Is Ubuntu Edge a Big Gamble for Canonical?: Page 2

Is the new limited edition phone cutting-edge or over the edge?
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However, considering that Canonical has gone nine years without turning a profit, perhaps Shuttleworth and other investors are unwilling to sink more money in further development, and investment or loans are out of the question because Canonical does not seem like a sound investment.

If so, then Ubuntu Edge is not just an end in itself, but a calculated gamble at a time when Canonical is running out of options, motivated by the same urgency that is behind the conversion of the dash into a sales mechanism for Canonical's partners, but less blatant.

A Gesture to the Community

By definition, crowdsourcing is an appeal to the community. For most FOSS projects, it's a natural fit, but less so for Ubuntu than most.

To say the least, Ubuntu's relationships with other FOSS projects has varied over the years. In Ubuntu's earliest days, it seemed content to be a project among projects, its focus on improving the desktop.

However, within a few years of its founding, Ubuntu showed signs of wanting to assume a leadership role, with Shuttleworth calling for coordinated release schedules and trying to push the pace of development.

When these efforts to assume leadership failed, Ubuntu and Canonical became more inward looking, developing their own desktop interface and starting their own projects rather than contributing to existing ones.

In recent years, strategic planning has been done increasingly by Canonical employees, causing conflict among the community-oriented Ubuntu volunteers, often over minor details that seemed to symbolize much larger issues. Shuttleworth has responded to complaints by dismissing complainers as elitists who don't want a version of Linux that anyone can use.

The extent to which these conflicts divided Ubuntu is uncertain. The most that can be said is the community includes extremely vocal members. However, when you consider this history, Ubuntu Edge's appeal to the community seems ironic, to say the least. It might even be seen as contemptuous, as if he is assuming that past differences have been forgotten, and the rebellious will now fall into line in order to help make Canonical and Ubuntu a success.

Whether complainers have been in the majority or simply the most vocal members of the community is impossible to determine with any accuracy. To all appearances, Shuttleworth appears to think that he continues to enjoy widespread support, or that technophiles will forgive for the sake of getting their hands on the next great innovations.

Judging from the first day, he could be right. However, those with long memories may suspect that Ubuntu Edge is another example of Shuttleworth attempting to assume a leadership role without being asked.

In much the same way, advocates of crowdsourcing may turn indignant at the idea that a commercial interest should attempt to reach its goals through a crowdsourcing site.

True, nothing in Indiegogo's terms of services prohibits a project like Ubuntu Edge—unlike KickStarter, Indiegogo is "available to anyone, anywhere, to raise money for anything." Yet as the blogged complaints about the Veronica Mars fundraiser shows, a widespread idea exists that crowdfunding should be for those who have no other way to fund a project, not for corporations.

For all Ubuntu Edge's cleverness, a backlash from both these perspectives seems likely. However, whether the backlash or the support is greater can only be guessed—not that Shuttleworth is likely to care about the backlash if the project succeeds.

Everything on a Single Throw

On the surface, Ubuntu Edge is the announcement of a new project. Yet its scope and its potential influence over Ubuntu's and Canonical's futures makes it far more.

Given its ambition, Ubuntu Edge's degree of success may become a referendum on Ubuntu itself. The project may determine whether Ubuntu becomes a player in the phone market that is at least critically respected, or a wannabe. Its success may determine whether the Ubuntu Touch line is a success and whether or not Canonical emerges as a leader.

Within the community, Ubuntu Edge's success could give Shuttleworth proof that he actually does enjoy majority support within Ubuntu. Success might even win back much of the respect that Ubuntu seems to have lost in the last couple of years.

It's going to be an interesting month as Ubuntu Edge raises funds, and an even more interesting year while we wait to see if it delivers as promised. Ubuntu Edge shows every signs of being one of those moves that is remembered as brilliant if it can be pulled off and as foolhardy if it fails.

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Tags: open source, Android, smartphone, FOSS, Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu Edge

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