Partners, Community, and Success

Recently the Ubuntu newswires have been buzzing with the news that we have won our first smartphone partner.

Now, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way – I am not telling you who it is. It is not my place here to share confidential details about business-to-business relationships such as this. Rest assured though, I know the folks working on these relationships and there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for Ubuntu in these discussions; OEMs, carriers, ISVs and more are very interested in exploring Ubuntu for future products.

This is…spoiler alert…fantastic news.

But what does this news really mean for Ubuntu, and to what extent do our community play a part? Let’s dig into this a little bit.

I joined Ubuntu because I want to help an effort to bring technological elegance and freedom to people. Both of these are essential; elegant proprietary software and complex Free Software are both limited in the opportunities they bring to people and who can harness them. A good balance of both is what we strive to achieve in Ubuntu.

For many years Ubuntu has been available to download and install on your computer. Today you can download Ubuntu for your desktop computer, phone, tablet, and you can deploy it to your public or private cloud.


While this provides a reliable distribution point for those in the know, it remains an unknown service for those not in the know. Put simply: most normal people don’t do this. People like you and me, who read nerdy blogs like mine, often do this.

Now, we often talk about how we have around 20million Ubuntu users. To be fair, this will always be something of an informed estimation (made up from sales, downloads etc). As an example, if one person downloads Ubuntu they may install it on one computer. Alternatively, they could do the kind of work that Project Community Computers and Partimus do and use that download to install Ubuntu on hundreds of computers that potentially thousands of people will use. Again, put simply, it is difficult to get a firm idea of current numbers of users.

Irrespective though, whatever figure we have…such as 20million…this number is fundamentally defined by our available distribution mechanisms. The formula here is simple: if we increase the opportunity for Ubuntu to be distributed, we get more users…

…and this is where the chain reaction begins.

Wrong chain reaction.

If we have more users, we get more ISVs such as Adobe, Autodesk, Zynga, Rovio and others who want to use Ubuntu as a channel. If we get more apps from ISVs we get more interest from OEMs, carriers, and others. If we get more OEMs and carriers, we get more enterprise, creative-industry, and educational deployments. If we get more deployments we see more businesses selling support, services, training, people writing books, seminars, and other areas of focus. This effectively creates an eco-system around Ubuntu which in turn lowers the bar enough that any consumer can use and try it…thus putting Free Software in the hands of the masses.

Put simply once more: if we make Ubuntu commercially successful, it will put Free Software in the hands of more people.

Now, on the desktop side of things we have Ubuntu pre-installed on four of the largest OEMs on the planet, and while industry-wide annual PC shipments are dropping more and more each year, fortunately, we have positioned ourselves in a sweet spot. We can continue to fulfill our position as the third most popular Operating System for desktop/laptop computers, while providing a simple on-ramp to bring Ubuntu to these other devices as part of our wider convergence story.

As such, our first commercial smartphone partner is where we light the touch-paper that starts that chain reaction. This is good for Ubuntu, consumers, app developers, small businesses selling services, and for other OEMs/carriers who are exploring Ubuntu. All of this is good for Free Software.

So where does the community fit into this? Surely all of this work is going to be the domain of paid Canonical engineers delivering whatever the secret smartphone partner wants?

Recent Canonical sprint at the Marriott City Center, Oakland

Not at all.

Delivering a shippable device has many different technology components: hardware enablement, display server (Mir), shell (Unity 8), developer platform and SDK, core applications that ship with the device, quality assurance, language packs, third-party scopes and services, and more.

This is just what sits on the device. Outside of it we also need effective governance, event planning, local user group advocacy and campaigns, app developer growth and support, general documentation and support, web and communications services, accessibility, and more.

Every one of these areas (with the probable exception of specifically working with customers around enabling their specific device) welcomes and needs our community to help. Some of these areas are better set up collaboratively with our community than others…but not working collaboratively with our community is a bug, not a feature.

Believe me when I say there is no shortage of things for us to do. We have a long but exciting road ahead of us, and I am looking at my team to help support our community in finding something fun, rewarding, and productive to work on. There are few things in life more satisfying than putting your brick in the wall as part of a global effort to bring technological change to people. I hope you are joining us for the ride.

If you want to help and get stuck, email me at I am happy to help get you started.

