Canonical, the company that supports Ubuntu Linux, is trying to work out a deal with hardware vendors such as Dell to make Ubuntu available preinstalled on servers.
So far, Canonical has struck deals with small, white-label hardware vendors to ship Ubuntu Server Edition, said Gerry Carr, marketing manager. Another one of those deals is pending, although Carr did not name the manufacturer.
But Canonical is in discussions with "multinational" hardware vendors for a big server deal, which could boost its standing in the enterprise market among Linux giants Red Hat and Novell.
"We haven't got the same deal as we have with Dell on desktop," Carr said. "My personal belief is that it [a deal] will happen reasonably soon."
Canonical, despite obviously supporting such a deal, had little to do with Dell's decision. Dell said it was merited by customer demand. Likewise, the decision of whether Ubuntu Server will ship preinstalled will be determined the same way.
Hardware vendors are "not going to take our word for it," Carr said. Those vendors need to see "a level of demand that allows them to take risks. We're seeing more demand from the MNCs multinational corporations and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers)."
It's been hard to tell how popular the Ubuntu desktop has been for Dell, which started selling the OS in May on two desktop PCs and the Inspiron E1505n notebook. Asked how well those PCs have sold, Canonical referred the questions to Dell. A Dell spokeswoman said the figures are confidential.
But enlargement of its enterprise support business could bring more contracts to Canonical, which is not yet profitable but does not release revenue figures. Canonical's business revolves around securing support contracts for companies using the OSes, since the software is free to download and use.
The company estimates it has a minimum of six million active users and perhaps as many as 12 million, figures that are based on how many IP (Internet Protocol) addresses poll its Web site for updates, Carr said.
Founded in 2004 by space tourist and entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, the private company employs about 120 people worldwide and is constantly hiring engineers. "We're comfortable with where we are," Carr said.
Gaps remain in Ubuntu server's functionality compared to competing products, but the server is still in its early days, Carr said. The company wants to broaden its relationship with application vendors to certify their programs to run on Ubuntu.
IBM's DB2 database software was certified on Ubuntu in 2005. Canonical was close to an interoperability deal with Oracle, but it fizzled out, with Oracle opting to support its own Linux distribution. Canonical thinks Oracle will eventually open up.
"We're still looking to work with Oracle," Carr said. "I don't think they are going to want to corner themselves."
The Ubuntu server appeals to developers who have a philosophical interest in open-source technology and who are working with other open-source consumer applications such as wikis and blogs, Carr said.
Canonical will shortly release Ubuntu's next version, code-named "Gutsy Gibbon," which includes graphics and presentation improvements, a desktop search feature and AppArmor, a security program released by Novell under the GNU General Public License for managing the capabilities of applications.