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This chapter is from the book

Sustaining the Vision: 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.

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 as employees of 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 well 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 like as good a place as any for the company to hang its sign.

In early 2010, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s first CEO, stepped down, and longtime Chief Operating Officer, Jane Silber, became the new CEO. Shuttleworth retains his position as the head of the Ubuntu Community Council and Ubuntu Technical boards. He focuses his energy on product design and working with enterprise customers and partners, and leaves the day-to-day running of Canonical to Silber. Silber has been with Canonical since before the first release, and the company is expected to continue expanding and operating on its current path.

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 of other projects such as Bazaar and Launchpad, which are discussed a bit later in this chapter.

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 and desktops 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 keep servers up that support development and distribution of Ubuntu. 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 payper-instance. By offering commercial support for Ubuntu in a variety of ways, Canonical has made a business for itself and helps 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.

Bazaar and Launchpad

In addition to support and development on Ubuntu, Canonical, Ltd. funds the development of Bazaar, a distributed version control tool, and the Launchpad project. Bazaar is a tool for developing software that is used heavily in Ubuntu and plays an important role in the technical processes through which Ubuntu is forged. However, the software, which is similar in functionality to other version control systems such as CVS, Subversion, or BitKeeper, is useful in a variety of other projects as well. More important, Bazaar acts as the workhorse behind Launchpad.

More than half of Canonical’s technical employees work on the Launchpad project. Launchpad is an ambitious Web-based superstructure application that consists of several highly integrated tools. The software plays a central role in Ubuntu development but is also used for the development of other distributions—especially those based on Ubuntu. Launchpad consists of the following major pieces.

  • Rosetta:
  • A Web-based system for easily translating almost any piece of free software from English into almost any language. Rosetta is named after the Rosetta Stone, which helped linguists finally crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

  • Malone:
  • The bug-tracking system that Ubuntu uses to manage and track bugs. It both tracks bugs across different versions of Ubuntu and allows the Ubuntu community to see the status of that bug in other places, including other distributions and potentially upstream. Malone is a reference to the gangster movie musical Bugsy Malone.

  • Blueprint:
  • The specification writing and tracking software that Ubuntu and a small number of other projects use to track desired features and their status and to help manage and report on release processes.

  • Answers:
  • A simple support tracker built into Launchpad that provides one venue where users can make support requests and the community can help answer them in ways that are documented and connected to the other related functionality in Launchpad.

  • Soyuz:
  • The distribution management part of Launchpad that now controls the processes by which Ubuntu packages are built, tested, and migrated between different parts of the distribution. Soyuz is a reference to the type of Russian rocket that took Mark Shuttleworth to space. The word soyuz, in Russian, means “union.”

  • Code:
  • Code allows Launchpad users to publish Bazaar branches of their code and should they choose, can associate them with projects. Code also allows users to mirror or watch Bazaar branches that are hosted elsewhere and even import Subversion and CVS repositories into Bazaar branches.

Launchpad and its components are discussed in more depth in Chapter 9. The importance of Launchpad in the Ubuntu project cannot be overstated. In addition to handling bugs, translations, and distribution building, Launchpad also handles Web site authentication and codifies team membership in the Ubuntu project. It is the place where all work in Ubuntu is tracked and recorded. Any member of the Ubuntu community and any person who contributes to Ubuntu in almost any way will, in due course, create an account in Launchpad.

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 dayto-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, some companies and individuals found it difficult early on to trust that Canonical would be able to provide support for Ubuntu for the time frames (e.g., three to five years) that it claims it can. The Ubuntu Foundation exists to allay those fears. Time and consistency has also contributed greatly to the confidence of companies and individuals in Ubuntu, and the foundation will remain to ensure that consistency in the future.

If something unexpected 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 that the Foundation can and does engage in is receiving donations on behalf of the Ubuntu project. These donations, and only these donations, are then put into action 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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