Every now and again, technology companies make a deal that everyone likes. That’s the case with Canonical Ltd.’s new partnership with Linspire Inc., whereby the companies will share Linux operating system and software distribution technologies.
With this new relationship, Canonical will be adding Linspire’s newly opened CNR (Click and Run) software distribution system, which includes proprietary drivers and software, to Ubuntu. In return, Linspire is switching the basis of its Linux distributions, Linspire and Freespire, from Debian to Ubuntu.
Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at market researcher Illuminata, said, “Well, it’s a pretty logical hookup. For one (big) thing, they’re philosophically aligned in that neither is an open source purist; they’re both willing to incorporate proprietary drivers and other software where good open source alternatives don’t exist.”
“It’s also the case that, as Linux and Linux distributions mature, proliferation of distros becomes much less interesting. This seems a case of essentially combining a couple of distributions to try and achieve a critical mass of interesting, differentiating features — something that’s increasingly difficult to do,” continued Haff. “I don’t see this becoming another important enterprise distro, but it will help both of these to remain a viable ‘Tier 2′ distribution.”
Ian Murdock, CTO of the newly formed Linux Foundation — and founder of the Debian distribution — also thinks it’s a good move for both companies.
“Linspire’s main product is CNR more than its distro, so it makes perfect sense to maximize CNR’s reach,” he said. “The bundling is significant, particularly given that it solves significant problems for Ubuntu (e.g. it’s previously been difficult to install proprietary codecs, and most mainstream users want video to work). In other words, this isn’t just marketing from Ubuntu’s point of view either.”
“All in all [it's] a great move on both companies’ parts, and good news for Linux on the desktop too,” concluded Murdock.
“I think it’s a very happy development,” said Raymond. “Linux needs to grab market share fast, before the 64-bit transition completes, and we can’t allow non-support for wireless and accelerated graphics to prevent that. This announcement means that Ubuntu will be able to take full advantage of Linspire’s legal access to Windows Media and other codecs.”
“I know [there's a] camp that thinks allowing proprietary codecs into Linux distros will corrupt our vital bodily fluids or something. My view is we need to get majority market share so we can crush the proprietary codecs out of existence. If that requires a temporary compromise, I’m for it.
Steve Cherry, the Linux Foundation‘s Desktop Linux initiative manager, sees the “partnership is a step toward unifying the desktop environment. It has always been fairly easy to use applications that are integrated and delivered within the distributions. The delivery of third-party applications (open or
proprietary) has always been the challenge. The Portland Project, for instance, helps these third-party application developers break into the space of delivering applications across distributions and desktop environments.”
Beyond that, Cherry also thinks that it’s “very encouraging to see desktop distos leveraging each other’s strengths. Ubuntu has an incredible grass roots acceptance on consumer and corporate desktops. Linspire has an incredible third-party software delivery mechanism (which has been planned to support multiple distros anyway). This is a win, win, win situation.”
Besides, “The third win is for the users/consumers,” Cherry continued. “These people will now have an easily installable, easy to use distribution with an easy and legal way to make their desktops true multimedia computers for video editing, photo handling, TV watching, media recording, etc. Users have been willing to pay a little for capabilities that are encumbered with royalties. Now they have a way to do it.”
Raven Zachary, senior analyst and open-source practice head for The 451 Group research company, believes that “In the desktop Linux market, Ubuntu’s success does present competitive challenges for Linspire and other
desktop-focused distributions, especially those that are ‘commercial’ in nature.”
Therefore, “By selecting Ubuntu as its base, Linspire gains the benefits of Ubuntu and can market itself as ‘Ubuntu Plus’, instead of competing directly against it. Linspire has more to gain from this partnership than Canonical does,” Zachary added.
Finally, Jeremy White, the CEO of CodeWeavers, publisher of the popular CrossOver Linux, a program that enables Linux users to run Windows program on their Linux desktops, said, “I have to confess that I’ve clearly been around too long. I’m just now shaking off this sense that this Ubuntu ‘fad’ is just a flash in the pan, like many others before it, and Linux enthusiasts are soon going to be moving on to the next ‘new thing’.”
“But that’s clearly wrong; Ubuntu is clearly the 800 pound gorilla in the Linux desktop space, and I don’t see that momentum slowing much anytime soon,” White said.
“But this is all just good. Ubuntu isn’t winning primarily on the basis of marketing (okay, having a billionaire backer allowing free CDs doesn’t hurt), but the core reason for their success is simple: they write great software. And that can’t help but be good for users,” continued White.
Therefore, while he’s not sure what it means, to White this partnership might “be the beginning of the long promised consolidation” of Linux distributions.
Consolidation or not, one message comes through loud and clear: many Linux experts believe that this is a major step forward, not just for Linspire or Ubuntu, but for desktop Linux.