Canonical, promoter of the Ubuntu Linux, is hosting an Ubuntu Hardware Summit for PC partners on September 24. The big news involves uTouch, a multi-touch technology, plus a Canonical push to promote dual-boot strategies where Ubuntu and Microsoft Windows coexist. The big question: Can Canonical convince more PC and mobile device makers to embrace Ubuntu amid rising competition from Google Android? Here are some best guesses from The VAR Guy.

First, the facts: During the Ubuntu Hardware Summit, which is expected to attract 200 PC industry members, Canonical will discuss:
  • how Canonical works with Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs);
  • boot time optimizations, hardware enablement;
  • debugging;
  • multi-touch;
  • networking and more.
This is the second year Canonical is hosting the Ubuntu Hardware Summit. The event, located in Taipei, Taiwan, arrives roughly five months after Canonical shipped Ubuntu 10.04, a long term support (LTS) release designed for servers, desktops, mobile devices and private clouds. As an LTS release, Ubuntu 10.04 potentially provides customers and partners with long-term peace of mind on the support front.

Mobile and Desktop Moves

Canonical wants to attract more mobile device makers to Ubuntu. With that goal in mind, the conference will include:
"A session on the uTouch gesture suite that will make its first appearance in the 10.10.10 build of Ubuntu. The code is published under GPLv3 and LGPLv3. Updating from Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04 to 10.10 will automatically include uTouch and Unity uTouch."
At the same time, Canonical remains committed to the traditional PC market. Instead of positioning Ubuntu as an all-or-nothing replacement for Windows, Canonical is educating PC makers about potential dual-boot strategies. Specifically, the conference includes a Canonical session that describes:
"how Ubuntu can be included as a dual boot option with Windows. A discussion technically on how this is done without BIOS modification."

Rising Competition

The Ubuntu Hardware Summit arrives as Canonical faces rising competition across multiple markets. During 2007 and 2008, Canonical seemed to have significant momentum -- particularly in the netbook and desktop PC markets. At the time, Microsoft's Windows Vista was a stalled operating system on PCs, and Microsoft didn't have a competitive answer on netbooks.

Fast forward to the present and many of Ubuntu's target markets have changed drastically:
  • Netbooks: Microsoft got its act together with Windows 7, and it's now difficult to find Linux netbooks in the U.S. retail channel.
  • Notebooks: Here again, Windows 7 has won widespread respect, and Apple continues to dominate the higher-end ($1000.00+) notebook market.
  • PCs: Aside from niche suppliers like System76 and ZaReason, Canonical has not attracted major U.S. PC makers to promote Ubuntu as a PC preload.
  • Emerging Mobile Devices: Canonical in 2008 or so had hoped to develop a market for so-called Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). But today, it seems like Apple and Google Android are locked in a war to dominate tablets and smart phones.

Next Moves

Despite those competitive threats, Canonical apparently remains in growth mode. The company's career site currently lists nearly 30 job openings -- a pretty large number, considering Canonical has roughly 350 employees.

Meanwhile, Canonical continues to diversify and has been attracting new ISVs to Ubuntu. Pushing beyond its core Ubuntu business, Canonical is trying to build revenue streams around personal cloud computing (Ubuntu One), remote systems management (Canonical Landscape), and service opportunities for enterprises and consumers.

On the ISV front, Canonical is expected to host the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando (Oct. 25-29, 2010).

The VAR Guy will be listening closely for OEM and ISV reaction from both the Ubuntu Hardware Summit and the Ubuntu Developer Summit.

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