Is it just me, or is there a whiff of desperation these days around Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm? By that I mean that Canonical increasingly seems to focused on reaching profitability, and nothing else. The de-emphasis on community, the constant introduction of new services, and the increasing market speak are all in marked contrast to the Canonical of five or even three years ago.
Since Ubuntu is a privately-held company, its financial position is a matter of speculation. In 2009, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth stated that the company was "creeping toward $30 million," the point of profitability, but that was before many of its current services were introduced. Consequently, you won't find many -- if any -- analysts who believe that Canonical is profitable today.
Assuming that's true, then going into its eighth year, Canonical is fast approaching the make or break point. Were Canonical funded by angel investors, they would have become anxious for some sign of approaching profitability several years ago.
As things are, an eight year old company that has yet to announce profitability has a credibility issue. The lack of profits isn't likely to be fatal -- not unless Shuttleworth tires of bankrolling the company -- but it might make Canonical seem like a problematic business partner to other corporations. it could also be personally embarrassing to Canonical's executives, as others question their competence.
Under these circumstances, Canonical is unlikely to be profitable and not mentioning the fact. The pressure, as they say, is on.
When a company develops products or services, it has two major strategies. Either it can develop a single, unique product, or try to enter a number of existing markets.
Each of these strategies has advantages and disadvantages. A single, unique product can be immensely successful, but it can also fail miserably, especially if a rival beats you to market.
By contrast, developing several products is less risky, but can easily mean that you spread yourself too thin. Usually, too, developing several products means entering an existing market and facing the difficulties of convincing distributors not just to carry your offerings, but to promote them as well.
In developing Unity, Canonical might be trying the first strategy. But, if it is, the strategy is probably a long shot. Commercial distributions never make money on the software, and Shuttleworth has said for years that his business model was selling services. At the most, a unique interface like Unity is a selling point to make the services more attractive.
If Canonical has larger plans for some unique money maker, for obvious reasons it has yet to reveal what that might be. Instead, Canonical seems intent on exploring every possible niche, with an interface usable on every hardware platform, a cloud carrier, Ubuntu TV, an Android port, and probably several others that I haven't immediately remembered.
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