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Canonical's Edgy Endeavor

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Aug 5, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Fans of Ubuntu will have to be forgiven if they've been a little distracted lately. After all, exactly two weeks ago Canonical launched its crowdfunding campaign for the new Ubuntu Edge smartphone.

Canonical's Edgy Endeavor

It's not just any crowdfunding campaign, of course -- it's a big one. Really big -- to the tune of US$32 million.

No one ever said Mark Shuttleworth lacked ambition, and indeed the campaign got off to a good start. Last week, however, the pace of contributions began to slow down, as noted by the Slashdot crowds. As of Sunday night, just over $8 million had come in, with 17 days to go.

Throughout the Linux blogosphere, teeth are being gnashed; hands are being wrung. What will be the fate of this breathtakingly audacious effort?

A Focus on Perks

"This device looks amazing," began Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone. "I love some of the ideas that are going into it. It looks like it's got some real potential as a phone -- if Canonical can get it made, I would love to get my grubby mitts on one."

Linux Girl

Still, "$32 million? That's a pretty steep number," Stone went on. "It's going to be rough getting there. The numbers are tapering off significantly since its initial announcement, and over one-third of the time has gone by without getting to one-third of the goal. At the rate things are going, they're not going to make it."

Similarly, "I don't think the project will get off the ground," agreed Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. "The majority of the nearly $8 million raised so far has been by offering lower 'perk' prices.

"When the fundraising slowed down after the first 24 hours, Canonical offered a second set of perks," Lim recounted.

'We Are Not Partners'

At some point, "rather than offering more perks, Canonical should come up with a realistic price for its handset," Lim opined.

Assuming Canonical does raise the funds to put the Ubuntu Edge into production, "after the delivery of the 45,000 to 50,000 handsets to founders, who will build an ecosystem of apps and accessories for a market of 45,000 to 50,000 users?" Lim wondered. "Ultimately, if the Ubuntu Edge were to become a success, you would be paying $600 to $830 this year for something that will have to be sold at a much lower price next year.

"Basically, founders are being asked to sacrifice," he pointed out.

The question that must be asked, Lim added, is whether any smartphone is worth $830 -- "especially one that won't be delivered for another year, running an untested operating system?

"The deal would be palatable if every Ubuntu Edge was delivered with shares of stock in Canonical, but as it stands now, why would I want to invest money to help Canonical make money?" he concluded. "Eventually, we do have to realize, we are not partners in this venture. Just potential customers who Canonical wants to profit from."

'This Just Isn't It'

It's unlikely the campaign will reach its goal, consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

"I really doubt it will," he told Linux Girl. "In the end, they don't really have much to ofter in the phone space since I don't ever want the same interface on both my phone and my desktop."

Mack still hopes for a third mobile platform, he added. "I hate the way Android handles native apps," he said.

Nevertheless, "this just isn't it," he concluded.

'I'll Stick with the Big Players'

"I like the looks of the Ubuntu Phone, but overall I must say that it is not a product for me," Google+ blogger Brett Legree agreed.

"For much of what I do, I could actually use Android as my base operating system, and if I were to use Linux, I'd be likely to use a different distro anyway," Legree explained. "Nothing wrong with Ubuntu, but it doesn't suit my requirements."

So, "for me, no sale -- I'll stick with the big players," Legree concluded. "As far as reaching the funding goal, I wish them and their supporters all the best. However, I'm not a betting man."

'This Is a Big Risk'

"$32 million is an eye-watering amount to raise through crowd-funding, and I would not be surprised if they don't make it," opined Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien.

The interesting question, however, "is what did they know that made this seem likely?" O'Brien mused. "Did Mark Shuttleworth and the folks at Canonical have something up their sleeve? Because a failed campaign is much worse than one that was not attempted. This is a big risk, and I wonder why they took it."

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza saw it similarly.

"If the Edge is going to make its astronomical goal, it's going to take involvement from Mark Shuttleworth himself," Espinoza predicted. "To him I say, if this is such a great idea, spend your own money. Because if he fails, he's going to leave a black mark on mobile Linux."

'Great Advertising'

Even if it is behind, Canonical's fundraising campaign is "great advertising," blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. "I expect that funds will magically appear to reach the goal. Even Mark Shuttleworth could find enough to top off the campaign in his pocket-lint."

Either way, "the campaign does much more than raise funds," Pogson added. "It informs many fans of GNU/Linux about the real risks of bringing a product to market."

Specifically, "having a good idea and great software is not enough," he pointed out. "Money and infrastructure has to be built, and there is no guarantee of success. This is an important lesson for many, like me, who question Mark Shuttleworth's decisions in the development of Ubuntu GNU/Linux. Mark Shuttleworth has been taking the risks on his own and this campaign allows others to share the risk."

An 'Upside-Down World'

It's ironic that "persons who need (and deserve) money donations -- like Mr. Ken Starks -- struggle, while Mark got much more money than he deserved," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol observed.

"This is our upside-down world, where hard workers in the Free Software community go through hard times and Mark, who doesn't need it, gets tons of cash," Ebersol added. "If you tell me the donations are slowing down, great. They should never have sped up."

Canonical seems to be "really great at coming into a market too late for anybody to care, and before anybody says, 'But, but ... it's a FOSS phone!'" Slashdot blogger hairyfeet began. "Please remember we already HAVE a FOSS phone and unlike Ubuntu's it already has a couple of OEMs and carriers supporting it AND they didn't have to beg for money to get it out the door.

"I'm of course talking about MozPhone," hairyfeet added.

'Dead by 2015'

So, "whether you like or hate Ubuntu (personally haven't cared either way since the switch to Unity, aka 'I Iz A Cellphone LULZ')," he went on, "one would have to be blind not to see that: 1. The mobile market is INSANELY crowded, with companies a heck of a lot bigger than Canonical; 2. Android already has the low to midrange locked up; 3. the one niche appeal Canonical had is covered by Mozilla, who is just as open if not more than Canonical; and 4. in the most important arena, apps, Android already has the network effect, whereas all potential Ubuntu Phone users have to look forward to is badly ported Linux apps."

In short, "I predict Ubuntu Phone will join Ubuntu netbook and Ubuntu TV on the 'yet more money wasted by Canonical with zero ROI' pile," hairyfeet concluded. "Canonical still looks to be right on schedule to keep my prediction of Canonical dead by 2015."

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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