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Interview: Malcolm Yates Of Ubuntu Linux Vendor Canonical

The company behind Ubuntu, one of the fastest-growing Linux distros, is moving from small business users to enterprise deployment.

Canonical, Ltd. is the company behind Ubuntu: one of the fastest-growing Linux distros on the market today, and certainly one of the most respected among experienced Linux users. Since its inaugural release in October, 2004, Ubuntu has earned a significant and very loyal following among desktop Linux users. More recently, Canonical announced plans to make Ubuntu a player in the enterprise Linux market, including a new server release and extended support packages tailored for business users.

TechWeb recently spoke with Malcolm Yates, Canonical's ISV and partner manager, about Ubuntu's place in the rapidly-evolving enterprise Linux ecosystem. Yates discussed the pivotal role Canonical's nascent ISV and OEM partnerships will play in deciding whether Ubuntu earns a spot alongside the likes of Red Hat and Suse -- and he explained what Ubuntu, in return, can offer Canonical's enterprise Linux partners.

TechWeb: A lot of Linux users have heard of Ubuntu, but they may not be familiar with Canonical. How do the two relate to one another?

Yates:: There are actually two [organizations] here. First, there is the Ubuntu Foundation, which was set up to ensure that Ubuntu would be able to survive as an open-source project, despite any other commercial considerations -- if that day came.

Canonical, on the other hand, was started to make Ubuntu a commercial success. At Canonical, we are focused on delivering the best Linux experience for the user as well as providing the service and support for businesses. By doing that, our plan is that Canonical becomes a self-sustaining business, in its own right.

Canonical has been working closely with a number of ISVs and hardware vendors; this work is just now coming to fruition. With the increase in business partners, Ubuntu is becoming more widely distributed and supported, and hence is being deployed in more businesses globally.

TechWeb: Canonical officially launched Ubuntu as an enterprise Linux product just a few months ago [in June, 2005]. What was your initial take on how to position Ubuntu in this market?

Yates:: We have been building our services team and portfolio for a few months, ready for the launch of Ubuntu 6.06. This has generated quite some interest in the services that we provide, and we currently have some very interesting projects.

I think the next few months will see us involved more and more with enterprises looking at using Ubuntu to deliver business solutions. Previously, we have seen Ubuntu deployed in organizations where it it was hidden, but now with full and extended support, we are getting calls, to move to Ubuntu as a major Linux platform.

TechWeb: What is the greatest challenge facing firms that sell and service Linux as an enterprise product?

Yates:: That's actually difficult to answer . . . but I would say that sustainability is the challenge that everyone in this market must face. The business model for companies built upon open-source software solutions is still evolving.

Even as businesses see that software itself is no longer a major item in their budgets, they will demand commitment and support to ensure that they can run mission-critical systems on free and open software. Many of them will, and some do already, build internal open-source teams; they will develop the software that they need, and they will feed this work back to the [Open Source] community.

In that environment, partnering is essential -- and maintaining a balance between commercial and community involvement will also be essential. This could be a problem for companies that sell Open Source services to large corporations, as those customers acquire the skills and the experience to deliver their own, internal, open-source business solutions. Broader exposure to Linux in particular means that Linux distributors need to focus on specific areas that augment regular, in-house support for larger enterprises.

In addition, Linux distributors must focus on providing easy-to-use solutions for the SMB market -- a category, of course, which includes millions of firms around the world.

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