Help on Ubuntu advocacy [Was: Re: Ubuntu Discs have arrived!]

Al Gordon runlevel7 at
Sat Jun 25 13:52:25 UTC 2005

On 6/25/05, Magnus Therning <magnus at> wrote:
> Why would a company not be interested in making money?
> Why doesn't Canonical obsess about making money? Will passing out Linux
> CDs somehow increase the value of Canonical so that its investors are
> happy?

You might want to do a little bit of research on Mark Shuttleworth. 
He's the man behind Canonical, who made a LOT of money running a
company using FOSS.  (Ever heard of Thawte?  That was him.)  He now,
rather than being obsessed with making more money, is obsessed with
using his financial gain for the good of others.  Take a look at to learn a bit more about the man, and what he's

> Yes, but you're not answering the core question, why put in the work to
> put together a Linux distro, letting people download it for free to
> begin with?
> Canonical isn't a charity, AFAIK!

Nope, but The Shuttleworth Foundation is.

Actually, Canonical does, as I understand it, have some decent
opportunities at making real profit.  My understanding is that they
hope to deploy Linux for governments, rather than corporations.

There's a lot of money to be had working for governments, even (or
especially) if you're just selling consulting services, and not a
"hard product".  And, as we all know, just because Linux is free, that
doesn't mean it magically installs and configures itself everywhere it
needs to be. In large deployments, skilled and knowledgeable people
need to do various types of analysis, implementation and maintenance
work. There's the money.

> Canonical is spending money on a Linux distro, and on a few FOSS

(I would say "investing", rather than spending.)

> projects (bazaar, bazaar-ng are the ones I know of, I'm not sure whether
> malone and rosetta are FOSS). They have hired quite few people to work
> on these things. They put up everything for free download/use. They send
> out CDs, for free, to anyone who wants them (I read a few thousand free CDs
> got stuck customs in some South American country recently). All of this
> costs money... Canonical is a company, not a charity or a pure community
> project like Debian. People of today are used to, even expected to be
> taken for a ride whenever they're offered something for free...

That's a good point, and one that needs proper advocacy to overcome. 
Since people these immediately reply with "What's the catch?" when you
tell them, "It's free," you need to be able to explain to them the
advantages of FOSS to the person/corporation/whatever that is
providing FOSS, as well as the advantages to the user.

Two questions:

1. Why do corporations Open Source their intellectual property?
I think the one thing that makes the most sense, initally, to people
about FOSS is that you have a LOT of people who are willing to
contribute to a project, on their own time and expense (if any), in
order to make it better.  Canonical pays a small number of programmers
to contribute and oversee the development and direction of Ubuntu. 
Plus, Mark Shuttleworth is highly active in the process, rather than
just acting like a bored investor/director/CEO/whatever.  So, you get
an army of skilled employees for the cost of a platoon. ;)


2. What advantage is FOSS to me, if I'm not a programmer?
I get asked this a lot.  The answer is that you don't have to be a
programmer to reap the benefits of FOSS.  The fact that programmers
are out there, continually improving upon various FOSS projects and
releasing the fruits of their labors back to the world means that you
get software that is continually improving.  Why do the programmers
improve FOSS software?  Some for bragging rights, others to practice
and improve upon their own programming skills, or to be able to put
something impressive on their resumes, others because they're driven
to make the world a better place in some little way, and others for
more selfish reasons (ie. they don't like the way that a piece of
software currently works). And, sometimes, it's because they're paid
to do so by corporations who want "that piece of free software, but

> So, do I really try to convince them that Canonical is something as
> strange as a company with a conscience and a sense of social
> responsibility? A company with humanitarian interests that doesn't put
> its bottom line first?

You can't always convince everyone.  But, you can point people at
Ubuntu's goals, and at the man behind the movement.  Ask them if they
think Linus Torvalds, who created Linux for free, for his own use then
open sourced it, has made any money since doing so?

> Most people won't believe me, and they'll probably just assume that
> Canonical will turn around and screw the Ubuntu community over in some
> yet-to-be-defined way...

I might answer them with your sig:

> Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the
> ark; professionals built the Titanic.
>      -- Anonymous

But, if they don't believe you, that's fine.  It may be naive for all
of us to believe that Ubuntu/Canonical/Shuttleworth will continue to
be everything promised, for ever and ever.  I'm willing (and happy) to
use Ubuntu Linux in the meantime, however, since it's just such a damn
fine Linux distribution.  And, once Ubuntu has a bit more of a track
record, I think that the nay-sayers will start to come around, and
realize what they're missing out on.

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
  -- Anonymous

"Yeah, but that pony's gonna get thirsty eventually."
  -- Me  ;)

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