Is Canonical overly paternalistic with Ubuntu?

It's time for Mark Shuttleworth to cut the apron strings to Ubuntu, making it pay for itself.

On Monday, I noted that Ubuntu's revenue is rising significantly , and that this success is beginning to cut into Microsoft's OEM licensing business.

Tuesday there is a chorus of voices calling out that Canonical is not cash-flow positive, with CNET reporting that profits are years away .

Is this cause of optimism or concern?

On the positive side, CEO Mark Shuttleworth is able to run Canonical toward mass adoption, not mass monetization. This means he can avoid trade-offs that might help the Canonical business but hurt the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

On the negative side, it is profit and the thirst for it that tends to separate great companies from paltry ones. Yes, the quest for revenue and profit can turn good companies into shady ones--witness Microsoft's unlawful exercise of monopoly power for many years--but on balance the quest for profitability and self-sustainability tends to force companies to be pragmatic and build to suit near-term needs, not long-term aspirations.

I personally believe Canonical would be the better for taking a hard-headed approach to the business side of Ubuntu, and the sooner the better. Shuttleworth, of course, has this in mind with his push for cloud services to generate revenue around Ubuntu, rather than directly from Ubuntu .

But he needs to hurry before his organization grows lazy in the expectation that "Mark will provide." Canonical should start funding itself, rather than relying on Shuttleworth. It will be a better organization as it seeks self-sufficiency. Talking to Shuttleworth, it's clear that he can handle the business aspect of Canonical in spades. He just needs to start doing so.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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