Profitability has always been Canonical's goal. However, with Lucid, Canonical appears to be pushing harder to reach that long-term goal.
One sign of this renewed commitment may be the new default desktop theme. Instead of the brown and orange Human theme of previous Ubuntu releases, Lucid sports a theme of purple and orange called Ambiance. Or, as described on the Ubuntu branding wiki, the theme has changed from "man" to "light."
Ubuntu Lucid Lynxs Desktop Theme
What makes Ambiance seem part of an effort to make Ubuntu more commercial is the pseudo-poetic explanation given for the change:
We're drawn to Light because it denotes both warmth and clarity, and intrigued by the idea that "light" is a good value in software. Good software is "light" in the sense that it uses your resources efficiently, runs quickly, and can easily be reshaped as needed. Ubuntu represents a break with the bloatware of proprietary operating systems and an opportunity to delight to those who use computers for work and play. More and more of our communications are powered by light, and in future, our processing power will depend on our ability to work with light, too.
So far as this explanation has any meaning, it suggests a change for marketing reasons -- an impression strengthened by the fact that it was also accompanied by relatively minor changes in Ubuntu logos. The theme change is an exercise in branding, intended to make Ubuntu more appealing from boot-up -- although some aspects of the theme, such as the placement of the title bar buttons on the left, are proving controversial among existing users.
But perhaps the greatest indication of the renewed emphasis on profitability is the effort to surround the basic distribution with possible revenue sources for Canonical. For several releases now, Ubuntu has included a Partners repositories that includes proprietary software. More recently, the Ubuntu desktop has added links to Ubuntu One, an online storage service that includes a free two gigabytes of space, but also sells additional storage.
Now, in Lucid, these services are joined by a change in the default search engine from Google to Yahoo! because of "revenue sharing deal with Yahoo!" according to Rick Spencer, a Canonical Engineering Manager.
In addition, an Ubuntu One MusicStore is planned. A link in the Rhythmbox music player already exists in the Lucid beta. Significantly, the link requires the proprietary MP3 codex rather than a free format like Ogg Vorbis -- an indication (if one is needed) that the main motivation is profit rather than usability or software freedom.
Usability, adaptability, commercialization -- few releases of any distribution can be summarized so tidily as Ubuntu's Lucid Lynx does. With Lucid, the goals that Ubuntu has been discussing for several years seem suddenly to have been accelerated.
Such well-defined goals alone would make Lucid an ambitious release. However, when you add them to the fact that, in order to achive them, Canonical and Ubuntu are also rushing to obtain them faster than upstream projects like GNOME can absorb all the changes, they appear risky as well.
In focusing on their own goals, Canonical and Ubuntu risk the mistrust of the rest of the free software world, opening themselves to charges of exploiting the community for their own narrow commercial purposes. In fact, already, subdued grumblings are audible here and there on the Ubuntu mail forums.
Another reason to watch Lucid and later releases is that Ubuntu is deliberately going counter to the conventional wisdom that has existed for over a decade that companies cannot make a profit from the desktop. With its growing ecosystem of possible revenue-generating tools around Ubuntu, Canonical clearly thinks otherwise, but the likelihood of user backlash seems strong. Too many free and open source software users remain suspicious of commercialization, and none are used to seeing it on their desktop.
Most likely, it will be another four or six releases before the wisdom or rashness of Canonical's directions becomes clear. However, what makes Lucid a landmark is the clarity with which its design decisions reveal exactly what Ubuntu is attempting and what is at stake. Lucid and successive releases will either overturn the conventional wisdom, or else strongly reinforce it..
ALSO SEE: Open Source Downloads: the Monster List