Canonical’s Ubuntu Business Desktop Evolves

Ubuntu’s greatest successes are arguably among home PC users and developers who use it in test environments. But there can be little doubt that Canonical remains committed to making Ubuntu the open source desktop of choice for businesses as well. Its latest move in this vein was the recent release of an updated version of Ubuntu Business Desktop Remix. Read on for details, and what they reveal about Canonical’s long-term strategy in the world of the enterprise.

Technically speaking, there have been no sweeping changes to the Business Desktop Remix since we evaluated it when it was first introduced in February 2012. It remains essentially a spin of standard desktop Ubuntu, with games and other leisure software removed and replaced with tools more likely to be of use in the workplace (presuming workers actually aim to be productive, of course — otherwise, the business remix may prove a major disappointment for those accustomed to screwing off at the office).

But the latest release of the Business Desktop Remix, which debuted on May 10, is updated with all the more general enhancements of Ubuntu 12.04, the most recent version of the operating system. It also marks the first longterm support (LTS) iteration of the business remix, and as such will likely enjoy greater appeal to enterprise users who want to stick to Ubuntu releases with long support life cycles.

An Ubuntu Business Ecosystem

While there are no huge changes to note in the new version of Business Desktop Remix, what is remarkable is the way Canonical is positioning this version of Ubuntu as a key component of a broader suite of tools catered to business users.

The Business Desktop Remix itself is available as a free download after quick registration, but Canonical encourages users to consider deploying the software in conjunction with paid support and management services that the company offers:

Deployments can be supported through a standard Ubuntu Advantage agreement from Canonical, or unpaid. Management of large scale desktop deployments, either of this remix or standard Ubuntu, is best achieved with Canonical’s Landscape management tool. Archives, packages and updates are identical to all other Ubuntu images.

Thus Canonical seems to want to build a mini-ecosystem of Ubuntu products and services tailored specifically to the business crowd. It’s not the first open source company to pursue such a model — Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) has already enjoyed a lot of success doing the same thing on the server — but Canonical is unique in taking a Linux distribution famous first and foremost among individual PC users and trying to make it viable in the business world as well. Red Hat’s strategy has always been quite the opposite, with Red Hat Enterprise Linux designed pretty exclusively with enterprise customers in mind, and spinoffs like Fedora created for hobbyists.

The question, of course, is whether Canonical’s support offerings — and the Business Desktop Remix itself — will appeal to enough enterprise users to build a sustainable business ecosystem of their own. It seems to me they can, but only if Ubuntu retains its primary momentum as a desktop distribution for personal PCs as well, a niche which Canonical should keep high on its agenda even as it pursues the business world.

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