Thursday is D-Day - meaning Download Day - for the new Ubuntu 10.04 Long Term Support release from commercial Linux distributor Canonical. And this release is shaping up to be a watershed event for the upstart distro.
One of the keys to the hearts (and minds) of the ISV community is the size of the addressable market, and as newly appointed chief executive officer at Canonical Jane Silber told El Reg back in March, the installed base of Ubuntu users is estimated at around 10 million users. That's up from 6 million three years ago, and by some indirect measurements, Canonical can gather without snooping around on people's machines, the base is growing at 10 per cent per month.
In that interview, Silber was expecting for ISV support for Ubuntu 10.04 to be pretty strong since this is a long term support, or LTS, release, which provides a stable and updated platform for three years on the desktop and for five years on the server. This is the third such LTS release, and each one seems to widen the market a bit.
On D-Day for Ubuntu 10,04, Silber says that more than 80 software vendors will have certified more than 100 of their applications to run on Ubuntu 10.04, which is a lot more than Ubuntu 8.04 had two years ago and a hell of a lot more than Ubuntu 6.06 had when the LTS idea was first floated. (You can see the full list of day one ISV and app support here). She added that by the end of next week, more than 50 PC and server platforms will be certified to run Ubuntu 10.04, "with many more to come" in the following weeks and months.
Those may not sound like big numbers, but how many platforms are AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris certified on as they go through their release cycles? The quasi-proprietary RISC/Itanium platforms have it easier, and to a certain extend, Solaris has it harder than either AIX or HP-UX since Sun and presumably Oracle will still try to get Solaris to run on other people's iron. (I wouldn't bet my retirement money on that). And it takes years for each successive Unix release to get the key 3,000 or so applications that make those platforms viable certified upon them.
If Ubuntu project founder, current product design strategist, and former Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth had infinite money and a time dilation field, getting all the key ERP, middleware, and database applications would put Ubuntu 10.04 immediately in the same rank with Red Hat and maybe even Windows. (Wait, Shuttleworth doesn't have infinite money? Or his own personal stargate?) But that's not the attack Canonical is taking on the market.
"ISVs are very much driven by the forces that will help them sell faster and sell more," explained Shuttleworth on a conference call announcing Ubuntu 10.04. And for the smaller ISVs, the overlap in customer bases and budgets align more closely with the commercial support behind Ubuntu and the simplicity the project is trying to build into each release. But for the older, established ISVs, the ones that drive big deals, not lots of small deals, Shuttleworth concedes that Ubuntu has to prove itself. "They will move when they see the market catalyze around it," he says with calm confidence.
And Canonical is going to streamline how new applications come to Ubuntu, making it easier for ISVs to deliver products on the platform and to provide those applications either free or for a fee. Shuttleworth was not specific, but said the future "Maverick Meerkat" 10.10 release would have improvements in the Ubuntu Software Center that would allow developers to quickly create and distribute applications to Ubuntu users without having to go through the same tedious beta and release candidate cycle of the operating system itself.
As for the cadence of Ubuntu itself, there are no changes whatsoever, and the two-year release cycle established with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS two years ago will continue. "We intend to deliver the next LTS release in April 2012, and we can say that with confidence," Shuttleworth said on the call. "That is really an extraordinary shift in what is possible with an operating system. I am not aware of any other operating system that can do this." Considering that the Ubuntu project has to interface with Debian and thousands of other open source projects to create a release, it takes a certain amount of rigor to make it all come together.
And that predictability in updates for and the long-term stability of the LTS releases is what will make Ubuntu an increasingly safe bet for ISVs looking for a cheap platform upon which they can peddle their wares. This is how proprietary minis were conquered by Unix, and this is how Windows ate into everything. Well, excepting that whole predictability thing. ®