Canonical, promoter of Ubuntu Linux, has finally announced a new channel partner program called Ubuntu Advantage (UA).  It sounds like Paul Holt, VP of corporate services at Canonical, essentially becomes the company's channel chief. Ubuntu certainly has a strong following in certain niche PC markets. But can Canonical finally master the channel? Here's the update.

Canonical says the new UA partner program will help resellers promote Ubuntu server, desktop and cloud installations to businesses worldwide. Canonical also is working to line up more hosting partners to leverage Ubuntu server and Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud.

In some ways, The VAR Guy expected Canonical to promote a partner program such as Ubuntu Advantage back in 2008 or 2009. But Canonical experienced multiple management changes and product launches that pushed -- and pulled -- the company into new directions. In addition to the usual Ubuntu releases each April and October, Canonical has been building additional platforms such as Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud, Ubuntu One (a precursor to Apple iCloud) and Landscape (a remote monitoring and management tool).

Along the way, multiple executives and managers have come and gone, including former COO Matt Asay, and key leaders who were in charge of ISV relations and Landscape business development. Further complicating matters, Ubuntu has been somewhat overshadowed on mobile platforms by Google Android, Google Chrome OS development and Apple iOS. Plus, long-time partner Dell sometimes promotes Ubuntu systems -- and sometimes doesn't (see http://www.dell.com/ubuntu).

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Still, Canonical has been in growth mode. Last The VAR Guy heard, Canonical was roughly a $30 million company with loyal customers -- particularly in emerging markets. Plus, several targeted PC companies -- including System 76 and ZaReason -- promote Ubuntu-centric systems.

For Canonical and its partners, the new Ubuntu Advantage program certainly sounds like a step in the right direction. Canonical says the program is launching with numerous global partners, including CSS in the US, Asia and EMEA, Ashisuto in Japan, RedPill Linpro in Scandinavia and Alterway in France.

According to a prepared statement from Canonical:
"Resellers joining the Ubuntu Advantage partner program can tap into additional revenue streams by expanding their services portfolio. In addition to the commission of UA, resellers can also add additional services such as hardware, software, implementation and training services, which help their customers save costs and reduce risk. Partners also receive marketing, technical, commercial and pre-sales support and an assigned account manager as part of the UA program."
The VAR Guy is intrigued. But Canonical must also differentiate its partner program from established offerings at Red Hat and new initiatives at SUSE, which Attachmate acquired as part of the Novell buyout earlier this year. Earlier today, for instance, Microsoft announced a $100 million commitment to SUSE Linux.

For its part, Canonical has to communicate -- loudly -- about channel partner wins tied to the Ubuntu Advantage program. The reason: Rival Linux distributions, particularly Red Hat Enterprise Linux, have already gained critical mass with channel partners.