Ubuntu's Shuttleworth: "I don't think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop"

Ubuntu's Shuttleworth: "I don't think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop"

Summary: 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."


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?

[poll id=390]

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?

Topics: Linux, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Linux will not earn profit because the community believes profit is evil

    Linux people get really upset when you suggest any profit making scheme for Linux.

    Although it is true that for Linux to succeed the hard core purists will have to be left in the dust (this happens with everything that succeeds commercially).

    It is a shame because a profitable Linux could afford the R&D and corporate deal making that allows OSX and Windows to do what they do. You need money to lure software developers and hardware developers to a platform.
    • Nice straw man

      [i]Linux will not earn profit because the community believes profit is evil[/i]

      The community you are trying to speak for consists primarily of profit-making companies. Like $EMPLOYER, which uses lots of [i]software libre[/i] and contributes our changes back. It's much more cost-effective that way.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Different communities

        He's writing about the community of people who believe that by contributing their efforts freely they can reduce sales of software which makes money and so employs people. Thus reducing employment in the industry.

        You're writing about the "community" of companies which recognize that they can save staff expenses by collaborating on software which is not key to product sales. Thus reducing employment in the software industry and others.

        The two communities are united in their view of paid employment, but different in constituencies.
        Anton Philidor
        • Straw man - Part II

          Employment within the industry is not reduced by the contribution of their efforts whether commercial or private, instead the resources are shifts to other endeavors. Wealth is neither created nor destroyed, it's only redistributed.

          The economy does not work in a vacuum, but is fluid. Remember the story about the buggy whip manufacturer and the invention of the automobile? Once industry is replaced by another. It's called business evolution using the same Darwin principles applied within an economic framework.

          Now I'm sorry if you happen to be one of the "buggy whip manufacturers" or have an affinity for this group, but if you haven't noticed things do change. Usually for the better.

          Adversus solem ne loquitor. ;)
          • Choice or inevitability

            So it's inevitable that people will donate labor which damages others much like themselves, without compulsion or compunction.

            And it's equally inevitable that moneys freed by this donation of time must be used for purposes resulting in hiring. Rather than, say, executive bonuses. Even though such bonuses can rise with increased profits from eliminating staff and the resulting share price gains.

            At best, though one person's life is disrupted by layoff, another's is improved by hiring. And because we think only about the sum total of happiness, the damaged individual may be forgotten.

            Actually, volunteering your time is a choice. Because disruption to someone's life is the real inevitability if your work succeeds, you have taken responsibility for that damage.

            Admittedly, if damaging someone else is a requirement of your job, you are acceptably protecting yourself and your family. And companies can demand such harsh compliance from you. But there's little to be pleased about in that consolation.
            Anton Philidor
          • Need to tractorcade people's gardens too

            If people grow their own food and give away what they don't eat, they're putting farmers out of business.
            John L. Ries
          • Wickard vs Filburn

            Those who grow their own food might indeed put farmers out of business, according to the laws intended to prevent them from doing so.

            The food doesn't even have to be given away for the federal government to regulate it. How much food a farmer grows affects commerce, and so it may have to be limited.

            Your example doesn't negate my point about an individual taking responsibility for the effects of his voluntarism.


            The man who challenged the act's wheat quotas was Roscoe C. Filburn, a small Ohio farmer. Filburn maintained a herd of dairy cattle, raised poultry, and sold milk, poultry, and eggs in the open market. He planted a small acreage of winter wheat that he fed to his chickens and cattle, ground into flour for his family's consumption, and saved for the following year's seed. Filburn did not sell a single bushel of wheat in the open market. In 1941, Filburn sowed twelve acres of wheat more than he was permitted by Second Agricultural Adjustment Act's regulations. This unauthorized planting yielded 239 bushels of wheat, on which the federal government imposed a penalty of 49 cents a bushel. Filburn contested the government's assessment, arguing that the federal power to regulate commerce did not extend to the production and consumption of wheat that was never marketed.


            Following the logic of the important Commerce Clause case of United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941), Jackson held for the Court in Wickard that the quota on wheat authorized by the Second Agricultural Adjustment Act was constitutional under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which permitted Congress to ?regulate Commerce ? among the several States.? Jackson maintained that wheat consumed but not marketed still had an effect upon interstate commerce and thus could be regulated. Filburn's 239 bushels of home‐consumed wheat might by itself have seemed trivial, but it was part of a much larger story. In the early 1940s more than 20 percent of all the wheat grown in the country never left the farm. By consuming their own grain, Filburn and thousands of farmers like him cut the overall demand and depressed the market price of wheat. Their actions clearly affected interstate commerce and were, Jackson concluded, subject to federal regulation.

