Mark Shuttleworth, the guy behind the most popular Linux distro (Ubuntu), bursts a bubble during yesterday's press call:
"I don't think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop."
Rather than making money from the desktop OS, Shuttleworth believes that the direction to go is for-cost services:
"The only way to build business around software is with services."
That statement leave me with one question - what services? And who will pay? End users? Advertisers? Companies?
Ubuntu is unique in that is has Shuttleworth paying the bills. This is a guy that can afford to keep Ubuntu alive simply as a side project (when you can afford to pay your way as a space tourist and own you own jet, backing a Linus distro really can't be that expensive). And it seems that this is what Shuttleworth will do. I really don't think that he's in the least bit worried about Ubuntu making any money.
That said, I think that it's interesting that he said "Linux desktop" rather then "Linux," and I wonder whether he feels that while the desktop is not the place to make money, that Ubuntu as a mobile platform might not turn out to be a money-maker. While it would certainly be interesting to have had a mobile version of Ubuntu, I can't help but feel that the iPhone and Android have made the market far too difficult for another player to enter into it, certainly in the short term.
Another problem is perception - the idea that "Linux = Free." Now I know that in this world there's no such thing as a free lunch and that someone, somewhere, is picking up the tab. Open source wouldn't exist without people's willingness to give up their time and skills for free. Linux freedoms come from someone else picking up the bill. I'm not sure how mixing money into this ecosystem would work. Would the community as a whole accept a slow (and small) shift to commercialism?
So, is there money to be made from the Linux desktop? Should money even come into it? Thoughts?