Canonical is taking three small but significant steps to build a partner channel for Ubuntu Linux. The VAR Guy stumbled upon the strategy during a surprise visit to Canonical's offices near Boston. Here's the scoop.

During a visit to OnForce, which operates an online marketplace for solutions providers, The VAR Guy popped his head into the neighboring offices of Canonical. While there, he picked up some marketing materials from the Ubuntu Linux promoter.

The materials had three key messages, written for:
  • Solutions providers (VARs, integrators, etc.)
  • System builders (white box PC makers)
  • Partners, customers and consumers seeking training

Solutions Providers

In the marketing piece, Canonical points out a number of potential benefits for Ubuntu partners. But one line caught The VAR Guy's eye. It states that solutions providers will have:
"an opportunity to benefit from our collaboration with the world's leading IT companies including Dell, IBM, Intel, VMware, Google and Sun."
That's a pretty strong message. The Google claim sounds like a bit of a stretch, but The VAR Guy knows all the other companies have core commitments to Ubuntu.

System Builders

Admittedly, The VAR Guy doesn't write much about the white box market. It's not a topic that excites him. Still, the system builder channel isn't going away. And Canonical will need system builders in order to bolster Ubuntu's desktop presence.

In order to court system builders, Canonical's marketing claims Ubuntu offers:
  • A reliable, secure and predictable release schedule
  • A license-free product with free security and critical fix updates
  • The best hardware compatibility of any Linux OS
Hmmm. Basically, Canonical is playing up all of Ubuntu's strengths over Windows Vista. Predictable releases, no-strings-attached licenses, and hardware compatibility. Impressive.

Selling Ubuntu Training Courses

Ah, yes. Training. It's a critical component in any channel strategy.

Canonical has developed on-line and instructor-led training  to help accelerate Ubuntu deployments, user expertise and overall channel support. The marketing materials are a bit generic, but the company is driving partners to a training-specific web site (www.ubuntu.com/training).

Next Steps

To be sure, Canonical is becoming more channel savvy. But it's still far too early to weigh the success -- or failure -- of Canonical's partner strategy.

In the Linux market, Red Hat has a huge lead with its partner program. Meanwhile, Novell is rediscovering the power of the channel, and Novell is set to announce its new channel chief in the next few days.

Canonical's best chance for success, The VAR Guy believes, involves spring boarding from desktops onto corporate departments and onto small business servers.