Analysis: Ubuntu's 'Open for Business' Sign To Developers


Canonical has now sounded the whistle for developers to walk through its doors and begin to more easily write applications for its Ubuntu Software Centre, by officially launching a portal – developer.ubuntu.com.

The effort is taking up the “app store” model launched by Apple and followed on by the Android community.

While the Ubuntu desktop distro has always had an uphill battle for market share against Windows and Mac OS X, the developer portal to the Ubuntu app store shows the community’s leadership gets it. Third-party developers are the key to strengthening platform, and both developer.ubuntu.com as well as the app store are “Open for Business” signs.

Ubuntu App Developer, the name of the new portal, will serve as a gateway to software developers seeking to provide either free or paid apps to the market for the Linux-based operating system.

The process for posting apps to the Ubuntu Software Centre includes free registration, installation of the development tools -- particularly Python wrapper for the GTK graphical user interface library (PyGTK) -- a quick tutorial, code-writing and publishing.

Well, it’s not exactly that simple, but only because writing code isn’t that simple. But Canonical has clearly created a streamlined process that it believes will provide a low-touch way for Ubuntu developers to begin selling software. It provides both a quicker way to write and publish software applications than Apple or the Android community provide, as well as an app store built right into the desktop OS from which programs are distributed (the Ubuntu Software Centre.)

As far as the Ubuntu Software Centre, this feature in its current iteration showed up in more recent versions of Ubuntu desktop, and much work has been done regarding ease-of-use for the upcoming Ubuntu 11.10 release now in beta. Developers have appeared to make this just appear to be a very natural and instinctive part of the Ubuntu OS.

Creating a developer portal and a streamlined way to sell applications for developers is really a no-brainer for Canonical, as it clearly needs to keep pace with its rivals in the desktop OS space, Apple and Microsoft. There, Apple has App Stores not just for its mobile devices but also for its Mac OS X platform. Microsoft has an app store for its Windows Phone 7 platform, and the developer version of Microsoft Windows 8 has a “placeholder” for a Windows App Store that is not yet functional.

An app store will keep Ubuntu in the game for desktop OS eyeballs, even as Canonical leaders maintain a goal of worldwide distribution onto 300 million desktops. It will also provide a more direct route for talented developers to create amazing software to run on Ubuntu -- easing a longstanding problem for the Linux community of how to drive more, great desktop applications for the platform.

And as much as anything, Canonical’s move signals near universality that one-off (and sometimes group-purchased) client software has moved almost exclusively to an app-store model. It will be what developers expect as they organize their business plans. And as they develop those plans, Ubuntu will not be excluded by default.