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Ubuntu Linux Serves Up Amazon Results

Added by on Sep 27, 2012
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The latest prerelease version of Ubuntu Linux 12.10 has a new feature: Amazon search results. And it is stirring up a hornets' nest of controversy. Some users are calling the new Unity desktop Dash feature "adware."

But in the big picture, what could matter more to the IT community at midsize firms is that Amazon saw this arrangement as worth its while. The message is that Linux, and more broadly open source, are going mainstream. There are now enough Linux users out there to make their search behavior commercially interesting.

big sky countryTesting the Waters

As Katherine Noyes reports at PCWorld, the upcoming October release of Ubuntu Linux 12.10 is generating plenty of news and attention--and a fair share of controversy. Changes in the new release's Secure Boot technology have already drawn the ire of the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

Now another feature in the Quantal Quetzal beta release is generating an even wider swirl of controversy: Search results from the Ubuntu Unity desktop include products for sale at Amazon. And any resulting purchases bring Ubuntu some affiliate revenue.

One bug-report commenter, Aibara Iduas, argued that converting "every desktop search into an advertisement threatens to make Ubuntu seem like adware itself." In response, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, said the controversy was overdrawn and advised critics to "chill out."

In fact, for all the whiff of vulgar commerce, the Amazon deal--unlike the Secure Boot issue--does not even conceptually raise any questions of open-source principles. It does raise potential privacy concerns, as well as complaints about desktop clutter.

Not Just For Uber-Geeks

In the larger picture, the most interesting thing about this controversy may be that it is happening at all. Evidently Amazon has decided that the Linux community is now big enough to justify affiliate deals with a leading Linux distribution.

This takes place against the backdrop of a gradually but steadily growing open-source presence. Open-source already has a strong foothold in the back rooms of IT, where it is a major presence in the server environment. The Ubuntu-Amazon arrangement suggests that a critical mass of general users is becoming comfortable with Linux.

For IT professionals at midsize firms this can only be good news. Large vendors want to control their ecosystems, threatening to imprison IT departments at midsize firms within walled or semi-walled gardens. The wider spread of open-source alternatives offers midsize firms and their IT departments a growing range of options for avoiding vendor capture in its various forms.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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