Beyond Ubuntu CDs, Ubuntu Devices?

Ubuntu is taking down its free Ubuntu Linux CD program, but they’re also hinting that Ubuntu-powered devices may soon be a lot easier to find and buy.

For years, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, has given away CDs of its Linux operating system to anyone who wanted them. That’s given away as in free, no cost, nada. But, all goods things must come to an end.

As Gerry Carr, Canonical’s Head of Platform Marketing, wrote on an Ubuntu blog, “It’s with some regret that we are announcing the end of the ShipIt Programme and the CD distributor programme. When we started ShipIt in 2005 broadband was still a marketing promise even in the most connected parts of the most developed nations. We knew that this represented a significant stumbling block to the adoption of a new technology like Ubuntu. So we invested in making the CDs free and freely delivered to anywhere in the world. Since then we have shipped millions of CDs to every country in the world and brought Ubuntu into the lives of millions of individuals, we hope making them a little better.”

But, as Carr explains, “Technology moves on and as we look at ways to spread Ubuntu further, a CD distribution programme, especially one of that size and delivered in that way, makes less sense. We have been slowly easing back the programme over the last two years to limit the number of CDs per person and the number of times a person could apply for a CD. But for Ubuntu 11.04 you will no longer be able to go to our website and apply for a free CD.”

Although Carr doesn’t explicitly say it, another reason why Ubuntu is doing this is because broadband—even if it’s not as fast as we’d like or as easily avalanche as it should be—now makes downloading Ubuntu easy for almost anyone to do.

This doesn’t mean that all free Ubuntu CDs are history. Ubuntu, is “going to make large numbers of CDs available to the Ubuntu Local Communities (LoCos) through a shipIt-lite program. We are asking the LoCos, who are much better placed than Canonical in many ways, to find creative ways to get CDs to those that need them. And of course, every single person reading this who has a CD is a potential distributor – it is after all free to copy, modify and redistribute. We will also continue to make the packs available through the store which are sold more or less at cost price (plus shipping).“

On the other hand, if you want to distribute Ubuntu CDs yourself: Go for it. Carr wrote, “Of course everyone is still welcome to simply go to the Canonical store and buy and redistribute CDs. All that changes is that there is no need for an official blessing from Canonical and we will no longer list the websites on ubuntu.com. We encourage them to continue to promote Ubuntu and provide this great technology in their local market.”

Looking ahead, Ubuntu is still going to try to make it easy for new users to get a taste of Ubuntu even if you they don’t have Besides making some free Ubuntu CDs available Canonical will soon “launch a free online trial for Ubuntu using the goodness of the cloud which will be a great first step for Windows users in particular, allowing them to see for themselves the product that so many of us enjoy. Finally, we will we be doing much more this year to reach out to the mainstream markets across the world, to bring Ubuntu to the next wave of users. This great project of ours needs more and different people to come on board so that we can bring free software into everyday computing lives.”

So what does this mean? Well, for one, you’ll be able to run Ubuntu desktop as a cloud instance. Ubuntu has been working hard on making it server services available on the cloud, so it won’t be hard to make cloud desktops available for people to get a taste of the Ubuntu Linux desktop.

What I find really interesting though is that comment about reaching “out to the mainstream markets.” I know Canonical has been working on getting original equipment manufacturers (OEM) on board with Ubuntu. They’ve had some success with Dell and smaller OEMs such as ZaReason and system76. Could it be that in the next year there will be many more vendors offering hardware with pre-installed Ubuntu?

I know one of Mark Shuttleworth’s, Ubuntu and Canonical’s founder, goals with the new Unity Ubuntu 11.04 desktop was to get OEMs on board with Ubuntu on PCs, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and even smartphones. I’m taking this news as a hint that Shuttleworth and company are having some success with their plans. We’ll see what we see.

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