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Ubuntu Eyes The Linux Server Landscape

It took Ubuntu just four years to claim its crown as king of the Linux desktop. Now, Ubuntu's developers are plotting a similar coup in the Linux server market -- and smaller businesses have a lot to gain from the battle that is about to unfold.

It took Ubuntu just four years to claim its crown as king of the Linux desktop. Now, Ubuntu's developers are plotting a similar coup in the Linux server market -- and smaller businesses have a lot to gain from the battle that is about to unfold.By any standard, Ubuntu is a remarkable success story. Since its October, 2004 debut, it has grown into the single most popular desktop Linux distro; today, it runs (depending upon whom you ask) between 30 and 50 percent of all desktop Linux systems. Ubuntu earns consistently high marks for its usability, including first-rate assistive technology and multi-language support. And Ubuntu's corporate sponsor, Canonical, Ltd., has built a business model that allows it to reach new Linux users while maintaining its credibility within the open-source developer community -- a feat that some of its competitors can't seem to pull off.

Ubuntu also has some strengths that play well in the Linux server market. Like many other Linux distros, it originated as a fork of the Debian Linux project -- one of the oldest Linux distros around, and certainly one of the most highly-regarded. Due to Canonical's policy of issuing major updates every six months with fixed-length support windows and long-term support options, Ubuntu gives businesses a stable, predictable foundation upon which to make IT planning decisions. And in February, 2007, SpikeSource cut a deal with Canonical to certify, service, and support Ubuntu through its VAR network -- a step that will put Ubuntu on the radar in far more corporate IT departments.

Earlier this month, Canonical took another step to raise its profile in the Linux server space: It released Landscape, a tool for installing, managing, and maintaining Ubuntu desktop PCs and servers. Red Hat and Novell offer similar tools; in both cases, however, the two companies' systems-management products are designed to provide the functionality -- and thus the complexity -- required to manage very large enterprise Linux installations.

Compared to its competition, Landscape is a relatively simple systems-management tool. The key word here is "relative": While Landscape may not allow Canonical to steal away any of Red Hat's big enterprise accounts, it could play very well in smaller IT departments.

Of course, Landscape could evolve, over time, into something suitable for managing a Linux server farm or tens of thousands of Linux desktops. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, Canonical could position Landscape for a push into the small- and midsize-business Linux market -- a niche where Ubuntu already looks like a great fit, both as a desktop OS and as a server.

Canonical has taken some other steps lately to sharpen its small- and misdize-business focus, such as an agreement with IBM to distribute a low-cost, low-management version of its DB2 database. There has also been talk that Canonical may cut a similar deal involving Ubuntu Server and Sun's newly-acquired MySQL division. It's a strategy that makes sense, since it plays to Ubuntu's strengths.

In just a few weeks, Canonical will release its next major Ubuntu update (version 8.04, or "Hardy Heron" to its friends). So it won't be long before we find out exactly which direction Canonical will take to launch its bid to become a major force in the Linux server market. Stay tuned.

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