
    • Re:QA at Ubuntu? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Burz ( 138833 )
      I can't even set a WEP/WPA key with it without manually putting iwconfig into rclocal.

      What's with the general lack of security? On Xandros I've got what I need for laptop security: Private home folders by default, Encrypted home, firewall control, VPN client. On Ubuntu, its all "install/configure it yourself" and "use the HOWTOs n00b".

      The display detection is about the worst I've seen from the current crop of distros. Heading into xorg.conf is almost a forgone conclusion even with mundane graphics cards.

      • Ubuntu is morphing into another distro/community that tries to whip desktop users into hackers.

        I don't think that's the case. I think they'd take these bugs seriously if you can file a detailed bug report. It's not as though every single problem that occurs for you also occurs for the Ubuntu developers. Help them out. File bug reports.
        • They already have my hardware details on file for a long time now. They already have many thousands of Radeon 7000 users with 17" Viewsonic displays, for instance. But the result is not so much a 'bug' as negligence... Why is my equipment being mapped to 'generic'?

          I do file reports for bugs like forgetting the NIC IP address right after clicking Apply. But I am NOT going to get into a whining match with YET another Linux vendor over hardware they are DELIBERATELY ignoring. It is now Two-thousand-Friggin-Six
          • I've never had an ATI card, so I don't know what their status is, but is there even a free software driver for your card? If not, then you're probably blaming the wrong organisation. If ATI won't cooperate, you can't expect Ubuntu to magically still support ATI hardware.
            • The ATI driver works fine, thanks. It's not ATI's job to configure /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

              The failure lies somewhere between Ubuntu and Xorg.
    • Re:QA at Ubuntu? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by deviceb ( 958415 )
      Well i would have said the same thing about Suse a year ago. BuTT Ubuntu has found every wireless system i have built /shrug. I have no complaints with Ubuntu in this reguard. Perhaps your hardware is outdated.
    • Re:QA at Ubuntu? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yeah, I remember trying Ubuntu myself, after hearing all the hype – at the time my entire home network was wireless, so as a result it was completely useless on my system. Couldn't find any wireless packages for it anywhere, tried Debian's but – oh, that's right, it's not binary-compatible because Ubuntu uses a different version of the kernel and GCC! Not to mention, it was unusably slow...

      Anyway, Ubuntu trolling aside, I think the reason there's no real wireless support is because they won't
  • Geez (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dolson ( 634094 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:15AM (#15816586) Homepage Journal
    Ubunutu? Can we get an editor here?
    • Re:Geez (Score:5, Interesting)

      by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:20AM (#15816613)
      Ubunutu? Can we get an editor here?

      Sadly, the editor is not the only one that spells this wrong. Take a look at a google search []. approximately 25,000+ results can't be wrong, can they?
      • (Score:3, Informative)

        by lullabud ( 679893 )
        Looks like Ubuntu expected that since they registered and simply redirected it to Perhaps they should have a little message informing people that they are mis-spelling Ubuntu, rather than directing them to the correct location even though an incorrect location was typed. (Don't want to do any negative reinforcement, you know.)

        Better yet, they should make a new organization for Ubunutu and call it "UNU" for "Ubunutu's Not Ubuntu".
    • Re:Geez (Score:4, Funny)

      by Klowner ( 145731 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:57AM (#15817673) Homepage
      Well, my boss referred to it as "Bubanti" the other day, but he also shortens "Christopher" to "Christ", so.. I think he may have some sort of actual mental problem.
  • More Talks (Score:4, Informative)

    by Andareed ( 990785 ) * on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:19AM (#15816608)
    There's also more talks at []
  • Inaccurate (Score:4, Informative)

    by Risen888 ( 306092 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:20AM (#15816612)
    Ubuntu [] is not a company, it is a community-driven distribution. Canonical Ltd. [] is a major financial sponsor of Ubuntu, but (AFAIK) provides very little guidance of the project.
    • Re:Inaccurate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:48AM (#15816792) Homepage Journal
      Ubuntu is not a company, it is a community-driven distribution. Canonical Ltd. is a major financial sponsor of Ubuntu, but (AFAIK) provides very little guidance of the project.

