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Why the Ubuntu Edge is a success, even if it never exists

Former Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth is not deterred by the prospect of his ambitious Indiegogo campaign failing to meet its goal. In many ways, the project has already succeeded.

A concept video on the Indiegogo page for the Ubuntu Edge shows the device plugged into a computer monitor and running Ubuntu. Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

The Ubuntu Edge, the highly ambitious convergence device that offers both an Android smartphone and Linux desktop experience, may very well fail to meet its record crowdfunding goal of $32 million. But Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu operating system, is not too worried. In many ways, the project has already succeeded by illustrating support on all sides for the next leap in mobile technology.

"Tripling the crowdfunding record is always a super-ambitious goal," Shuttleworth said. "It's also clear that this work is ancillary to the broader mission of bringing Ubuntu to the market."

For the former Canonical CEO -- and now acting vice president of product -- who's overseen and supported the OS's evolution for nearly a decade, the project failing is far from the end of the world. In fact, the stepping stone the Indiegogo campaign is turning into has taught both manufacturers and Ubuntu devotees that a convergence device is on the way in one form or another, and Ubuntu is poised to be the operating system that can bring it to the masses.

With 15 days left to reach its funding goal, the Edge has seen its support slow to a trickle, closing in on $8.3 million Tuesday after raising a promising $3.45 million in 24 hours. Because the goal is set to fixed funding, if it fails to hit the $32 million mark, there won't be an Ubuntu Edge. The goal was set so high because "we didn't want to half do it," Shuttleworth stressed, adding that an even more ambitious amount like $50 million would still be the standard amount of money to bring such a product to the market.

Still, two researchers at statistical computing company Open Analytics have already outlined how unlikely it will be that the device succeeds. But Shuttleworth is transparent about what the campaign is really about.

"People are correctly saying, 'This is not about an Ubuntu phone. This is about changing the innovation dynamic,'" Shuttleworth said.

The Edge's mobile OS would be Android. Canonical

That dynamic is one currently plagued by Wall Street demands and the near-incessant cry for innovation. "The core challenge in the phone industry is that there is a tremendous pressure to innovate, but also tremendous pressure not to make a mistake when you innovate," he said. In Shuttleworth's mind, Indiegogo and Kickstarter can accelerate an ambitious idea for a device that would otherwise take multiple iterations of safe, calculated changes.

"I think you should never be afraid to break new ground. You should never be afriad of what you might learn on the way," he added.

Shuttleworth stresses that he's not giving up hope that the project will be green-lighted. "There is some substantial behind-the-scenes industry dialogue and quite a few key players who are excited about what the Edge could represent," he said. "You never know what might pop up in terms of additional perks, angles, supporters." Shuttleworth also noted that the incremental pricing increases, which raised the baseline funding pledge for securing an Edge device from $600 to $775, could also see a significant shift that may affect the project's ability to hit the mark.

In the event the Edge does fail, Shuttleworth and the Canonical team will still have plenty of work. "To have a great platform for that convergence when the time comes, that's what keeps us very busy," he said. "It may be that we have essentially created a small community with the Edge campaign."

The community is what's important because the show of support -- especially in a no-risk situation like Indiegogo that represents a very pure form of consumer demand -- is showing the team what's possible, both with crowdfunding and with the potential for convergence. Shuttleworth recognizes that, and wants the community he's created to be a part of what he sees as the next big mobile jump.

"Whether or not we green-light the device, the people that have backed the project, we should give them a voice."