Shuttleworth defends Ubuntu Linux integrating Amazon

Canonical is integrating Amazon search results into Ubuntu Linux and some users hate the idea so Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth explained why he approved it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's founder, approves of Amazon search result integration into Ubuntu Linux and thinks you should too.

You'd think someone had just kicked some Ubuntu Linux fans' puppy. Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, has added Amazon search results to the upcoming Ubuntu 12.10 Unity Dash search function. Some users hate this and have declared Ubuntu to be adware. Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder, has replied that this response is FUD. Here's what's really happening.

First, yes, when you do a search from Unity Dash in Ubuntu 12.10, besides the usual search results you'll also see a More Suggestions results box. This will contain, not ads, but search results from Amazon. This is part of the integration of Web apps into the Ubuntu desktop. In addition to the Amazon integration into Ubuntu search, there's also a separate Amazon search app. More than 40 other "Web site apps" such as BBC News, Facebook, and Reddit also will be available.

Amazon is the only such app that's being integrated into search. Why? Olli Ries, the Director of Technology at Canonical, explained, that this "more suggestions" results category is there to help users find "content available online in addition to what already resides on their device (thus continuing the maturation of the dash as a viewer to different types of offline and online content). As with the other lenses, a preview section --accessible by right clicking on the result --will allow users to instantly view descriptions, app ratings, music previews, purchasing options when relevant and more, directly from the dash."

And why has Canonical elected to do this? Well it's for the reason you'd think: To make money. Ries continued, "For some of this content, if a user clicks the item and purchases it, it will generate affiliate revenue that we can invest back into the project. … We have found affiliate revenue to be a good method of helping us to continue to invest in maturing and growing Ubuntu."

Some Ubuntu users have hated this, or at least they hated what they thought it was. You can read their complaints on Slashdot, Reddit, and other social networking sites. In fact, there's even been a bug report made to the Ubuntu developers objecting to remote searches being included in the Unity Dash home lens.

Shuttleworth has had enough of this. In his blog posting, Shuttleworth wrote, "It makes perfect sense to integrate Amazon search results in the Dash, because the Home Lens of the Dash should let you find 'anything' anywhere. Over time, we’ll make the Dash smarter and smarter, so you can just ask for whatever you want, and it will Just Work."

To those who ask, "Why would such results appear when searching what one expects to be one’s local machine? Is the distinction between 'places' such as file system, home, mounted drives, LAN, the internet and specific sites blurred for a reason?" Shuttleworth replied, the Home lens of the Dash is 'search everything'. If you want to search locally only, use the hotkey to specify the specific scope you want, like Super-A for apps, or Super-F for files.” In Ubuntu, the "Super" key is what's called the Windows key on most keyboards.

Shuttleworth explained, "In 12.10 we’ll take the first step of looking both online and locally for possible results. The Home lens will show you local things like apps and music, as it always has, as well as results from Amazon. Note – these are not ads, they are results to your search. We don’t promote any product or service speculatively; these are not banners or spyware. These are results from underlying scopes, surfaced to the Home lens, because you didn’t narrow the scope."

He then moves on to address what he calls the "main-FUD-points."

Why are you putting ads in Ubuntu?

We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash. This is to enable you to hit “Super” and then ask for anything you like, and over time, with all of the fantastic search scopes that people are creating, we should be able to give you the right answer.

These are not ads because they are not paid placement, they are straightforward Amazon search results for your search. So the Dash becomes a super-search of any number of different kinds of data. Right now, it’s not dynamically choosing what to search, it’s just searching local scopes and Amazon, but it will get smarter over time.

I don’t want to search Amazon for the Terminal

Use Super-A. You can tell Unity exactly what you want to search. And in future you’ll be able to do that from the home lens, too, more easily than the current Lens Bar at the bottom of the Dash.

I want to control what is searched on the Home Lens

So do I! Designs and patches welcome in the usual places. I’m pretty sure by 14.04 LTS we’ll have the kinks unkinked. Till then, come along for the ride, or stick with 12.04 LTS. We can’t wait till it’s perfect before landing everything, because the only way to learn what’s not perfect is to have other people – real people – use it.

I can’t believe you just changed Ubuntu. I liked it the way it was.

Looks like those six months are nearly up again. :-)

This is just a moneymaking scheme.

We picked Amazon as a first place to start because most of our users are also regular users of Amazon, and it pays us to make your Amazon journey  get off to a faster start. Typing Super “queen marking cage” Just Worked for me this morning. I am now looking forward to my game of Ultimate Where’s Waldo hunting down the queens in my bee colonies, Ubuntu will benefit from the fact that I chose to search Amazon that way, Amazon benefits from being more accessible to a very discerning, time-conscious and hotkey-friendly audience. But there are many more kinds of things you can search through with Unity scopes. Most of them won’t pay Ubuntu a cent, but we’ll still integrate them into the coolest just-ask-and-you’ll-receive experience. I want us to do this because I think we can make the desktop better.

Why are you telling Amazon what I am searching for?

We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update. You trust Debian, and you trust a large swathe of the open source community. And most importantly, you trust us to address it when, being human, we err. In summary – please don’t feed the trolls.

Personally, this change doesn't bother me. Ubuntu isn't showing ads. They're just giving you the option of seeing if your Ubuntu search also produced any results from Amazon. What's the big deal? Canonical is not a charity. If they can make some users happy and some revenue for the company at the same time, that's fine by me.

My one real objection is that this could have been handled better. This was a very late addition to Ubuntu 12.10 and the community should have been told what was going on earlier. Had that been the case, while I'm sure some people would still have objected,  I doubt they would have been quite so loud about it.

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