      Not true at all. If it weren't for the Ubuntu Technical Board [], Ubuntu wouldn't be the highly polished, well-integrated desktop distribution that it is. They decide what packages make it into the distro, what features will make it into the release, and how the parts will integrate together. Additionally there are project-based teams [] that deal with the nuts and bolts and local teams [] that deal with the issues of L10n adn I18n. Some of these teams include people from Canonical, and others are comprised of strictly members of the community. It's not lopsided like some other Open Source projects with corporate backers, like or Mozilla or even the Fedora Core Project. In my mind, Ubuntu represents a good balance between community interest and corporate interest...the question becomes will Canonical, Ltd. make money on its investment or not?

      • Re:Inaccurate (Score:4, Informative)

        by chris_7d0h ( 216090 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @04:33PM (#15820266) Journal
        In a speech by Mark I heard him explain that the entire Ubuntu initiative is a purely social contribution in a philanthropic sense from his side. Canonical is not in this to make money.

        Most people with insane riches want to be seen as philanthropic. Bill G. for example started a foundation where he funds initiatives related to education and health (a wide domain where he helps financing selected initiatives).

        Mark on the other hand is more focused and is aiming at a specific and narrow problem domain in the technology sector. He wants to help Linux become a viable computing platform option for the average person, by providing both financing as well as leadership. Seeing that Slashdot is mostly comprised of people who have an education and "food on their table", the work of Mark will likely have a more direct impact on our lives than other initiatives, thus making the effort of Mark rather interesting in our little technology corner of the world.

        Being an industry professional I am (as I believe many of you are as well) constantly consulted by friends and family about technical matters. If one day these people would be willing to start using a platform which I am familiar with, the effort on my part as well as those seeking help would greatly diminish and we would all be able to spend more time on stuff that matters. Ubuntu is in that regard an extremely interesting initiative to me personally and I commend Shuttleworth for incepting Ubuntu and his colleagues and the rest of the contributing community for focusing on the last 10% of what Debian is missing for wide spread adoption.

  • Matter of scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by treerex ( 743007 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:21AM (#15816625) Homepage
    It seems to me that the reason Ubuntu (and other OS projects) can respond to user feedback and bug reports more quickly than larger (non-FOSS) companies is the relative sizes of the user communities. Compare the size of the Ubuntu install base to that of Windows (or Mac OS X, or...) and it becomes a no-brainer that you can respond more quickly. Don't get me wrong, I applaud the work the Ubuntu group does, but the ability to respond quickly will lesson as they grow. Compare with RedHat and its enterprise offerings.

    Just my US$0.02 worth.
    • Re:Matter of scale (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jbrader ( 697703 )
      Or maybe they are just listening.
      • Listening suppose somebody tells you something you understand.

        As they grow larger, communities tend to produce more noise than information. Your objective becomes to find the significant subset of the community that you will listen to for a specific subject and try to make concessions for the rest of the community. Certainly not an easy thing, and even less when there is interest clash : geek / mom-pop / dell-hp-... / business.

        Same as democraty. In a small village you can invite everybody to take the decisi
    • I think they have more at stake to listen to their customers. You can't easily switch away from MS Windows, just because they don't fix bugs that you need fixed. However, with Linux, you can more easily (although it's still a hassle) switch from one vendor to another when you don't get the bug fixes you need. You will have more incentive to switch if the distro you are switching to is willing to fix the problems you are encountering. Another reason might just be less bureaucracy. When you submit a bug
    • Not that I disagree with you as such, but I believe the opposite can also be true. I do IT support in the medical profession, and we have "professional" software suites that cost thousands per year to license and have, on the scale of things, a fairly small user base. Getting prompt, relevant support is an exercise in frustration. You know the drill: log a call, wait for someone technical to call back, etc. etc.. Sometimes a bug can take months to be fixed, if at all.

      Compare this with Pandion, the open s
    • Re:Matter of scale (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eivind Eklund ( 5161 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @10:29AM (#15817049) Journal
      I'm sorry, but I believe you're taking a very minor parameter and attributing everything to it. In open source, the support community grows at roughly the same rate as the developer community, and there's completely different mechanisms at work.

