As Ubuntu 10.04 nears its April 29 launch date, Canonical's Linux distribution finally seems to be attracting key software partners. That's good news for Canonical and aspiring Ubuntu channel partners. But is Ubuntu 10.04 really ready to compete with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux? Here are some thoughts.

First, the good news for Canonical: As a Long Term Support (LTS) release, Ubuntu 10.04 seems to be generating confidence among potential software partners. From Adobe to VMware, Canonical says a lengthy list of software companies and application providers plan to support Ubuntu 10.04. Also of note, open source centric companies like Likewise Software and Eucalyptus also vowed to support Ubuntu 10.04.

Growing Ubuntu's ISV support wasn't easy. Canonical has been working since mid-2009 to prepare software partners for Ubuntu 10.04. In fact, Canonical kicked off the Ubuntu 10.04 ISV effort even before Ubuntu 9.10 shipped in October 2009, according to multiple sources at the company.

Another side note: During previous release announcements, Canonical focused mostly on new Ubuntu features and functions. But with Ubuntu 10.04's imminent debut, Canonical is talking up third-party support. That's an important milestone -- and a strategic shift -- for Canonical.

Lingering Challenges

Still, Canonical continues to face multiple challenges -- especially when it comes to large partner relationships. In some market segments, Dell (embracing Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) and IBM (virtualized Ubuntu desktops) and given Canonical a lift. But broad opportunities sometimes remain elusive.

A case in point: During this week's HP Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas, Red Hat was the only major Linux provider on hand to meet with more than 1,200 channel partners. In recent months, server providers have been working more closely with Red Hat to target Oracle's Sun server partner business.

At the same time, Novell continues to enhance and improve its ISV partner program for SUSE Linux. During the recent Novell BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, a healthy list of software partners announced plans to support the SUSE Linux software appliance strategy.

In short, Red Hat and Novell seem to have the most Linux ISV momentum. But with the release of Ubuntu 10.04, Canonical is striving to ensure the Linux server market is a three horse race.

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