The riches of Linux point to the server. Whither Ubuntu?

Red Hat is focused on the server. Ubuntu worries about the desktop. Is Ubuntu wrong?

An Ovum market research report suggests that those looking to get rich off Linux had best focus on the server. The market for Linux products and services (not including hardware) came in at $2.4 billion in 2007, according to the firm, but should hit $7.7 billion by 2012.

That's a nice bump, 81 percent of which will be services, with a corresponding 81 percent stemming from the server, not desktop. (Mobile/embedded was not included in the report.)

It does call into question, however, whether Canonical/Ubuntu's focus on the desktop is misplaced, at least from a financial perspective. Is Red Hat right to single out the server for its plans?

Of course, Mark Shuttleworth and the Ubuntu crew are not mute followers of analyst numbers. Analysts are. Analysts try to follow the market, not lead it. We could therefore discover, come 2012, that Ovum was 100 percent wrong in its projections because it didn't take into adequate consideration Ubuntu's imprint on the desktop market.

I doubt that Ovum will be off by that much, but if my own recent experiment with Ubuntu on the desktop is any indicator, the only thing restraining Linux's desktop growth is antiquated notions of what one "needs" on the desktop. For 99.99999 percent of the world, Ubuntu Linux (and likely SUSE and Fedora, though I didn't evaluate these) is already ready for prime time.

As more of our computing experience moves to services run on the Internet, the need for a truly "fat" Windows experience will dissipate. The only thing to hold back Linux desktop adoption at that point will be politics. We shouldn't underestimate the power of politics , of course, but perhaps Microsoft's attempts to shackle customers will finally backfire.

Tech Culture
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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