      The reasons for faster response, from my point of view (having had a commit bit for FreeBSD for almost a decade now):

      • The developers actually do support. They're in contact with the end users. And some of the end users are other coders, and are allowed to do things with the OS code. This allows them to send in suggestions for how to fix their own problem. As opposed to the rumours, we only use these as is less than half the time - yet they're useful for pointing out things.
      • The developers are allowed to prioritize their own time. This result in both higher quality code (developers clean up when they feel cleanup is warranted), and easy end user problems being prioritized. Especially in combination with developers doing support.
      • Open source software is mostly designed based on what's technically reasonably easy, not marketing. This makes for simpler and more nimble codebases.
      • Open source goes through evolution: Those codebases that aren't nimble mostly die. In closed source software, those codebases that sell can add more resources (programmers) to get around not being nimble.
      I think these things are much more important. Especially the first two.


      • Open source software is mostly designed based on what's technically reasonably easy, not marketing. This makes for simpler and more nimble codebases.
        This, of course, can be as much a curse as it can be a blessing. Some very important features are hard to code and not at all rewarding to the programmer. For example, an easy-to-use beginner GUI...
      • Re:Matter of scale (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Pollardito ( 781263 )

        the support community grows at roughly the same rate as the developer community

        the point that the grandparent was trying to make is that the support community doesn't grow as fast as the end-user community. the first people onto these projects are people that are really knowledgeable with computers and often are people that are looking for a "project" that they can pitch in on. as the software goes more and more mainstream and becomes easier to use, the community adds in lots more non-technical people

    • Come here so I can teach you a lessen.
  • Business model (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syntaxglitch ( 889367 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:27AM (#15816669)
    I thought Ubuntu's business model was "be funded by an generous and independently wealthy geek". You mean to tell me it actually makes money?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:29AM (#15816688)
    Note: We are sorry that these talks are not available through BitTorrent, however under present IST policy we are not allowed to run BitTorrent. We thank you for your understanding.
    After having their large video files slashdotted, I think they'll be the ones being sorry.
    • I think this is the second time the csclub has been slashdotted with large video files. Last time, it went up to the top of IST and then nothing changed. This time, perhaps things will change, but the general internet connection is still not being maxed out. IST has there mrtg stats [] online, and you can clearly see when the slashdot article went up :-)
  • by morie ( 227571 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:38AM (#15816731) Homepage
    1. Change name from Ubuntu to Ubunutu
    2. ?????
    3. Profit!
  • Is it just me or did Dapper increase the problems related to X when updating kernels. I had to recently upgrade to 2.6.15-26amd64-k8 because of a serious security flaw (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered just yet), but inevitably I had to recompile my NVidia drivers. Is this the sort of QA Mr Law is overlooking perhaps?

    I have to say though, the Ubuntu forums is an awesome resource for fixing Ubuntu related problems. If it is any sort of testiment to the level of paid support then Canonical Ltd. (the comm
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:51AM (#15816812)
      If you install the nvidia drivers from the repositories instead of installing your own nvidia drivers outside the standard package management system this won't be an issue.
    • I really didn't have any problems with X or wifi when I recently installed Dapper.

      But seeing a number of posts to the contrary I wonder if Debian's recent work on making the default for Etch [] has anything to do with Debian based distros experiencing hiccups with X? All in all I've had very little trouble with Ubuntu since I first tried Hoary Hedgehog but then again I've only put it on slightly older boxes with pretty standard hardware. From the grumblings I'm hearing it would seem it does have some tro
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:53AM (#15816824)
    Seeing it's slashdotted (apparantly).

    1) 30s of video held at 15 degree angle (obviously setting up).
    2) Nope, launch right into the talk. 20 minutes or so of ubunutu Q+A guy. (camera still at 15 degree angle)
    3) Mildly interesting (and entertaining) Question & Answer session. Check out the guy's voice at circa 28 minutes! (camera still at 15 degree angle)
    4) The interesting bit - ubunutu guy leaves & audience exits...hahaha - check out the nerds - especially the guy in shorts!
  • Ubunto (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iPaqMan ( 230487 )
    What is going to make Ubanto more than a Linux flavor of the week? The only distribution that seems to have real staying power is Red Hat. Every other distribution comes and goes in popularity like SUSE, Mandrake (Mandriva), Linspire, etc, etc...