            Anton Philidor
          • I think the case was wrongly decided, of course

            But if US marshals start searching people's houses for contraband produce (or even worse, seed), I'll know why.

            I've long been opposed to agricultural subsidies and price supports. This does not make me more favorable to them.
            John L. Ries
          • @Anton

            So essentially you are saying go free market... so long as the government dictates who can play? Doesn't sound very free to me. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • What you describe can only occur ...

            .. within a static economic environment, which doesn't exist except to some degree within a planned economy. Since a static economic environment is not possible there would be no quantification of loss since any perceived loss would be redistributed to other various economic activity, thus the aggregate demand would not be affected.

            You looking at the situation in a microcosm and not pulling back to view the whole of the economic arena when a paradigm shift from one model of business operation to a different model takes place. Your argument is very narrow in scope and appeals only to a human interest perspective that does not take into account the economic reality of such a shift.
          • You're making two assumptions.

            First, that only overall net economic effects need be considered. If money diverted produces a number of new jobs equal to the jobs lost, then that's acceptable.

            But unless the same individuals lose and gain the jobs, individuals have been harmed to a lesser or greater degree and for a longer or shorter period of time.

            Second, that the amount of money saved which would have been paid to the individuals damaged can in fact produce the same amount of economic activity elsewhere and that this alternate economic activity produces the same number of jobs at the same rate of pay.

            This can work. The large number of clerks and typists displaced by automation were able to find other jobs created by the economic activity generated.

            The issue to consider is whether this comparatively small amount of money is going to produce new activity or be directed within existing activities in a way which doesn't add to employment sufficiently to compensate.

            I used the example of executive bonuses, which has some likelihood of occurring and which would not have the same benefits for the general economy. You would have to be idealistic to think that all the minor new resources would not be turned to individual advantage.

            You might be right in some/many cases, but you are almost certainly not correct about all cases. And every one of those typical/exceptional situations results in not entirely mitigated damage to people.
            Anton Philidor
          • @Anton - No assumptions are made with any ...

            ... part of my statement. It is a natural progression of the economic cycle that one technology or business model will be replaced by another allowing for loss of revenue to be reclaimed by others. Wealth is neither created nor destroyed, it's only redistributed.

            Throughout human history this has always been the case from crossbows to rifles, horse draw power to the internal combustion engine, steam ships to aircraft. History is inundated with examples of how one technology or business model has been supplanted by another.

            The only one making assumptions here is you with regards to economic losses from either dismissal or lack of employment within the software industry without taking into account the offset gains.
          • I think...

            ...you just described Obama's economic plans.

            I know, completely off topic. Save your flames.
            Dr. John
          • Anton should be pleased to know then

            that I have actually bought ( Yes PAID for) several versions ( 7 of them) of linux over the years. I have also downloaded quite a few for free. Most of those that I have paid for, is versions of SuSE Linux. They come boxed and with a good manual.

            Are you happier now Anton ?
          • Linux is used because Linux is free. End game. Lights out. Go home.

            Linux is a super OS for what it is. For those who take the time I have no doubt that they can make Linux sizzle and its currently as secure an OS as can be had.

            But for Joe X public Linux is a headache beyond a migraine. There are far to many of the general public who needlessly let the push button easy Windows OS's fall into disrepair. About 85% of the computer users I know would use a Linux install disk for a piece of toilet paper after a week because Linux too often wants people to do things in a way that involves some "care" and sometimes significant "work" and as sad as you might find it to be, 85% of the population want a computer to work more like a toaster then a micrometer.
          • "Easy" is in the eye of the beholder

            [i]There are far to many of the general public who needlessly let the push button easy Windows OS's fall into disrepair.[/i]

            If Windows is "push button easy," why are there 2,911 books available on Amazon to help people learn to use Windows Vista?
            Two things make Windows appear more user friendly:
            1) Familiarity. That which we already know appears more intuitive than that which we have to learn. My not-especially-technical wife was quite confused by her Mac for the first week, but quickly found her way around, and preaches the virtues of Mac to all she meets.
            2) Control. Beginning users don't mind handing all the decisions over the Windows. The don't bother to learn what their security options are, they just accept the default. The result is frequent patches and security alerts, plus annual expenditures for third-party software to fill in the OS's gaps. As you say, those who choose to take the time to configure a Linux OS will find that it does exactly what they want it to do, because it doesn't hide options from them. Distros like Ubuntu take the middle ground by pre-configuring a level of security that works for most users, but leaves the options open so the users can fiddle with it later if he/she chooses. Thus, it can be either a toaster or a micrometer, depending on what the user wants.

