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Canonical Ubuntu Layoffs: Why I Care About This Linux Distribution

Canonical, the backer of Ubuntu Linux, has cut staff and apparently shut down development of Unity 8 — a user interface for phones and desktops. Canonical CEO Jane Silber is stepping down and founder Mark Shuttleworth will return to that position.

I gotta admit: The changes have struck a nerve with me. From about 2008 to 2010, Amy Katz and I built and ran an IT media site called WorksWithU. We launched the site for IT professionals, developers and partners who were embracing Ubuntu desktops and servers.

For most of 2008, WorksWithU — driven by growing interest in Ubuntu — was our fastest-growing website.

So, What Went Wrong?

Still, I miscalculated the shift from traditional clients and servers to SaaS- and IaaS-based systems. For awhile there, so did Shuttleworth. Much in the way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Windows NT Server developed ISV ecosystems in the 1990s, I figured the major enterprise software providers would write applications for Ubuntu in the 2009 or 2010 timeframe. I also figured lots of PC and server makers would preload Ubuntu on their systems.

In some ways I was right. Lots of Netbooks ran Ubuntu… but the netbook trend fizzled out once tablets came along. Dell and HP (before HP broke into two companies) preloaded Ubuntu on some systems. Poke around and you can still find them.

But the growth opportunities were over in mobile computing (i.e., smartphones) and the cloud, rather than traditional software/hardware bundles. I woke up to that reality. So did Shuttleworth — for better and for worse.

Ubuntu and OpenStack for Cloud Services

Shuttleworth effectively positioned Ubuntu and associated OpenStack efforts for cloud customers. But he likely wasted millions of R&D dollars — and precious time — chasing the smartphone software market, which Apple iOS and Android already dominate.

In some ways, I’m still an Ubuntu fan. And I’m forever thankful to the readers who made our former WorksWorkU website a true community back in the day. Still, Amy Katz and I pulled the plug on the WorksWithU site in October 2010, and we launched a cloud-oriented site for IT channel partners later that year. By 2011, we sold that company and eventually moved on to new opportunities — like launching ChannelE2E.

Fast forward to present day. Shuttleworth is making changes. Both Ars Technica and The Register have details about the layoffs. It sounds like Shuttleworth will focus on profit-generating products and services. That approach could attract third-party investors to the company.

Admittedly, I’ve largely moved on from my day-to-day Ubuntu obsession. It’s good to see that Shuttleworth hasn’t.

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