After months of development, Canonical has delivered Ubuntu Linux 8.04. Before The VAR Guy hypes the operating system's long-term prospects, he'll concede Ubuntu's short-term challenges.
Does The World Really Need Another Linux Distribution?Ubuntu Linux is a niche solution. Sure, Dell pre-loads it on selected laptops and desktops. And Sun is backing Ubuntu on the server. But contrary to all the hype, Ubuntu has not gone "mainstream" -- nor is it close to knocking off Windows in any type of market.
Ubuntu lacks distributors, integrators and VARs -- the folks who recommend, service and support systems. Ubuntu also isn't a big priority for many ISVs that focus on Novell and Red Hat Linux.
Alas, Ubuntu competes in a crowded market with well-funded, deeply entrenched rivals. Why the heck would Canonical -- Ubuntu's backer -- want to compete with Apple, Microsoft, Red Hat and Novell? And why would The VAR Guy believe so deeply in Ubuntu?
The answer is rather simple: A series of critical vendor mistakes and inflection points have left the door wide open for Ubuntu to become a mainstream hit -- on servers, desktops and mobile devices. It may take years. But it's going to happen. Here are five reasons why.
1. The Windows Vista Debacle: Even Gartner finally admits that Vista is a dog and Windows is collapsing under its own weight. And in the ultimate statement, Dell actually began Ubuntu preloads on selected desktops the very year that Vista shipped.
No PC companies dared to take those types of actions when Windows 95 shipped. But Microsoft has badly miscalculated the market. Vista was big, bloated, slow and annoying when it arrived. Ubuntu Linux is fast, modular, tightly written and flexible. A few million desktop users have already discovered Ubuntu Linux's power. Millions more will discover it through install fests, word of mouth, and Dell.
2. Miscalculations at Red Hat and Novell: Both Linux providers bet heavily on the server. Red Hat completely ignored the desktop for years. Novell had some success on corporate desktops, but continues to ignore consumer systems.
As Microsoft stumble on the desktop, Canonical was the rare Linux company that actually stepped forward and pursued a consumer-centric design that even The VAR Guy's young kids quickly mastered in a few hours.
3. Server Consolidation: HP, IBM, Sun and Dell are already beating each other up with a range of Red Hat, Novell, Microsoft and Unix solutions.
Server vendors are now desperate to differentiate their wares. Most desperate of all is Sun, which dominated the dot-com boom with Solaris and SPARC. But Sun flamed out as customers balked at high prices and closed solutions, and switched to Windows or Linux on Intel.
Sun finally got serious about open source, acquired MySQL and began certifying its servers for Ubuntu. If Sun shows even moderate momentum with Ubuntu Linux servers, rival hardware makers will jump into the market. But don't count on this happening over night.
Remember: Windows NT Advanced Server 3.1, Microsoft's first real server operating system, arrived around 1993. But it took three to five years before NT became a server force. Microsoft spent billions on ISV relations to get NT Server going.
Canonical, in stark contrast, will need to continue rallying community developers and early adopters to the Ubuntu Server cause. This is going to take time, folks.
4. Software as a Service Meets Open Source: The trend is undeniable. More and more SaaS projects involve open source foundations.
Consider this simple, small example: The VAR Guy's entire site is based on open source. It took less than five weeks to develop and launch, for a cost that was approximately one-tenth to one-twentieth the price of traditional online content management systems.
The power of SaaS and open source have gone mainstream. That means the market is moving in Ubuntu's direction -- assuming Canonical continues to line up ISV support for the OS.
5. Intel: The chip giant loves to hedge its bets. Despite close working relationships with Microsoft, Red Hat and Novell, Intel found the time and money to work closely with Ubuntu Linux, particularly on a mobile release.
Google Android and Apple iPhone get most of the mobile hype these days. But watch for Ubuntu Mobile to quietly find its way into devices soon.
Ultimately, Ubuntu will not be a desktop, server or mobile operating system. Instead, it will be a single platform that scales from mobile devices to departmental servers. Microsoft did that with Windows in the 1990s. And Novell is quick to state that SuSE Linux scales from desktops to the data center.
But in this case, simplicity matters. Ubuntu is pretty darn simple to master, even for a tired, middle-aged blogger like The VAR Guy.