            Also, it's important to remember that there are hundreds of Linux-based operating systems out there. While they share some of the same traits and compatibilities, they are not all the same, as the blanket term "Linux" often suggests. What appeals to Ubuntu and Mandriva users does not necessarily apply to Slackware users.

            Back to the original subject, I see nothing wrong with a "razor and blade" model for Linux. Security patches must be free for all users, but non-essential packages, third-party packages, and a competent dedicated help line are only available to paying customers.

            Also, Cayble, your subject line was both condescending and irrelevant to your post. Yes, Linux is popular partly because it's both free of restrictions and free of charge. But there are plenty of people and organizations who pay for commercial distros like Red Hat Enterprise for their added stability and support, so it's not quite "end game, lights out" just yet.
          • People want a nerf computer

            "As you say, those who choose to take the time to configure a Linux OS will find that it does exactly what they want it to do, because it doesn't hide options from them."

            I teach a using digital camera class and many people (esp over 40) simply do not want to learn much about ANY OS, let alone Linux.

            They want a nerf computer, one that acts like the one on the Starship Enterprise. They can't understand basics of copying and pasting, or even look to WHERE something is being saved.

            And they are out of the habit of learning new things.

            It's pathetic.
          • psion. What's pathetic about it?

            That's something that seems to be more unique to the linux users, than windows users. <br><br>
            they think people who just want a computer that is easy to use, are ignorant. <br><br>
            You know, these people have professions of their own very often. <br><br>
            I would say a neurosurgeon that doesn't have the time to bother with learning Linux is not ignorant. <br><br>
            Have you taken the time to learn all that is necessary to be a neurosurgeon?
          • You are 100% correct but....

            The two earlier respondants clearly DO NOT understand the problem. I personally do delve deeper into Windows and do try to do other things but... why would I want to learn how to do the same things in an OS thata does it's best to vex me at every turn. What's in it for me apart from grief and wasted time?
          • Examples?


            Care to share a few examples? I've read your post several times now, and it's not an argument so much as a baseless slap at... actually, I can't tell who you're insulting, Linux or Windows. Which OS "does it's [sic] best to vex [you] at every turn", and in what way?

            Side note: I think people assume (and from your brief post, I can't tell whether you're one of them, GRmac) that Linux users want and expect [i]everybody[/i] to dump Windows, that Linux users expect to destroy Microsoft overnight once everybody "sees the light." I'll grant that there's a population within the community who feel that Microsoft represents everything that's broken in the software industry, but there's also plenty of us who just want users to know they have a choice. We don't want to "beat" Microsoft, whatever that means, we just want to be able to use our computers as we see fit, and we want others to have that right as well.

            I'd tried and failed to get Linux working many times; I'd install on Friday afternoon, and by Monday morning I was running Windows again because either my install didn't work properly, or I couldn't find anything I needed. I understand that it can be frustrating to learn a new OS. But whose fault was it, really? Mostly mine; perhaps if I'd read the 100-page manual that came with my distro (bearing in mind that equally large third-party books exist for Mac and Windows), I'd have put it all together sooner.

            What made the difference in my case was that this February, I committed to actually learning to use Linux (Ubuntu 7.10, in my case) for thirty days, no matter what. Rather than complaining and quitting at the first opportunity, I'd try to learn my way around and solve my own problems. I found and read the documentation*, and I asked for help from other Linux users when things got hairy. Within hours I had everything configured; within days, the menus and options made much more sense, and so help me, I eventually learned to enjoy using the Terminal. Now I'm a happy convert, and I see many things that I was missing by using Windows.

            -- A.
            * I forget who originally said this, but I agree that community-supported Linux distros could do a far better job of pointing new users to the documentation. Planting a README or an introductory video on the desktop would go a long way toward alleviating that "now what?" moment.