Most of the time, when someone says something I wish I had said, or when someone writes what I wish I had written, then I let them drive.
So today, I’m throwing Fabian Scherschel the keys and letting him drive here, as I hold on in the passenger seat for dear life (just kidding, Fab), describing in a column in LXNews Canonical’s hat-in-hand appeal via Indiegogo for — wait for it — $32 million.
Go ahead and read the article first. I’ll wait. It’s a very even, objective analysis of the situation — the best so far (but not as funny as this). Yet the most telling passage in Fabian’s article, in my opinion, comes toward the end. In the final paragraph, Fab writes:
“Essentially, Canonical will have to raise over a million dollars a day to make their funding goal and people might be reluctant to give money to a for-profit company that has so far always given the impression that it is well off enough financially to bring about the Linux desktop — later TV, then phone — revolution on its own. The fact that the person doing the asking in the campaign video is estimated to have a net worth exceeding half a billion dollars might be another factor detracting possible backers.”
Reluctant? Oh, you bet. The only way Ubuntu is getting money from me is if a member of the Ubuntu Apocalypse robs me at gunpoint. But before we go into why it’s a bad idea to publicly fund a moderately large company’s research and development effort while they hide behind an Indiegogo campaign, let’s make a list of more worthy projects to donate to:
Reglue (especially Reglue, which is creating a new generation of FOSS users as you read this sentence)
Partimus (bringing Linux boxes to classrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area, or any other project like it)
CrunchBang (or your favorite distro, if it accepts donations)
Tux4Kids (the folks who bring you Tux Paint and other educational FOSS programs across platforms)
Or even taking a look at the list of projects at Software for the Public Interest and choose one of those.
An Indiegogo campaign by a large company like Canonical — certainly not what the founders of Indiegogo had in mind when they started their project — produces an astronomical number of subtexts. Some that immediately come to mind might be:
Is Canonical going broke? I’m not sure what kind of message an Indiegogo campaign sends to Canonical’s commercial customers. Imagine the conversation in some board rooms (or at least in some managers’ offices): “Canonical is asking the public for money. Are you sure we shouldn’t have gone with Red Hat or Novell instead?” Or . . .
Shuttleworth is closing the checkbook: The Mark may not want to keep spending money on the plethora of projects that seem to cross Ubuntu’s radar seemingly on a whim — and not to stray from the subject, but how is Ubuntu TV working out so far for everyone? Saving his Krugerrands is completely understandable for Shuttleworth. Orbiting earth is a lot more fun than having to deal with questions like this. Or . . .
Canonical thinks we’re smarter than venture capitalists: I’m flattered, but nothing could be further from the truth, at least where I’m concerned (some of you might be, though). If VCs are keeping this at arm’s length, or further, what do they know that I don’t? I mean, look at the players on the field: Android, Firefox OS, BlackBerry OS, iOS and that other one from Redmond that no one but Nokia seems to want — is there something I’m missing? Or . . .
It’s yet another Canonical marketing ploy — duh: We’ll touch on this a little later, but there’s really a win-win scenario to this whole exercise, regardless of the outcome. Canonical excels at marketing its operating system in the same way SCO excels at litigation. But again, we’ll touch on this later.
As the clock ticks down for the next 30 days, let’s see one month hence if one of the following happens:
The FOSS community and others pony up $32 million: OK, let’s work under this assumption. Thirty days from now, Canonical come up with the funds, and now it’s time to produce. Is Canonical really up to it (*cough* Ubuntu TV *cough*)? Incidentally, let me be clear about this: If they do succeed in raising this amount of money from the wider FOSS community and others, and we actually see a Ubuntu/Android phone as planned, I’ll be the first to congratulate them when we see the finished product. Heck, I’ll even watch it on Ubuntu TV. Oh, wait. Or . . .
It’s a campaign built to fail: An interesting theory raised by others, and one where Canonical doesn’t lose out if the campaign fails and $32 million isn’t raised. Here’s why: If they dont get the $32 million, nobody’s money is lost (that’s the way this Indiegogo campaign is set up — folks will get their money back), but the magic here is that even in failure, Canonical has some nice on-the-record, put-your-month-where-your-mouth-is pre-orders for the phone that they can follow up on when the real phones come out from an OEM partner. Assuming that’s part of the plan, but while you’re reading this, somewhere at Canonical . . . .
Victory laps are being taken in the marketing department: Win or lose, now or a month from now, the marketing folks are already doing high-fives and taking victory laps around the office. Their job is done — the word is out, people are talking about it, for better or worse, and of course the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
Regardless of each scenario, Canonical once again shows its true disingenuous nature as it relates to the wider FOSS community; a community that Canonical mistakenly thinks it speaks for and, worse, thinks is at its beck and call. By the time this is posted, they will have raised about $1 million — congratulations on that, folks — but there are very good reasons, perhaps 32 million of them, why you should consider donating to other projects instead.
This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)