Ubuntu and Apple have their own unique PC operating systems, Unity on Linux and Mac OS X, respectively
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Another six months has passed and another version of Ubuntu Linux has been released, right? Wrong. Ubuntu 11.04 ‘Natty Narwhal’ arrived today and so did a new marketing direction from its parent company and principle sponsor, Canonical. And its flavour has a hint of Apple.
See the 11.04 release news here.
With the arrival of Natty, Canonical has switched on a concerted effort to raise awareness that Ubuntu now offers a lot more than just a desktop operating system – it’s content and services as well.
The first thing to notice about the Natty release is the “dumbing down” of Ubuntu the product.
Ubuntu no longer has multiple desktop or netbook “editions”, nor the pesky “Linux” label. It’s Ubuntu the client, Ubuntu the server and Ubuntu the Cloud – plain and simple.
Also with Natty comes a new website for Ubuntu, the essential ingredient of any new marketing initiative.
See this blog from the Canonical design team for information on the project’s new website.
The question is: With this marketing direction can Canonical dumb-down Linux enough with Ubuntu to make it appeal to the masses?
Those who have observed the Linux industry for any length of time will remember Corel’s failed attempt at its own distribution.
The company wanted to make Linux as easy to use as Windows on the desktop with everything point and click, instead of an unfamiliar command line.
But so far, despite 20 years of history on the desktop, Linux and its distributors have failed to make anywhere near an impact on the desktop as Apple or Microsoft.
[Note: Okay, you can easily argue since they have strong control over the hardware supply chain people don’t go out of their way to “buy” an Apple or Microsoft operating system for their desktop, people simply buy a computer with the OS pre-installed, but Linux is free to download and install on any computer. Is that the part that’s held Linux back – the downloading and installing bit?]
Then along came Ubuntu.
Realising this gap in the Linux market remained unfulfilled, from its inception Ubuntu was designed to integrate “best of breed” open source components to make a user-friendly contender on the desktop.
It certainly succeeded in making a name for its self as a user-friendly Linux alongside OpenSUSE and Fedora, but has it really succeeded in living up to its full potential? Perhaps its new direction is set to up the game.
Now Ubuntu seems to be diverging quickly from its original charter of a friendly Linux desktop with the integration of Cloud services and content.
All this activity raises the question of whether Canonical will be the next Apple-like software and services company – all without selling one piece of hardware.
If there is one company that has successfully dumbed-down Unix it is Apple. After struggling for relevance a decade ago it released Mac OS X, a music player and the rest is history.
I won’t argue some far-fetched theory that Canonical is trying to be the next Apple as they are world’s apart when it comes to software freedom, but the two companies now have quite a few things in common.
It’s worth nothing that Google is already offering a similar collection of software and services through Android. What Google doesn’t have is a footprint on the desktop the way Apple and Ubuntu do. But with Chrome OS (which Canonical has contributed to) due to arrive pre-loaded on hardware sometime this year, who knows where it will end up.
So the only thing holding Ubuntu back from having as much success in the consumer software and content market as Apple is mind and market share.
And Canonical’s marketing switch from Ubuntu the product to Ubuntu the ecosystem is a step towards achieving that market share.
On the new Ubuntu product description page the “Ubuntu operating system” is being directly pitched as an alternative to Windows and Mac OS X.
It will be interesting to see if Canonical can do what countless others have attempted and failed – bring Linux to the mainstream desktop – even if it ends up happening under an Ubuntu-only label.
Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda
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Technical project manager at Futurniture. General interest in Internet, communication and the concept of open source.