Recently the Ubuntu newswires have been buzzing with the news that we have won our first smartphone partner.
Now, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way – I am not telling you who it is. It is not my place here to share confidential details about business-to-business relationships such as this. Rest assured though, I know the folks working on these relationships and there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for Ubuntu in these discussions; OEMs, carriers, ISVs and more are very interested in exploring Ubuntu for future products.
This is…spoiler alert…fantastic news.
But what does this news really mean for Ubuntu, and to what extent do our community play a part? Let’s dig into this a little bit.
I joined Ubuntu because I want to help an effort to bring technological elegance and freedom to people. Both of these are essential; elegant proprietary software and complex Free Software are both limited in the opportunities they bring to people and who can harness them. A good balance of both is what we strive to achieve in Ubuntu.
For many years Ubuntu has been available to download and install on your computer. Today you can download Ubuntu for your desktop computer, phone, tablet, and you can deploy it to your public or private cloud.
While this provides a reliable distribution point for those in the know, it remains an unknown service for those not in the know. Put simply: most normal people don’t do this. People like you and me, who read nerdy blogs like mine, often do this.
Now, we often talk about how we have around 20million Ubuntu users. To be fair, this will always be something of an informed estimation (made up from sales, downloads etc). As an example, if one person downloads Ubuntu they may install it on one computer. Alternatively, they could do the kind of work that Project Community Computers and Partimus do and use that download to install Ubuntu on hundreds of computers that potentially thousands of people will use. Again, put simply, it is difficult to get a firm idea of current numbers of users.
Irrespective though, whatever figure we have…such as 20million…this number is fundamentally defined by our available distribution mechanisms. The formula here is simple: if we increase the opportunity for Ubuntu to be distributed, we get more users…
…and this is where the chain reaction begins.
Wrong chain reaction.
If we have more users, we get more ISVs such as Adobe, Autodesk, Zynga, Rovio and others who want to use Ubuntu as a channel. If we get more apps from ISVs we get more interest from OEMs, carriers, and others. If we get more OEMs and carriers, we get more enterprise, creative-industry, and educational deployments. If we get more deployments we see more businesses selling support, services, training, people writing books, seminars, and other areas of focus. This effectively creates an eco-system around Ubuntu which in turn lowers the bar enough that any consumer can use and try it…thus putting Free Software in the hands of the masses.
Put simply once more: if we make Ubuntu commercially successful, it will put Free Software in the hands of more people.
Now, on the desktop side of things we have Ubuntu pre-installed on four of the largest OEMs on the planet, and while industry-wide annual PC shipments are dropping more and more each year, fortunately, we have positioned ourselves in a sweet spot. We can continue to fulfill our position as the third most popular Operating System for desktop/laptop computers, while providing a simple on-ramp to bring Ubuntu to these other devices as part of our wider convergence story.
As such, our first commercial smartphone partner is where we light the touch-paper that starts that chain reaction. This is good for Ubuntu, consumers, app developers, small businesses selling services, and for other OEMs/carriers who are exploring Ubuntu. All of this is good for Free Software.
So where does the community fit into this? Surely all of this work is going to be the domain of paid Canonical engineers delivering whatever the secret smartphone partner wants?
Recent Canonical sprint at the Marriott City Center, Oakland
Not at all.
Delivering a shippable device has many different technology components: hardware enablement, display server (Mir), shell (Unity 8), developer platform and SDK, core applications that ship with the device, quality assurance, language packs, third-party scopes and services, and more.
This is just what sits on the device. Outside of it we also need effective governance, event planning, local user group advocacy and campaigns, app developer growth and support, general documentation and support, web and communications services, accessibility, and more.
Every one of these areas (with the probable exception of specifically working with customers around enabling their specific device) welcomes and needs our community to help. Some of these areas are better set up collaboratively with our community than others…but not working collaboratively with our community is a bug, not a feature.
Believe me when I say there is no shortage of things for us to do. We have a long but exciting road ahead of us, and I am looking at my team to help support our community in finding something fun, rewarding, and productive to work on. There are few things in life more satisfying than putting your brick in the wall as part of a global effort to bring technological change to people. I hope you are joining us for the ride.
If you want to help and get stuck, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to help get you started.