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This chapter is from the book

Canonical and the Ubuntu Foundation

While Ubuntu is driven by a community, several groups play an important role in its structure and organization. Foremost among these are Canonical, Ltd., a for-profit company introduced as part of the Ubuntu history description, and the Ubuntu Foundation, which is introduced later in this section.

Canonical, Ltd.

As mentioned earlier, Canonical, Ltd., is a company founded by Mark Shuttleworth with the primary goal of developing and supporting the Ubuntu distribution. Many of the core developers on Ubuntu—although no longer a majority of them—work full-time or part-time under contract for Canonical, Ltd. This funding by Canonical allows Ubuntu to make the type of support commitments that it does. Ubuntu can claim that it will release in six months because releasing, in one form or another, is something that the paid workers at Canonical can ensure. As an all-volunteer organization, Debian suffered from an inability to set and meet deadlines—volunteers become busy or have other deadlines in their paying jobs that take precedence. By offering paying jobs to a subset of developers, Canonical can set support and release deadlines and ensure that they are met.

In this way, Canonical ensures that Ubuntu’s bottom-line commitments are kept. Of course, Canonical does not fund all Ubuntu work, nor could it. Canonical can release a distribution every six months, but that distribution will be made much better and more usable through contributions from the community of users. Most features, most new pieces of software, almost all translations, almost all documentation, and much more are created outside of Canonical. Instead, Canonical ensures that deadlines are met and that the essential work, regardless of whether it’s fun, gets done.

Canonical, Ltd., was incorporated on the Isle of Man—a tiny island nation between Wales and Ireland that is mostly known as a haven for international businesses. Since Canonical’s staff is sprinkled across the globe and no proper office is necessary, the Isle of Man seemed as good a place as any for the company to hang its sign.

Canonical’s Service and Support

While it is surprising to many users, fewer than half of Canonical’s employees work on the Ubuntu project. The rest of the employees fall into several categories: business development, support and administration, and development on the Bazaar and Launchpad projects.

Individuals involved in business development help create strategic deals and certification programs with other companies—primarily around Ubuntu. In large part, these are things that the community is either ill suited for or uninterested in as a whole. One example of business development work is the process of working with companies to ensure that their software (usually proprietary) is built and certified to run on Ubuntu. For example, Canonical worked with IBM to ensure that its popular DB2 database would run on Ubuntu and, when this was achieved, worked to have Ubuntu certified as a platform that would run DB2. Similarly, Canonical worked with Dell to ensure that Ubuntu could be installed and supported on Dell laptops as an option for its customers. A third example is the production of this book, which, published by Pearson Education’s Prentice Hall imprint, was a product of work with Canonical.

Canonical also plays an important support role in the Ubuntu project in three ways. First, Canonical supports the development of the Ubuntu project. For example, Canonical system administrators ensure that the servers that support development and distribution of Ubuntu are running. Second, Canonical helps Ubuntu users and businesses directly by offering phone and e-mail support. Additionally, Canonical has helped build a large commercial Ubuntu support operation by arranging for support contracts with larger companies and organizations. This support is over and above the free (i.e., gratis) support offered by the community—this commercial support is offered at a fee and is either part of a longer-term flat-fee support contract or is pay-per-instance. By offering commercial support for Ubuntu in a variety of ways, Canonical aims to make a business for itself and to help make Ubuntu a more palatable option for the businesses, large and small, that are looking for an enterprise or enterprise-class GNU/Linux product with support contracts like those offered by other commercial GNU/Linux distributions.

Finally, Ubuntu supports other support organizations. Canonical does not seek or try to enforce a monopoly on Ubuntu support; it proudly lists hundreds of other organizations offering support for Ubuntu on the Ubuntu Web pages. Instead, Canonical offers what is called second-tier support to these organizations. Because Canonical employs many of the core Ubuntu developers, the company is very well suited to taking action on many of the tougher problems that these support organizations may run into. With its concentrated expertise, Canonical can offer this type of backup, or secondary, support to these organizations.

The Ubuntu Foundation

Finally, in addition to Canonical and the full Ubuntu community, the Ubuntu project is supported by the Ubuntu Foundation, which was announced by Shuttleworth with an initial funding commitment of $10 million. The foundation, like Canonical, is based on the Isle of Man. The organization is advised by the Ubuntu Community Council.

Unlike Canonical, the foundation does not play an active role in the day-to-day life of Ubuntu. At the moment, the foundation is little more than a pile of money that exists to endow and ensure Ubuntu’s future. Because Canonical is a young company, many companies and individuals find it difficult to trust that Canonical will be able to provide support for Ubuntu in the time frames (e.g., three to five years) that it claims it will be able to. The Ubuntu Foundation exists to allay those fears.

If something bad were to happen to Shuttleworth or to Canonical that caused either to be unable to support Ubuntu development and maintain the distribution, the Ubuntu Foundation exists to carry on many of Canonical’s core activities well into the future. Through the existence of the foundation, the Ubuntu project can make the types of long-term commitments and promises it does.

The one activity in which the foundation can and does engage is receiving donations on behalf of the Ubuntu project. These donations, and only these donations, are then put to use on behalf of Ubuntu in accordance with the wishes of the development team and the Technical Board. For the most part, these contributions are spent on “bounties” given to community members who have achieved important feature goals for the Ubuntu project.

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