Are Ubuntu Users Getting the Best of Both Worlds?

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 05, 2008

For a community distribution, Ubuntu sure knows how to preen itself to look good for the business world. Canonical hasn't exactly kept its plans to get on IT managers' radar a secret, but the number of enterprise-ready applications for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS that are slowly becoming available in the Ubuntu Partner repository is getting hard to ignore.

Lots of familiar projects are partnering with Canonical to give presentations this week at LinuxWorld Expo. Zmanda is talking about open source backup for Ubuntu, LikeWise Software is offering tips on cost-effective ways to achieve secure integration of Ubuntu and MS Active Directory, and Zimbra is exploring next generation messaging on Ubuntu.

See the common denominator there? It's Ubuntu, the same linux distribution my next-door neighbor -- who is not a small business owner -- uses.

As Sam Dean noted Alfresco, the popular open source content management system (CMS), announced today it will offer Alfresco Labs 3 pre-packaged within Ubuntu. It's available for download via the distro's Package Manager. In a prepared statement from Alfresco Software, Martin Musierowicz, VP Alliances, says the move is motivated by Ubuntu's continued growth and "the backing of a professional organization such as Canonical."

In similar news, IBM's Lotus Symphony suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and database apps is now available through the Ubuntu Add / Remove Software tool. Though many businesses choose as an alternative to Microsoft Office, Canonical's ISV manager, Malcolm Yates, says, "with IBM’s extra developments, they are positioning Symphony towards the existing Lotus user base who are looking for a low cost alternative to the incessant upgrade cycle." Lotus Notes is expected to be available through the repository soon.

While the inclusion of enterprise-level apps in what many consider a community distribution is interesting news by itself, the bigger picture is far more fascinating. While companies like Red Hat and Novell are dividing labor and creating separate distros that cater to two markets -- personal and business -- Canonical is pooling all its talent into strengthening a single offering.

Through its Ubuntu Partner program, Canonical is helping shepherd some very useful projects into the hands of users who might not otherwise think (or want) to experiment with them. After all, it's easy to play with the Zimbra desktop -- and dump it if you don't like it -- when it's only a few clicks away and you know it won't be necessary to shoehorn it onto your flavor of Linux.

I can't help but wonder what other open source enterprise projects are languishing in relative obscurity because they don't have a community distro to link up with. Sure, companies like Novell and Red Hat routinely make enterprise-level apps available for the commercial versions of their product, but would some of those projects be just as attractive to community users?

On the one hand, I understand the drive to create a distro "for the people, by the people." A community-driven project created by its users is likely to be of more value to in the long-run to its actual users. Hobbyists won't have the time or inclination to wrestle an enterprise-level CMS into a distro they plan to use on their home computer. On the other hand, if the vendor is willing to do most of the heavy lifting involved in making sure the product will work with a given distro, partner repositories like Ubuntu's seem like good sense.

Of course, this doesn't even begin to address the question of whether the development of a Linux distribution is better served by a single, driven focus like Canonical's Ubuntu team. Or is a division of labor, like the development teams at openSUSE and Fedora, more beneficial in the long run? That's another topic altogether.

What do you think? Would you like to see more partner repositories for other distributions?