Canonical and Microsoft: Is Sustaining a Business Better than Turning a Profit Right Now?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 12, 2009

The New York Times ran a piece this Sunday featuring Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth. Though a majority of the piece was biographical, and the rest wasn't exactly the picture of accuracy in its portrayal of Ubuntu (or Linux in general), there were a few interesting figures.

It gives pause to wonder how, in this economy, and in an ever-changing industry, profit still gets much better press than growth.

The Times reports Canonical is approaching the $30 million a year mark in terms of revenue, and Shuttleworth feels that is the point when the company will become self-sustaining.

The Times also says that that $30 million figure won't worry Microsoft. Of course it won't, at least not when it comes to the bottom line, right here, right now. It's mere pocket change. I agree wholeheartedly with Linux Magazine's Bryan Richard that it's the long-term that Microsoft needs to be very, very concerned about.

Richard pulls out one of interesting figures in the article: Microsoft had 10,000 people (the article is unclear whether these were all developers, or administrative and support staff were factored in) working on Vista for a five year period. The Times might be correct in that Canonical's approach makes turning a profit difficult, but huge profits in any given year can mean relatively little five years on. Canonical's self-sustaining revenue may not be threatening -- but it leaves one wondering how sustainable Microsoft's development process really is.

The tech industry is in a difficult spot -- the economy is rough, technology is by nature always changing, and businesses -- and business models -- are organic, evolving forms. Profits are important -- as is innovation, listening to customers, and consistently delivering and standing by a product. It might not come down to open source "winning" the most revenue -- it might be simply that it remains available, and supported when the final buzzer sounds.