​Mark Shuttleworth considering Canonical IPO

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu Linux, revealed that he's considering taking the company public.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

VANCOUVER -- In an interview at OpenStack Summit, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, revealed that he's considering an IPO for his privately held business.

Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical and Ubuntu founder
Shuttleworth, who has funded the popular Linux company out of his own pocket since its founding in October 2004, said that while a final decision has not been made, "He's seriously thinking about taking Canonical public."

The decision won't be entirely his. "I need to talk it over with my Canonical team." He also said that the idea has been being seriously kicked around internally for the last several months.

What's prompting Shuttleworth to think about taking the company public is that, "We now have a story that the market will understand."

That story is that while Canonical as a whole still isn't profitable, its OpenStack cloud division has become profitable. Shuttleworth added, "I don't believe any other company can say that about their OpenStack efforts." He's almost certainly right, with the possible exception of Mirantis, a pure-play OpenStack company.

OpenStack, the popular open-source cloud, is now being used by such Fortune 500 companies as AT&T and Walmart for mission-critical, line-of-business operations. Canonical also has partnerships in place with Microsoft and VMware to help bring Ubuntu-based OpenStack clouds to their platforms.

Shuttleworth added, "Big telcos are also adopting Ubuntu/OpenStack." Indeed, Ubuntu is OpenStack's most popular Linux distribution by a wide margin. In 2014, 55 percent of OpenStack operating systems were running on Ubuntu."

He continued, "So much is moving to the cloud, machine learning, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Big Data are all flying on Ubuntu.".

At the same time, Shuttleworth doesn't want Canonical to become a pure cloud play company. "We're continuing to invest in [container technologies] such as LXD and Snappy Core Ubuntu."

While not profitable yet, indeed building them isn't cheap, they will help Ubuntu stand out in the cloud market. Both Snappy Core and LXD started as Ubuntu phone based technologies and Shuttleworth said he expects Ubuntu Phone to be profitable. He indicated that more major carrier deals would soon be announced for Ubuntu Phone.

In an earlier ZDNet interview, Shuttleworth said, "The interplay between these things is really rich and really interesting. I understand why people say, 'It's kind of crazy -- what are you doing, making a phone?'. But look at all the amazing things that have come from it. All of those underpinnings are now our IoT [Internet of Things] platform as well. The latest greatest switch is running Ubuntu. What is it? It's our mobile operating system without the phone UI but it's got all the same properties."

Shuttleworth added, "The Internet of Things will be the defining technology story of our time. Machine intelligence will move on the edge with Ubuntu and through our apps store. While this is totally embryonic, it is coming and it fits well with our cloud vision."

In short, Canonical may be looking to the cloud for profits, but the company will not be abandoning its research and efforts in IoT, smartphones, or the desktop it's known best for in Linux circles.

So, while Shuttleworth is not ready to announce yet, thanks to Canonical's dominant role in the OpenStack cloud, it seems it will only be a matter of time before Canonical rolls out its IPO.

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