Ubuntu is a Canonical product

February 28, 2023

A while back I wrote that from an outside perspective, Ubuntu is Canonical's thing, in that Canonical runs the show despite having outside contributors. But in the wake of wrestling with Canonical's advertisements in a stock 22.04 LTS machine and losing, I want to amend that observation with an important additional one. Ubuntu is not merely Canonical's, Ubuntu is a Canonical product. Which is to say, Ubuntu exists to make money for Canonical. Further, the current evidence suggests that Canonical feels it's not making enough money for them; hence the steadily increasing advertisements in Ubuntu, along with other moves.

Broadly speaking, we've seen this show before, most recently with Red Hat/IBM and CentOS, so we can make some guesses about where this version will go. If Canonical is now making enough money from Ubuntu, they might stop here, with annoying things in your message of the day and so on. Otherwise, they will definitely take additional steps to make more money, and they probably have a number of those. Would Canonical reduce the free LTS support interval from five years to two and a half years? Perhaps. And fundamentally Canonical is unlikely to be that interested in the views of people who have little or no chance of giving them money, people like us.

(A shortened free LTS support period wouldn't be the death knell of personal use of Ubuntu LTS, since Canonical currently gives free personal use licenses for their paid extra support.)

The good news is that the sky isn't falling today; there's no particular need to move away from Ubuntu for current or future use. The other good news is that because Ubuntu is so close to Debian, it will probably be pretty easy to move to using Debian for future machines if the sky does fall in. I'd expect almost all of our local customizations to the Ubuntu server installs to drop right in on top of Debian. The one area that will be different is the installer itself, since Ubuntu uses a new installer since 20.04.

(Energetic and concerned people might thus start building out a Debian installer environment, or at least explore it to build up their knowledge.)

Locally, we're unlikely to migrate away from Ubuntu LTS until we're forced to, because we continue to like the predictable release schedule and five years of support. However, I expect we'll be keeping in contact with anyone else around here who's switched over to Debian, so we can find out how they feel about the shift.

PS: The other thing that can happen with commercial products is that they stop being made (or they get sold and drastically transformed). On the sale front, I can imagine a future where Ubuntu becomes, say, 'AWS Ubuntu' after Amazon buys out Canonical at a suitably low price.

Comments on this page:

By Brendan Long at 2023-02-28 22:43:13:

Why not pay for Ubuntu if their LTS provides value over Debian?

The good news is that the sky isn't falling today; there's no particular need to move away from Ubuntu for current or future use.

If you disagree with the direction Canonical is taking Ubuntu, perhaps you should move away from Ubuntu now. If you don't want to pay for a product, go with a Linux distribution that is not a product (e.g. Debian), and perhaps consider how you can help sustain the project.

After more than two decades of happy RedHat-esque deployment, over the past eighteen months I've been slowly moving everything from CentOS to Debian, since the debacle that was the forcible move of C8 support to Stream. I have no C8 in deployment, and expect to finish up either retiring or moving all the rest of my C7 systems to D11/D12 by May 2024, ie, in time for C7 EoL.

I have some thoughts on that move I'd be happy to share; drop me a line if you're so minded.

By adrien at 2023-03-01 04:02:47:

Disclosure. I've been working at Canonical for a few months now (and thoughts my own, not company's). Don't get things wrong though: I held my views before; it's not working at Canonical which changed them (I wouldn't have applied without having these views already).

I'm not part of Product strategy but I don't think it makes sense to shorten LTS to 2.5 years: that's too close to Debian's schedule and anyway the price for Pro makes it more targetted to large companies who want 10 years of support and not just 5. I also doubt companies with 10 machines get subscriptions for Pro: it's certainly less expensive and much easier to upgrade (or not do anything, no matter the distribution's release schedule).

You're unlikely to find a fixed release schedule in a distribution that isn't backed by a company. That's the case for pretty much all software and distributions are particularly exposed to random delays since their essence it to combine other pieces of software which will have delay themselves and incompatibilities.

Also, people tend to talk of Ubuntu as a downstream-only of Debian. That's incredibly wrong and frustrating. Many Debian devs and maintainers work on Ubuntu at Canonical and do Debian work as part of their work at Canonical. People also collaborate: they're facing the same issues with pretty much the same package combinations after all. Moreover there's a strong incentive to stick close to Debian and get patches merged: diverging is painful because it then requires looking at packages which can't be automatically merged from Debian, and sometimes that means a lot of work to solve merge conflicts. In addition to direct collaboration, there's also the usual cross-distro exchanges through upstreams: if a bug is spotted in Ubuntu and we fix it upstream, everyone benefits from that fix.

Overall, Debian wins from having Ubuntu as a downstream; and losing Ubuntu would be a net loss for Debian (and others). The money that Canonical makes actually funds Debian work. The idea that Ubuntu could disappear, that everyone could just switch to Debian and have everything the same just doesn't hold.

And yes, the communication from Ubuntu should be better (and I'm not even talking about the specific wording of some sentences).

My latest move has been to pull the “pam_motd” line out of the config, giving up on motd.dynamic entirely. (I have also been losing against the ads.)

It is likely that we will shift to bookworm when it lands.

By Gordon Messmer at 2023-03-01 13:21:02:

I think I get where you're coming from: Ubuntu is a product, not a project. It's a thing that Canonical sells in one way or another.

But I also think the comparison to CentOS Stream is not an apt one, because exactly the opposite is true of Stream. CentOS was a product, not a project, in that the community had no way to participate in the past. Red Hat as transformed CentOS into a project with CentOS Stream, allowing the community to contribute to its development and maintenance.

By cks at 2023-03-01 17:06:30:

CentOS originated as a project; it was 'Red Hat Enterprise Linux but rebuilt so it could be freely distributed', which is exactly what most of the people who used CentOS wanted from it. One could contribute to RHEL (if one felt like helping out a commercial company) by contributing to Fedora, which eventually became RHEL on an infrequent basis, or by working on EPEL packages. The shift to 'CentOS Stream' and a new claimed justification for its existence was not what most existing people using CentOS wanted, but it did have the convenient effect for Red Hat/IBM that people were no longer getting RHEL for free, and thus probably did a certain amount to increase Red Hat revenue.

See CentOS's switch to Stream is a major change in what CentOS is for much more (and also, and also).

«CentOS originated as a project; it was 'Red Hat Enterprise Linux but rebuilt so it could be freely distributed', which is exactly what most of the people who used CentOS wanted from it.»

Indeed CentOS started as a freeware project, and later its leading developers simply sold themselves to RedHat, and took the whole project with them. In a similar yet different way a lot of the leading Debian project developers have been hired by Canonical.

Debian has a much bigger developer base than CentOS, so it is more likely to stay independent, but it could well be the case that Debian could not survive without in effect being funded through Canonical paying the salaries of so many Debian developers.

Written on 28 February 2023.
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