Ubuntu vendor plans upgrade, corporate push

Ubuntu Linux has gained more than 2 million users worldwide since its release in October 2004, according to Canonical Ltd., a small vendor on the Isle of Man that oversees the software. Most are home users. But at the Desktop Linux Summit 2006, Jane Silber, Canonical's chief operating officer, spoke with Computerworld about the company's efforts to increase Ubuntu's corporate appeal.

How is Ubuntu faring among business users?

One of the reasons we delayed the release of Ubuntu 6.06 by six weeks, until June, was because we plan to support it for three years on the desktop and five years on the server. And that decision was driven by requests from businesses. Both the PC vendors and business users wanted a longer support cycle.

We see interest growing. Our biggest customer is the Andalusian regional government in Spain. That's hundreds of thousands of desktops. We have some deals with banks and retailers that I can't disclose right now.

Did you decide to develop what you're describing as the first enterprise-ready version of Ubuntu because Microsoft is preparing to release Windows Vista?

In theory, it's important. When people are thinking about whether to upgrade to Vista or choose an alternative, we want to be out there. It really is a decision point for users. But I can't take credit that we had this all planned out. It's really because the technology was ready.

Is your business model similar to the ones at mainstream open-source vendors, such as Red Hat?

In a sense, but not completely. We believe software should be free to anyone. If you want to buy a support contract, it is there for you. [But] there is no premium version [of Ubuntu] that costs money.

We're also happy for you to get support from someone besides us. We list companies on our site that provide that -- we're up to 200 around the world. Some customers buy support just from [another] firm, others buy it with escalation support from Canonical. That way, a local company will provide front-line support. But for really hard problems, they can escalate trouble tickets back up to us.

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