As Ubuntu 9.10 nears its official Oct. 29 debut, the hype around this new Ubuntu is reaching a fever pitch. Some folks wonder if it can be the de facto alternative to Windows. I've obviously bet a portion of my IT media career on Ubuntu's continued advancement. But let's keep Ubuntu 9.10's debut in perspective. Here's a reality check -- including a longer-term look at Canonical's server and cloud strategy, which hinges far more heavily on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx).

There's a lot to like about Ubuntu 9.10, and its emphasis on design and ease of use. Pundits say confidence is running high within Canonical. And Internetnews openly wonders if Ubuntu 9.10 can become the "default alternative to Windows."

I prefer not to make such lofty predictions. Especially since Ubuntu 9.10 is like an appetizer before the main course: Ubuntu 10.04, a Long Term Service (LTS) release, could define Canonical's success -- or failure -- on the server and in the cloud.

Beyond Desktop Linux

Let's remember: Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth has an end-to-end strategy for Ubuntu. It involves mobile systems, desktops, servers, private and public clouds, and a growing list of sister services (Landscape, UbuntuOne, etc.).

I get a bit frustrated when readers criticize Canonical for thinking big and looking beyond the desktop. Let me state it another way:
My point: By diversifying its product line and building end-to-end solutions, Microsoft became infinitely more powerful. And let's be honest: Microsoft's server software  freed many corporations from Unix systems running on very expensive RISC processors. Canonical hopes to deliver infinitely more freedom, if the company can execute on Shuttleworth's end-to-end strategy.

Getting the Message

Already, I'm hearing from WorksWithU readers who intend to give Ubuntu 9.10 a close look on a range of systems. Consider the situation Rezitech, a managed service provider and IT consulting firm in La Habra, Calif. Notes Rezitech Senior Systems Engineer Troy Ready:
"I obviously like the neat things slowly changing on the desktop, but I think the UEC [Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud] focus on the server side is what's really fascinating now. Our (Rezitech) UEC plans are still up in the air (pardon the pun), but I'm really excited for how the aggressive Ubuntu development will (hopefully) shape up for a stable LTS next year -- it might really change the layout of our infrastructure."

More Ways to Run Ubuntu

A year ago, Ubuntu and cloud computing didn't belong in the same sentence. But now, a respectable 3% of WorksWithU readers say they're going to run Ubuntu 9.10 in a cloud configuration, according to our recent reader poll (nearly 700 readers have so far participated).

In some ways, the Ubuntu 9.10 hype is ironic. Even if the release is rock-solid and well-received, Canonical's server and partner teams already have their eyes on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), a Long Term Support (LTS) release expected in April 2010.

At Atlanta Linux Fest in September 2009, Canonical's John Pugh told me he was focused entirely on Ubuntu 10.04 -- since LTS releases represent a prime opportunity to attract more ISVs (independent software vendors) onto the Ubuntu Server Edition platform.

Here again, Canonical faces a situation that's similar to Microsoft's old challenges. When Windows 95 arrive in August 1995, everyone hyped Microsoft on the desktop. But the real "Windows Everywhere" synergies surfaced when Windows NT Server 4.0 arrived in August 2006 1996.

Apply the same example to Canonical and you'll see some striking similarities. The open source media is hyping Ubuntu 9.10 on the desktop. But keep a close eye on Canonical's Ubuntu 10.04 server and cloud efforts. When Ubuntu 10.04 arrives, we'll get a far better feel for how Shuttleworth's end-to-end vision is playing out.

Please note: I realize I skipped a key topic of discussion -- whether Canonical can actually be profitable offering all of these different Ubuntu releases and add-on services. I posed the question briefly to Shuttleworth on Oct. 26 during a media call. I recapped his thoughts briefly in this blog post.

As we begin to hear about more corporate Ubuntu deployments, I'll be sure to ask if the projects involved revenue flowing in Canonical's direction.

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