The Ubuntu Server needs increased support from independent software vendors and system builders.
"The acid test for Ubuntu Server is Oracle," Canonical chief executive Mark Shuttleworth told vnunet.com in an interview at the VMworld conference in San Francisco.
Ubuntu is best know for its desktop Linux distribution which Dell ships on its consumer Linux desktop PCs, but the group is seeing an increasing interest in its server version that was launched in 2005.
Certification for third party applications such as Oracle's database is considered critical for the continued growth of Canonical's support services. Firms that seek professional support typically also require that their software and hardware are certified to run the Linux distribution.
Ubuntu Server is different from Red Hat and Novell because the software isn't sold as a subscription with support. Support is available from Canonical, the project's corporate sponsor.
Increased vendor support could boost Ubuntu's overall credibility. Oracle's support for Linux in 1998 is considered a watershed moment in the history of the operating system. As the database is the most widely used, mission critical enterprise application available, its support instilled a new level of trust in the software.
The enterprise software giant might not be as eager to throw its weight behind Ubuntu, however. Oracle last year launched its Unbreakable Linux initiative, which is essentially a special Oracle distribution of the open source operating system. This renders Ubuntu a potential competitive threat.
Oracle might not be able to hold out for long however. Although Shuttleworth typified adoption rates as "early stage", he said that the software is penetr ating deeper into the enterprise.
Enterprises adoption of Ubuntu Server is following an adoption pattern typical to open source software. Technology enthusiast start experimenting at home, then deploy it on non-mission critical systems such as file and print servers. Ubuntu Sever is currently starting to move up the food chain in areas such as high performance computing.
The final missing piece is support from hardware vendors. Sun Microsystems is currently the only major system builder which certifies its hardware for Ubuntu. Shuttleworth however argued that Ubuntu can put firms in touch with the open source community. Red Hat and Novell, by comparison, position themselves as a platform provider that provides a one-stop-shop.
"We have to leverage our insight into how open source really works," said Shuttleworth.
"We don't see ourselves as the sole platform provider. We are leaner [than Red Hat or Novell]."
Novell and Red Hat for instance emphasise that they provide only one version of their software, which makes it easier for independent software vendors and hardware makers to support and certify their products.
Ubuntu addresses those needs by periodically freezing one of its releases and promising long term support for it. The first long term release version was release in June 2006, a second one is slated for release in April 2008.
Canonical offers commercial support for its software. But the majority of its revenues come from the creation of custom Linux distributions for use with embedded applications. It also creates 'gold disks' for firms that seek a customized Linux installation that they can install on a large number of servers or desktops. The company is furthermore in the process of developing a mobile distribution that will be sold to cellphone makers and on Tuesday unveiled a special distribution for use in virtual appliances.
Ubuntu Server further plans to compete against Red Hat and Novell by following a different development path.
Ubuntu is trying not to fall for the feature bloating trap, said Rick Clark, manager for Canonical's server team.
"We have to make sure that everything we put in there is appropriate," Clark told vnunet.com. "We can learn from Red Hat's mistakes."
Red Hat Enterprise Server for instance features a graphical user interface and mp3 player, two features that would appeal mostly to desktop users. Debian's packing structure, on which Ubuntu based, allows developers to leave out rarely used features, but make them available for automatic download if they are needed.
For the upcoming Gutsy gibbon release of Ubuntu Server meanwhile, developers are focussing on security and interoperability with Windows systems.
Due out on 18 October, the software will allow users to more easily connect to as Microsoft's Active Directory as well as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a standard that allows users to find sources on a network.
The software will also introduce App Armor, a technology that Clark claims is more secure the SELinux standard because it allows users to isolate processes. This for instance could prevent a hacker who targets the web server from gaining access to the customer database or other parts of the system.
Author: Tom Sanders @ vnunet.com
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