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Canonical angles for Dell to offer pre-installed Ubuntu Linux on the server

Canonical Ltd. is ready to expand its pre-installed laptop and desktop program with Dell -- or another hardware vendor -- to encompass servers in the near future.

As Canonical Ltd. readies another major release for its Ubuntu Linux operating system (code-named Gutsy Gibbon), one executive hinted that a pre-installed server initiative would arrive soon if customer demand remains high.

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Gerry Carr, marketing manager for Canonical, which is the corporate maintainer of Ubuntu, said that while no deal was imminent, Canonical was exploring deals with Dell Inc. and other unnamed hardware manufacturers to bring Ubuntu pre-installed on x86 commodity servers in the near future.

"[Pre-installed Ubuntu on the server] is something we would like to do, and we've made no secret about it.
Gerry Carr,
marketing managerCanonical Ltd.

Currently, Canonical has an Ubuntu desktop and laptop program in place with Dell. Under the agreement penned in May, Dell sells select Inspiron desktops and laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed. Canonical then provides commercial support for these machines.

"[Pre-installed Ubuntu on the server] is something we would like to do, and we've made no secret about it," Carr said. "Customers have asked for this, and if people want to see Ubuntu pre-installed on Dell servers, then they should go to [Dell] IdeaStorm and continue to ask for it."

Carr said that while the deal will "hopefully be with Dell," Canonical is also considering server vendors other than Dell, and at a later date the company will reveal the results of those talks. "This doesn't mean a deal is imminent, but those who want and require Ubuntu on the server will have something available reasonably soon," he said.

Momentum for Ubuntu support
Before any server news hits the fan however, Carr said that Canonical would need to work harder to promote Ubuntu's existing support services. Much like commercial Linux distributions Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Ubuntu is free and customers pay for support.

"We need to promote the support organization we have [at Canonical]. It's not getting enough credit; it isn't getting recognized as much as it should be," he said.

But even without Canonical's prodding, that dynamic could change. Carr said that while Ubuntu was once deployed in an experimental role at the network's edge, customers have increasingly approached Canonical seeking support for more mission-critical deployments.

"As we see this expansion continue and Ubuntu moves beyond the experimental roles, then I think you will see that the demand for more support will come naturally," Carr said.

For many Ubuntu users, Canonical's efforts are bearing fruit. Jean-Yves Quentel, a former venture capitalist, blogger and Ubuntu user in France, said Canonical now acts more like a "real business" with each passing release.

"[Ubuntu has] discontinued the shipping of free CDs, apparently because it was costing too much," he said. "They have been making noises about the enterprise market for some time now and have increasingly taken enterprise needs into account into the roadmap for their products." Editor's Note: Canonical has informed that the free Ubuntu CD program is "still core to what the company does and it will continue to send CDs to every part of the world."

Quentel said Canonical can become a sizable business only by emulating in part the Red Hat model of selling enterprise server support to large companies.

Momentum for Ubuntu support
But will the strategy work out? Quentel thinks so, and analysts like the 451 Group 's Raven Zachary believe that pre-installed Ubuntu on the server is imminent given the popularity of its Dell PC program. The program recently expanded into several European markets. At LinuxWorld in August, Dell executives would not cite specific sales numbers but said that the expansion bodes well for the program.

"Red Hat has the reputation of being a tad hard to work with, so a distribution like Ubuntu may benefit from its ease of use," Quentel said. "Having made a deal with the devil, Novell has seen its credibility severely diminished with other players. Hardware makers in particular may feel it is time to create another alternative to RH [Red Hat]. Ubuntu certainly feels like the most promising and stable of all contenders."

Ubuntu's October update, Gutsy Gibbon, promises numerous graphical and security-related enhancements on the desktop side, Carr said.

According to Canonical and the Ubuntu Web site, Gutsy will include AppArmor --security software for Linux -- pre-installed. Novell currently maintains AppArmor (SUSE Enterprise Linux also has the technology integrated). AppArmor allows system administrators to associate security profiles with each program, which then restricts the capabilities of that program.

And a boost to the "bling" – as Carr might call it -- would be the inclusion of Compiz Fusion, which is the window manager that merges both Compiz and Beryl. Rumors persist that Firefox 3 will be included by default, although Canonical would not confirm or deny that rumor.

Email Jack Loftus with your comments and suggestions.

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