Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ubuntu TV has an incredible chance. Can Canonical see it through?

Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu Linux operating system, made a huge splash at this years CES with their announcment of their forthcoming UbuntuTV. They didn't demo any devices and showed off only a handful of concept software, but the excitement they created gives Canonical an amazing opportunity to catapault itself directly into the mainstream marketplace.

This makes me nervous for a number of reasons. One is that, by announcing UbuntuTV, Canonical is positioning itself as a direct competitor to both AppleTV and GoogleTV. Some might argue that both Apple and Google's offerings are fairly miserable failures but the fact remains that these are two massive companies with billions of dollars in their arsenal that they could commit to fight competition like Canonical. If either company saw Ubuntu TV as a threat, there's a very good chance they would take some hard shots at Canonical and I'm not too sure the company could withstand that kind of attack.

Additionally, both Apple and Google have something Canonical doesn't: a strong, existing, partnership with television manufacturers and content providers. Canonical is building partnerships from the ground up, Google and Apple have them in place already and that could give them an enormous advantage in the short run.

Another thing that really bothers me (and makes me worried for Ubuntu TV's long term survival) is Canonical's 'dog after a bone' mindset. It seems like 'what's the next big thing for Ubuntu' is constantly changing and never executed well. First it was 400 million desktop users, then it was servers with ARM processors, now it's phones and televisions. None of these have been properly executed; none of these have reached their goal before the company moves on to something new. Canonical reminds me of that one kid on the playground who's desperately seeking friends but who can't quite seem to make any long-term connections.

Will Ubuntu TV be any different? I hope so and I think Canonical has an amazing opportunity if it focuses like a razor on televisions, smart devices, and tablets. The desktop OS is quickly becoming irrelevant thanks to the proliferation of web applications. Users aren't going to care so much about the 'desktop experience' since much of that experience happens within a web browser now. But users are going to want a killer phone, television, and tablet, experience and that's where Ubuntu can shine.

Looking back, it seems like everything Canonical has been doing lately has been moving us to this point: media deals, Ubuntu One, the Unity Desktop. All of those things are kind of ho-hum on the desktop but add to the WOW! factor on non-PC devices. Looking at Unity in particular, it seems like it was a match made in heaven for Ubuntu and televisions and tablets. Unity sucks for desktop use but thrills on a television or tablet. Maybe that's where Canonical has been leading us with all the changes. Maybe Mark Shuttleworth isn't completely insane after all.

I'm hoping that, by the time CES rolls around next year, there'll be some Ubuntu devices to show. By going public this early, Canonical has set the bar high for the team and failure to deliver could be catastrophic for their reputation. Right now, Ubuntu has the limelight. Can Canonical be trusted to carry it into the future or will they stumble due to lack of focus.

My money is on Canonical and Shuttleworth. I predict that we will see an Ubuntu based device by the end of the year and it's going to be stellar. If it's a television, it's going to smash Google TV and if it's a tablet, it's going to give the iPad quite an butt kicking. I know Canonical has what it takes to be a contender. My only question is will it do what it needs to do?

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