On Monday, Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, U.K-based Canonical, rolled out an enhanced desktop and laptop platform with new goodies such as better wireless networking and multimedia support plus a server with built-in virtualization.
Ubuntu 7.04 will be available on April 19 to customers and partners, said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, who noted that the company's highly acclaimed desktop and server with virtualization based on KVM open-source code will appeal to business customers, system builders and solution providers.
"We're on track for greater adoption in the data center, " Shuttleworth said, acknowledging that Canonical is behind established commercial players in the U.S. market yet offers a compelling advantage over its Linux rivals, such as such as Novell and Red Hat.
Shuttleworth, a rising star in the Linux world who built his fame in emerging markets, said Ubuntu offers a different economic model than its Linux rivals: a single, fully featured code base that's free for end users, hobbyists, partners, and business and enterprise users.
There's no separate enterprise edition for paying customers, no unsupported community edition for nonpaying customers, and no per-server charge for the software, he said.
Canonical and its partners make money purely by selling services and support on Ubuntu. And customers can purchase 24x7 support for any number of computers, from one to 1,000 servers or desktops, Shuttleworth added.
There are other Linux alternatives such as Mandriva and Gentoo that have attracted some attention in the commercial space. Still, Ubuntu, a derivative of Debian, is quietly gaining ground and developer support in the grassroots U.S community, one open-source consultant maintains.
"Ubuntu is probably already the No. 3 player in the U.S. marketplace, even though it may not yet show up in numbers. I hear about Ubuntu regularly," said Chris Maresca, a founding partner at Olliance Group, Palo Alto, Calif. "The real question is not if they can be No. 3. It's whether they can take over No. 2 [spot] from Novell."
Canonical's professional services arm provides customization and private-label services for customers.
Still, the Linux company operates ISV, IHV, system builder and solution provider programs and is interested in growing its channel globally, Shuttlesworth said. He will not position Ubuntu to be sold as a low-cost Linux distribution at Wal-Mart or Best Buy.
"We won't try to disintermediate the channel," Shuttleworth said. "We partner on training and prefer on-site customer stuff to be handled by a local system integrator."
To date, the company has about 65 solution providers and system builder partners in the United States. They include EatonAssociates, San Francisco; CPE, Houston; OpenSourcery, Portland, Ore; Torchlight Technologies, San Antonio, Texas; eRacks Open Source Systems, Orange, Calif.; Integrium Technologies, Chandler, Ariz; Open Sense Solutions, Green Bay, Wisc.; Ruffdogs, Fort Collins, Colo; Seascape, Albuquerque, N.M.; System 76, Denver; and Technalign, Delta, Colo.
John Eaton, president of EatonAssociates, said Ubuntu has a viable chance in the U.S. market.
"In short, it is free, and they have done a nice job bundling the different components together, which makes it easier to deploy relative to Red Hat or SUSE," Eaton said. "For now, at least, it looks like a winner."
Ubuntu has thousands of customers in emerging markets but is just beginning its delicate push into the U.S. and European markets and channels, according to Shuttleworth.
"We're pleased so far but we recognize it's the early days and we have a ways to go to get into the enterprise realm," he said.
He would not comment on rumors that Canonical is in talks with Dell. He said the company sells roughly 50,000 pre-installed units in emerging markets, but he is not expecting miracles in the U.S. and European markets, where Microsoft Windows has a stronghold on the OEM business.
"It's hard to make a case for HP, Dell or Lenovo in European or U.S. markets," Shuttleworth said. "None of those organziations are preinstalling Linux and, at this stage, it's very tricky. The cost of getting it wrong is very high."