  • Alan Bell

    personally I am more interested in hints of the countries and languages this partner is interested in than the name of the partner. If it is Chinese or Spanish then that is wonderful news for Canonical, but of fairly limited relevance to me personally. If there are going to be devices available in the UK then I am very interested, if they are in an English speaking market elsewhere then I am somewhat interested. The exact name of the carrier or OEM involved doesn’t make a heap of difference really – in fact for some of the multinationals the name of the carrier tells me almost nothing of interest!

  • Gorgon

    Why does Canonical keep pretending that Ubuntu is even remotely about Community anymore? Why not just start porting everything under a proprietary license? You guys sold out on every level.

    Even worse you pretend like you care about Community but you have enabled your employer to ruin the Ubuntu Community.

  • Karl

    How do Adobe, Autodesk, Zynga, Rovio and others who want to use Ubuntu as a channel help getting free software into the hands of people? That sounds more like providing a open base so proprietary companies can safe some money.

    This blog makes me want to help canonical less, not more: You tell me that canonical does not trust me with information (who is that partner?), it wants to call the shots (mir, shell, etc. are off limit) and the community may fill in the blanks around that. I think I may just be misreading something, I am not a native speaker, but maybe you can make the post more clear, I am sure that I am not the only foreigner reading this.

  • Marcos Oliveira

    Jono has any chance of “Unity 8” (desktop ….) be free from gnome?

    I have thought a lot about it!

  • Frank Grant

    I would be very interested if this phone has full Ubuntu when plugged into a large screen.

  • Henke

    Did we read the same post? Yes I think you are misreading it. He talks about having eg Adobe onboard benefits your ecosystem which in turn makes the platform more popular which leads to an expanding ecosystem, etc, etc. This also benefits the free software as being the foundation for it all.

  • Zygmunt Krynicki

    If you think that Ubuntu is not about the community then try looking over the fence to see what proprietary OS vendors are doing. If you think that another Linux distributions are allegedly more community driven, then ask yourself if they are also trusted enough to be run by large organizations, and if not, if that may be a factor.

    Otherwise I’d love to know what kind of constructive criticisim can you offer that would improve both the Ubuntu community and the operating system / platform to all its users.

    Without concrete arguments you’re just spreading FUD IMHO

  • Mauv

    In Open Source as in anything else; purism is an extreme, though initially helpful and motivating, it can ultimately become self-defeating. The opposite extreme is just as bad, we want to always work as a community with a worthy goal.

    Linux has undoubtedly proven its power and made inroads into “hospitable” areas of science, technology and business. However, it has also proven ineffective in penetrating “less hospitable” environments like corporate and retail desktops, until Ubuntu showed up.

    Ubuntu took the challenge when no other Distro was ever willing to, taking large economic risks; and they were appropriately rewarded with a meteoric rise in the charts; delivering a new level of market performance and recognition to the whole Linux community. Don’t anyone forget that.

    Now the world has changed, it’s less about the desktop and more about the cloud, mobile and people’s home devices; yet as stubborn as ever, the corporate and institutional markets are still where proprietary software lives and “out-competes” Open Source.

    So, it is Ubuntu again (although not alone this time) who is taking the challenge; refusing to give up those markets to proprietary vendors and stay aback, for the sake of community manners, condemning Linux and other open technologies to remain out of the main stream. Ubuntu is refusing to give up the opportunity of reaching many more people and institutions than ever before.

    Of course Canonical wants to be profitable, and is relying on Ubuntu’s market penetration to bring it’s brand of IT solutions to bear. But it’s still developing, testing, integrating, researching, adapting and overall smoothing the path for larger non-technical adoption of Linux desktops, mobiles, etc. Pushing the limits of Cloud-based Open Technologies that can truly compel businesses to adopt them instead of proprietary competitors.

    If this kind of progress is offensive to the pure-of-heart corners of FOSS, they may want to revise their claim of wanting to help “the world”. In case anyone misses my point; the great majority of the world still revolves (and pays) around giants like Apple, Google, Samsung, and yes, still Microsoft.

  • Prithviraj Nag

    You may not tell us the name, but can you tell if it is a popular “household” brand (like Shuttleworth had promised us earlier)? :)