Why Ubuntu's Donation Model is Brilliant

Ubuntu’s request for user donations could use some tweaks, yet it’s a system worth supporting.
Posted October 16, 2012

Matt Hartley

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I believe most people are quite content using something for free, especially if they think there's no obligation to pay for it.

This certainly rings true when it comes to various Linux distributions. The mindset appears to be: if it's open source, there is no need to worry about sustaining it financially.

For some open source projects, perhaps there is a pass to be given here. After all, many projects in the open source space are merely done as student projects or created by hobbyists.

However there are also a number of larger projects, which do indeed need to become "revenue positive" in order for development to continue. One such project needing to be revenue positive is the Ubuntu project.

For years, the primary focus has been to get Ubuntu ready for the masses. And while non-Ubuntu users will likely debate this point, the fact is that Ubuntu is the face of Linux on the desktop these days.

Whether you hate or love it, this is our reality as Linux users. And the face of Linux is seeking to buildup a sustainable revenue model.

Revenue efforts thus far

As you may remember from a previous article I wrote, Ubuntu has experienced some interesting results from their recent adventures with Amazon affiliate links. Considering the mixed success they've seen in public reaction to this new shopping lens, it was pretty clear that an additional source of revenue was in order.

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Today we find Ubuntu presenting a download page that solicits a donation in exchange for access to Ubuntu ISO images. While it's certainly not mandatory that someone decide to donate to download Ubuntu, clearly the Ubuntu development team is actively seeking direct revenue here.

The recent efforts with Amazon have had and will likely continue to have mixed results. The latest donation page launched by Canonical, however, is brilliant. Allow me to list the reasons why I feel this way, in no particular order.

Reason 1 – Donating to the Ubuntu project is a reasonable request. Considering the vast amount of value that the end user receives from Ubuntu, or any distribution for that matter, asking regular users to spend a few dollars in support of the project is the least that can be done.

Reason 2 – The donation page put together by Canonical for Ubuntu is laid out so that the page visitor feels like they have a say as to where their donation funds go. For example, the page visitor can use the provided slider to set the dollar amount desired. Even better, each slider allows the end user to select how much money goes to which part of the project. What better way to make your voice heard by Canonical!

Reason 3 – Even if you decide not to donate, the following page presents you with additional options such as cloud storage, Ubuntu help, and their free help solutions as well. So no matter how you look at this, Canonical has structured this page to present you with as many up-sells as possible. And they have managed to do so without being annoying.

Now as great as their donation page is, there are some minor issues that should be addressed. First off, unlike the download pages for Ubuntu server and cloud solutions, the Ubuntu desktop page presents you with access to a donation page before you actually begin to download the Ubuntu ISO image. Another thing I noticed was the missing link to download a torrent file for Ubuntu.

Don't misunderstand me, you can still find torrent files from releases.ubuntu.com, even for the latest 12.10 beta. However, for anyone looking to download Ubuntu there after making a donation from the main download page, your only option is to download Ubuntu automatically via your web browser. That's right – you won't even be presented with a prompt and you will not find a link to find a torrent alternative.

Mixed messages

I think the idea of Canonical seeking to recover some of the tremendous investment that they've put into Ubuntu makes a lot of sense. It's their approach, however, that has been hit and miss lately. As I mentioned above, their donation wall is a great idea. Yet when you visit their "why is Ubuntu free" page, the message you see there is that Ubuntu is supported through various services – not by direct compensation.

To the individual passing by, new to Ubuntu, the message seems a bit mixed up. First the site says it's free, but on their download page they want me to "show some love" to Ubuntu with a donation.

Okay, perhaps you could call it "donationware" and then the conflicting definitions might simply take care of themselves. In the meantime, however, I think newcomers are going to be a tiny bit confused.

I don't dislike Ubuntu

I’m guessing that some of you reading this are thinking I must be "anti-Ubuntu" or somehow merely complaining that Canonical's trying to earn additional revenue. To put this confusion to rest, allow me to clarify a few things.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu

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