A popular question in desktop circles is "Can anyone make money from the Linux desktop?" Canonical CEO and Ubuntu founder, Mark Shuttleworth's answer is "I don't think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop."
Yes, that's right. The man behind what's almost certainly the most popular Linux desktop doesn't think he, or anyone else, can make money from the Linux desktop. Furthermore, he never really has.
In a press call about the October 30th arrival of the next version of Ubuntu, Ubuntu 8.10, Shuttleworth said that Canonical has always seen the desktop as a "zero revenue" product.
The point is, Shuttleworth continued, "I've never seen selling shrink-wrapped packages of free software as a workable idea." Instead, Shuttleworth sees "The only way to build business around software is with [added costs] services."
Shuttleworth added that he thinks Microsoft is shifting over to services for revenue as well. He said, "I've heard creditable reports of Microsoft offering XP at no cost to OEMs."
When Microsoft was caught flat-footed by the rise of netbooks, which couldn't run Vista, the company first re-offered Windows XP Home to mini-laptop vendors who were going over to Linux. Then, as it became clear that Vista had failed, Microsoft decided to continue to offer XP Pro to OEMs after all. Now, there's little doubt that Microsoft will keep offering XP until Windows 7 arrives.
It's also worth noting that on the same day that Shuttleworth was saying that the selling of "desktop bits" was no longer a successful business model for Microsoft, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie was announcing Azure a services-based cloud operating environment. Azure, which will compete with Amazon's EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), won't be a product, its resources will be sold as a service.
Funny that. It makes me think, yet again, that the smartest man in the open-source business world might well be Shuttleworth.