    IMHO, the problem with Linux for the desktop is users have no loyalty. Once something better comes along they drop thier old distro like a bad habbit. This ultimately makes it impossible for a distro company to be profitable more than a few years.
    • Linux desktop (Score:2, Informative)

      by rhaas ( 804642 )
      Either that, or it's just that the Linux desktop isn't that great to begin with. I realize that's an arguable point, but it seems to me that, for example, Firefox running on Linux is significantly slower than Firefox running on Windows on the same hardware. I have to say the Windows desktop looks a lot more polished, too. And the fact that GNOME (at least on the systems that I've used) opens a new folder for every directory instead of replacing the contents of the current window is just really annoying.
    • Natural Selection (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LKM ( 227954 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @10:29AM (#15817046) Homepage
      IMHO, the problem with Linux for the desktop is users have no loyalty. Once something better comes along they drop thier old distro like a bad habbit. This ultimately makes it impossible for a distro company to be profitable more than a few years.

      Watch natural selection at work. It's a good thing. The problem with Windows is that its users do not abandon it if they find something better. Hence, no incentive for Microsoft to improve Windows (see: Vista).

      Distros most certainly can have staying power, if they keep working on themselves and improving their distros. If they don't, good riddance.

      • Watch natural selection at work. It's a good thing. The problem with Windows is that its users do not abandon it if they find something better.

        If their feature list involve such things as:
        1. Being able to use all their current applications.
        2. Keep all their current data locked up in various proprietary formats.
        3. Being able to use all the gadgets and bundled software.
        4. Being able to run most of the games out there.
        5. Being able to ask the local windows guy/kid for support.
        6. Not having to learn the quirks
        • Combined with it simply being Windows, for many people it is the best choice

          I'd argue that for people who know Windows (and I don't mean that in a "I know where to click to get on the Intarwebs" sense), a Windows box can be the best choice. But that doesn't apply to most people. People want to surf the internet, check their mails, chat with their friends and maybe write a letter a few times a year. You don't need Windows to do that. In fact, an Ubuntu or Mac box can do that just as well as a Windows box,

    • IMHO, the problem with Linux for the desktop is users have no loyalty. Once something better comes along they drop thier old distro like a bad habbit. This ultimately makes it impossible for a distro company to be profitable more than a few years.

      That may be very true for the home desktop, but probably not the business desktop. Ubuntu is targeting the business desktop with it's feature list, paid support options and now longer support guarantee. A business is much less likely to start switching distros ba
      • I agree. RedHat effectively abandoned the desktop market with its split between RHEL and fedora. I could get RHEL at work, but that would make my home boxes a different OS image, and that is just inconvenient.

        I switched to SuSE, and have been happy right up until SuSE 10.1 screwed up their update process. Never release an OS with a broken auto-updater, as it is well-nigh impossible to fix.

        As for Ubuntu. they are looking at the mass market, they care about laptops. And they want to work with the PC vendors t
    • The only distribution that seems to have real staying power is Red Hat.

      False. Debian's first 1.0 release was about ten years ago. SUSE's first release was about twelve years ago. Slackware's first release was about thirteen years ago. All are about as old as Red Hat, which was first released about twelve years ago.
    • I think Suse is still very good because of Yast. Same for Mandrake, excellent tools.

      RedHat/Fedora does not reach for the desktop market. Ubuntu does, it has good default configurations, very polished.

      What is needed is more consolidation. Distributions are still to backend diverse. System configuration etc. should be made easier. I would like to see a kind of Yast everywhere approach.
  • by lytles ( 24756 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @10:24AM (#15817007) Homepage
    i've been running gentoo for a few years, but when i bought an x60 recently, the livecd wouldn't boot. so i tried ubuntu, at first thinking that i'd just use it to bootstrap gentoo, but this quickly faded into i'll try ubuntu, and then "i've spent all this time getting it to work, i guess i'm committed". so ubuntu for the last few months on my primary personal machine. and yes, a lot of stuff works.

