First things first. Ubuntu Linux is still free for anyone to use. That said, Canonical, it's parent company, will be happy to accept any financial donations you might care to make as well.
Today's announcement on the Canonical blog by Steve George, the company's VP of Communications and Products that Canonical was "making it easier for people to financially contribute to Ubuntu if they want to. By introducing a ‘contribute’ screen as part of the desktop download process, people can choose to financially support different aspects of Canonical’s work: from gaming and apps, developing the desktop, phone and tablet, to co-ordination of upstreams or supporting Ubuntu flavours," caught me by surprise.
As George had said earlier in the very same blog "Canonical and the Ubuntu community have established a solid position for Ubuntu in the worlds of desktop, server and now cloud computing." Ubuntu Linux may not be the most popular of all Linux distributions—Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) wins the gold medal in business and the Ubuntu-variant Linux Mint seems to have more fans these days---but it's still very popular.
Desktop Ubuntu may not be doing as well as founder and primary owner Mark Shuttleworth would like. Recently, Ubuntu integrated Amazon into forthcoming Ubuntu 12.10's global search. While this will be in the next version of Ubuntu, Canonical had to clarify that the "shopping lens" would be optional.. A portion of the profits from these searches will go to Canonical.
George explained, "Every day, thousands of community members support the development of their favourite operating system. Even if they’re not software developers they help out with testing, documentation, marketing, brainstorming or answering other users’ questions in online forums. And people who don’t have the time to help out directly have always been able to make a financial contribution, albeit in a not-easy-to-find spot on our website. Many users have been asking for a simpler, more obvious way to do this."
That last is news to me. While many smaller Linux distributions ask for financial donations, this is the first I've known of a top-tier Linux distribution looking for donations in years. And, I've never heard of users asking for a way to donate dollars, euros or pounds more easily to Canonical.
George continued, "Today, we’re making it easier for people to financially contribute to Ubuntu if they want to. By introducing a ‘contribute’ screen as part of the desktop download process, people can choose to financially support different aspects of Canonical’s work: from gaming and apps, developing the desktop, phone and tablet, to co-ordination of upstreams or supporting Ubuntu flavours. It’s important to note that Ubuntu remains absolutely free, financial contribution remains optional and it is not required in order to download the software."
Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager, explained, "inspired by the wonderful folks at the Humble Indie Bundle [[a pay what you want e-book charity], we now have a contributions page that provides a clearer means in which you can not only contribute but also where you want the money to be used."
Bacon wrote, "The way the page works is that you can use the sliders to select how much you contribute to the following areas:
Make the desktop more amazing
Performance optimisation for games and apps
Improve hardware support on more PCs
Phone and tablet versions of Ubuntu
Community participation in Ubuntu development
Better coordination with Debian and upstreams
Better support for flavours like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu
Tip to Canonical – they help make it happen
"Currently the page only accepts PayPal, but other payment mechanisms are currently being explored as we speak. The page appears on the site before you download an ISO (thus making it easier to find) and it provides the opportunity to contribute. For those who don’t wish to contribute in this way you can simply click the Not now, take me to the download to bypass the page. Obviously our users are not required contribute. You can download Ubuntu here and see the page in action," said Bacon.
All the funds from these donations will go to the Ubuntu project. Bacon spelled out that "When a contribution occurs, Canonical will act as a steward for the money and ensure it is managed fairly and in accordance of the user’s wishes…ensuring it goes to the part of the project outlined in the form. Importantly, Canonical will not be using the money for any Canonical business-orientated functions; all of the contributions will be used to fund the Ubuntu project and continue it’s growth and development."
George concluded, "Ubuntu will always be free to use, share and develop. We hope it will continue to give you everything you want in an operating system – and we hope that you’ll join us in helping to build the future of computing, however you choose to contribute."