Ubuntu Linux: 8 Million Users and Growing

There is a business behind the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system and according to its lead commercial sponsor Canonical, that business is good. Canonical is set to debut its latest Linux release Ubuntu 8.10 also known as the Intrepid Ibex on October 30th. The new release will include networking, virtualization and user management improvements.

The Ibex release will also be a milestone for Canonical, a company that is barely four years old that is now challenging established Linux and proprietary vendors alike. Canonical is claiming that its users, contributors and revenues are all growing as Ubuntu aims to grow its overall share of the operating system market.

“In terms of numbers we’re very confident this is an 8 million plus user base of active users,” Chris Kenyon, director of business development at Canonical told InternetNews.com. “That is a hard thing to count and there are lots of issues about methodology for counting but I have seen nothing that sheds doubts on that.”

Other Linux distributions, like Red Hat’s Fedora, for example, use the Smolt system, which counts users based on the number of unique IP addresses that get updates. For the current Fedora 9 release, Smolt has counted 1.2 million unique IPs.

The Fedora 6 release in 2007 reported more than two million unique IPs. In a recent analyst event, Red Hat executive vice president Paul Cormier noted in a presentation that Red Hat currently has over 2.5 million paid subscriptions for its Red Hat Enterprise Linux offerings.

Both Fedora and Ubuntu are available for free, though Canonical also offers paid commercial support for Ubuntu users. Kenyon did not elaborate on how many paid users Canonical currently supports. That doesn’t mean that Canonical isn’t making money.

“We’re not sharing our revenues publicly but I will say revenue growth is extremely strong and we’re bullish across the board both at server side and desktop,” Kenyon said. “The difference between now and even 12 months ago in terms of size and volume of deals coming through is a big difference.”

Big partners, many friends

Canonical has been focused on growing its partner base with vendors like IBM (NYSE: IBM), Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) certifying hardware or software to run Ubuntu Linux. There are still some big holdouts thought like Oracle and SAP, though Kenyon hinted that some other significant partner announcements are in the works.

“We’d expect there will be further significant announcements on that [partners] thread before the end of the year,” Kenyon commented. “In terms of the large ISVs, we already have a good story with IBM DB2, Websphere, and now Lotus Notes as well.”

There are other key metrics that Canonical is keen to point out, among them is their growing headcount of contributors and staff. Kenyon claimed that the number of people that are actually contributing lines of code continues to grow.

“We now have over 400 active contributors,” Kenyon said. “That’s on top of our own internal development team that is now at 120 plus developers.”

Overall, Canonical now has 215 employees, a number that Kenyon noted has been growing thanks to revenue growth. Community participation is also high in terms of Ubuntu user forums with over 600,000 members.

“That just means there is an enormous library of great questions with generally great answers,” Kenyon said.

The release of Intrepid Ibex later this week may help grow desktop users, though Kenyon was less optimistic on the server side. The previous Ubuntu release, 8.04 “Hardy Heron” was what Canonical calls a long-term support release.

Ubuntu LTS releases come our every two years and offer three years of support on the desktop and five years on the server.

“On the server side we’re not number one and we still have a story to prove to the ISVs,” Kenyon stated. “I think 8.10 is part of that journey but it’ not as significant a milestone at the 8.04 release. We’re still finding with ISVs that 8.04 will be the target for another year.”

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