    but some things don't, and there doesn't seem to be any response at all from ubuntu. the biggest issue is a minute long hang during boot with the message "mounting root filesystem". 5&page=17 []

    this thread is 18 pages long and started june 1st, and there are many other threads, bugreports, etc that are dealing with the same issue. there are a hundred "me toos", and one has to assume many people like me who haven't put their two cents in for every one who has. so i'm pretty sure it's not an isolated problem. and yet there is very little response from ubuntu. a few pages with sloppily put together work-arounds. but i haven't seen any sort of official statement on the problem or a commitment to fix it or a disclaimer in any of their pr that the problem exists, or even a statement of the scope of the problem (eg. which cpus are effected).

    in some ways i'm very impressed with ubuntu, but responsiveness isn't one of them. in the gentoo world, there would have been a 10 page official document describing the problem, summarizing scope, offering work-arounds, and naming a team assigned to solving the problem.


  • by A.K.A_Magnet ( 860822 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:05AM (#15817313) Homepage
    Traditionnally, most of the big players in GNU/Linux distributions have had a bottom-up approach. They get the kernel, a few hundred of common software (GNU utils, desktop environment) they package, they try to get everything to work together and once it's good enough they ship. It's up to the user to set it up regarding his needs (e.g: some users spend some time on seting up the desktop appearance while many others won't care, but will spend some time on installing some scalable fonts and setting X up for dual display and get all their peripherals to work). Major GNU/Linux distributions have required tweaking for years. Now that wasn't really a problem, since most users went to GNU/Linux to discover the OS's internals and learn more about compiling, OS architecture and on. Most LXers/Slashdotters (me included) didn't care, and on the contrary were in fact quite happy with the state of GNU/Linux (using the shell before friends/girls looks like some kind of voodoo, I've always found it fun to mount an USB key with dmesg | tail then mount -t vfat -o uid=1000 /dev/sdaX /mnt/usb before friends ;)). However, we couldn't expect massive GNU/Linux adoption with this approach. The user should NOT care about the OS.

    The great paradigm shift with Ubuntu (and a few others, but I don't know them really) is that they took a top-down approach. Instead of taking the existing software as a starting point, they take the final result: if they want the desktop to behave some way (e.g: have hints for new users, give more visual feedback, make some apps easier to use), they'll modify GNOME appropriately. Mark Shuttleworth has a lot of money so the bounty system works just right. They also have integrated Ubuntu with Launchpad, their bugs/features request/apps discussion database/website (which code is unfortunately proprietary), so that it supports their mantra better (anyone who knows how to fill an HTML form can request a feature). But under the hood, it's still Debian. In fact, it's 90% Debian, 10% Ubuntu (Debian has done 90% of the road up, and the Ubuntu people 10% down). They couldn't do Debian's work better, but most Debian people wouldn't want to do Ubuntu's work (but some of them are both Ubuntu and Debian developers, quite a lot in fact). The accomplishment with Ubuntu is that it was the last piece of the puzzle needed for a community-made distribution (even if it's financed) to go mainstream. It has all the technical greatness of Debian (including the wonderful APT framework) with a great ease of use.

    As a Debianist, I used to be quite against the Ubuntu hype. First, with their high dependancies and their oh-too-recent toolchain, they make .deb packages that I couldn't install on my Debian (they even broke some dependancies). Before, about all .deb packages used to work on Debian Sarge (which was at the time still in development). They broke the ABI too, but that I didn't really cared. But my main problem was with the community and all the hype. But well, I can't blame a distribution for its community (not talking about developers but all the forums full of newbies, it feels like Digg or MySpace for Linux ;)). And anyway, it was just Debian, no?

    Well no, it's Debian plus a bit more. And the bit more is that it can go mainstream for the desktop use (and it has already started). My mom has been using Debian for almost 2 years now (of course I installed it, but she's using it) with no problem. However, she's totally insensitive to computer aesthetics and she doesn't care as long as she can use Thunderbird and Firefox. Some times ago, a friend of mine couldn't upgrade his pirated copy of Windows because of the WGA (maybe he could, but he's not tech-savvy at all, and I told him I wouldn't help him with Windows anyway). So I proposed him to test GNU/Linux, say in a dual-boot. He was like "no, I don't want no fuckin' dual-boot, I just want Linux". I was quite surprised, he doesn't know anything about c
  • by 50m31sl4sh. ( 854939 ) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:45AM (#15817577)
    Hm. I always thought this [] was the real business model of Ubuntu.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson