The Ubuntu Advantage? Canonical Takes On Red Hat

Red Hat is the king of commercial Linux support, no doubt about it. Canonical has entered the market and with some refined support products could present a very compelling alternative. Is it enough to make the company profitable long term, though?

There can be no doubt that Ubuntu has made shock waves around the world since its first release in 2004 (although their first Long Term Support release was not made until 2006).

It has quickly gained huge market share in the Linux desktop arena, but how has it fared in the commercial space?

When it comes to the commercial sector, there’s no question that Red Hat is the king. Canonical might not be deliberately setting out to challenge Red Hat with their new support offerings, but they are now competing in the same space. So with this latest move from Canonical, could the crown be possibly up for grabs?

The New Advantage

In 2007 Canonical launched their Landscape service, a management and monitoring system. It allows simplified administration across a range of systems, all through a convenient interface (either online or via a dedicated local server). Then in 2009 Canonical launched desktop support.

Now Canonical is taking all that to the next level with Advantage. This is a revamp of existing services with a few new ones and includes Landscape, Support, Assurance (which we’ll talk about shortly), and Knowledge (access to information). Advantage is available in three levels for servers (Essential, Standard and Advanced) and two levels for desktops (Standard and Advanced), with the differentiating factor being the level of support on offer.

Aimed primarily at business (although available to all), it offers complete support solutions for a range of areas. The support team will help clients with installation and various aspects of system administration. Depending on the level of support, you can also have a dedicated engineer at your beckoned call, 24/7.

When it comes to desktops the Advanced support (for US$165 per machine, per annum) includes two extras over Standard (for US$105 per machine, per annum), namely support for virtualization and developer tools. They both include Landscape, access to the Knowledge base, Assurance and basic Support. If we’re talking servers, then the Essential package (for US$320 per server, per annum) comes with Landscape, Assurance, Knowledge and basic Support, but the Standard (at US$700 per server, per annum) also includes support for Windows integration and virtualization. The top of the line support comes in at $1200 per server per annum, which includes clustering and high-availability failover support as well as custom package repositories. Cloud and premium service engineer support are available on top of these.

Of course, add Canonical’s training packages on top of all this and you have a pretty complete, and compelling package. Take note Red Hat, there’s a new player in town.


One interesting new development is the offer of protection from litigation. Yes, although Canonical (unlike Novell) told Microsoft to go jump, it is selling protection from “intellectual property” risks which might arise through the use of Linux. Hmm, that’s curious, isn’t it? In one way, it’s sort of playing into the whole racket. “Ubuntu Linux could be at risk, so just pay us some money and we’ll make sure that you’re covered.” Wink wink, nudge nudge. Urgh, it just doesn’t sit right.

Still, one can see why they offer it. Even if Canonical does not believe that Linux infringes on software patents (deliberately or otherwise), perhaps they simply realize that it’s a scare tactic Microsoft has been using over and over again. Now thanks to Advantage, businesses, governments and even the humble user can confidently tell Microsoft (and anyone else) to go take a hike.

Or can they?

Would it really work? This is not just about Canonical protecting itself, they are offering compensation to their clients should they face litigation! Is Canonical big enough to withstand (let alone fight) litigation from the likes of Microsoft?

When it comes to patents, it’s not just about proving someone wrong. A company like Microsoft needs only put in an application to the court to have all possibly offending products stopped from shipping (remember when Microsoft had to stop selling Office over those XML issues?). The big problem is not whether one is right or wrong about patent infringement, that takes a long time to come out in court. What hurts are injunctions put on the products a company sells. Take Tom Tom for example. They had to settle because if they didn’t, Microsoft could have shut down their business by stopping the sale of their products until the court case was settled, but then dragging the court case out for years and years. Few companies could afford to fight that.

Red Hat on the other hand, has a massive port folio themselves and agreements with other corporations to share pool patents. If Microsoft sued Red Hat, it would be on for young and old. This is why it’s an arms race. If Microsoft sued Canonical, could it withstand the pressure? I highly doubt it. Not unless it has the backing of other big guns. Insurance won’t cut it long term, especially after the first few cases and premiums go through the roof. Of course, this does leave one other option on the table for Canonical. Settle and pay for patent protection. Indeed, this is written into their assurance (emphasis mine):

“Canonical will replace or modify the infringing portion of the software so that it becomes non-infringing, or obtain the rights for you to continue using the software.”

Microsoft has already approached Canonical pressuring them to sign up to a patent deal, but they turned it down. Does this mean they might have to re-consider their position? Certainly Ubuntu ships with VFAT support.

I don’t know. I’m not sold on the idea, but then I’m probably not the target market either. Nevertheless, if this is an issue which is hindering the adoption of Linux and it adequately addresses this for those entities, then that’s a good thing.

Next: Two Different Approaches

Comments on "The Ubuntu Advantage? Canonical Takes On Red Hat"


[Ubuntu] has quickly gained huge market share in the Linux desktop arena, but how has it faired in the commercial space?

You mean \”fared\” instead of\” faired\”. Simple grammatical errors can undermine an otherwise good article.


@buggin, thank you for that. How embarrassing.



I\’m afraid there are a couple of inaccuracies in the section on patents and injunctions in the article. There are two kind of injunctions that can be granted in patent litigation. One is a \”permanent injunction\”. This is the kind of injunction that i4i got against Microsoft, for example. These are issued, if at all, AFTER the trial has completed and the plaintiff has won.

The other kind is a \”preliminary injunction\”. These are granted before the trial completes. It is preliminary injunctions your article is talking about. It is extremely rare to get a preliminary injunction in a patent case. Courts only grant them when all four of the following conditions hold.

1. The plaintiff has demonstrated a reasonable likelihood that they will prevail at trail.

2. The plaintiff will be *irreparably* harmed if the injunction is not granted.

3. The harm to the plaintiff outweighs the harm the injunction will inflict on the defendant.

4. The injunction serves the public interest.

There is no chance whatsoever Microsoft would have been able to get a preliminary injunction against TomTom, as any infringement from TomTom was not causing irreparable harm. All harm any infringement was causing was easily reparable by monetary damages.

The second inaccuracy is a failure to mention that TomTom was suing Microsoft over patents, too. We do not know which company was the aggressor in this case, since neither is talking. What is known is that they had been negotiating for something like a year over licensing each others patents, and the negotiations broke down. We don\’t know who first approached the other. After negotiations broke down, they both sued. Microsoft filed first, by about a month. A patent suit takes quite a bit longer than a month to prepare, so we can infer that TomTom was working on their filing before Microsoft filed, so we can\’t tell if Microsoft actually made the decision to sue first, or just had lawyers that got the paperwork together faster.

We do know that this is the first software patent lawsuit involving Microsoft as a plaintiff. (They\’ve been in the defendant\’s chair many times). We also know that TomTom\’s countersuit it is NOT the first time TomTom\’s been in court to enforce their patents. They\’ve sued Garmin and they\’ve sued some of Garmin\’s customers. Given that fact pattern, it is pretty hard to rule out the possibility that TomTom started the fight.


I feel obliged (for some strange reason) to point out that there are a number of community supported RHEL-based distros such as CentOS. Because of the work these communites do – it\’s possible to run a binary and community supported free operating system with \’all the updates and trimmings\’ for as long as you wish and then pay for support (with RHEL) later only on those systems where it\’s needed. It is analogous to what you can do with Ubuntu – and one might argue it warrants mentioning.

At any rate – more competition and exposure is most likely a good thing.


Thanks for those comments. I did think about CentOS but left it out because it didn\’t reflect the same situation. I\’ll considering working it in though.



I have a friend with atrocious spelling. He claims he can\’t have errors because his spell checker is invoked each time he hits \”send.\” Yet his messages are filled with things like \”faired\” and \”port folio.\” I didn\’t realize he started to write for Linux Magazine….


One thing bothers me a bit.
Debian is the source for Ubuntu in many way but also a big marketshare feeding source for Ubuntu…
Im afraid that ubuntu maybe kill debian in the midterm and looses its base (debian) by its own success..

So since there still some verbal fight between ubtuntu and debian they shoudl be cleared and a long term solution for cooperation and coexistence or a takeover by ubuntu…

Otherwise i see troubles comming for ubuntu .. anyone withme with that prgnosis ?


@jdfulmer, there\’s no excuse for my grammatical mistakes. Since using a computer to do everything, I have certainly become more careless. I do think that my English is pretty good and after all, there are hundreds of spelling mistakes in my articles every time I have to write \”..ize\” instead of \”..ise\”!

@bofh999, I think this a problem too, but probably not as big as first thought. Generally speaking, Debian and Ubuntu users are very different people. Although Ubuntu stole many Debian developers (well in all fairness, gave them a paid job) their relations are OK. But really, it probably doesn\’t matter. Debian is open source and Ubuntu can take it and do whatever they like. It would be nice to have a close working relationship, but Debian isn\’t going anywhere (and even if it did, they would probably go to Ubuntu rather than say, Fedora).



or simply abandon…
would not be the first huge opensource project which goes under without (proper) replacement.

since ubuntu still depends on debian i dont think its so easy..

ok developes might stay or change to ubuntu but a project this size not only depend on developers.

its a contruct between community/third party/integrators and so on and they interact on every level together.
the end (stable) product is a result of all these ……

so that developing\”ecosystem\” get disturb to much a change in the product will be the result (if its a bad or good change i cant judge here right now).

the issue is that ubuntu depend much on the result and here comes the danger i think..

dont get me wrong, im not hoping for such thing. since i complete dissagree with redhat in everything (beginning with the technical and ending with licenses) and debian is getting less and less an option (even if still use it on my important productive servers)

(btw i dont understand debian either. one one hand try to be ultra stable and thin but on the other hand so slow with real criticial updates on major packeges like, Xsql, apache, php, perl which make it vunurable and unstable/buggy sometimes)

so for my point of view ubuntu is in the moment the way to go.. but im afraid what happens if to many debians join this way too

PS: im not an native english speaker so if anyone find some gramatical errors you can keep them and invite them to dinner if you like :-)


PPS: About spelling… Its a temporaly set of Rules which changes every day a little bit. Since the Net is becomming that big more and more non native Speakers (like me) have to communication more and more often in english which will have an big Impact on this language sooner or later. So whats today wrong is maybe tomorow right :-)

So for my Point of view all those Spelling Rules are an Important Guide but at the End of the Day is much more important what is said and not how…

So the Point is dont be too much embarrased about small mistakes in the spelling itself as long your facts are without. And do not compare to real newspapers.. they have at least 2 more control stages bevore it goes to print and still you can find a lot of errors there too.

Humans cant be without errors,its not in our nature..


Yes, RedHat is the \’king\’ of servers, because people need to believe in servers, and the people need a king. :-)

Funny how my Ubuntu desktop is \’serving\’ just fine, I got apache, mysql, php, perl, the whole nut working as if it were on a \”server\”, all on Ubuntu desktop. And I do not just install these components, I actually use them. Ubuntu seems to be a little more ahead of the curve on desktops than anyone else.

As to affecting Debian, well, the horses are out of the barn, so really, Ubuntu is really on its own momentum now. Debian can do whatever it wants, same for Ubuntu. They\’re both good, but I have to say, Ubuntu rocks!

But yes, RedHat. I have admin\’d countless RHEL servers for the dot-com. Legions of servers out there, many uncounted. RedHat should just add another million or two to the number of installations that they -don\’t- support yet are out there, serving up the web from the biggest dot-coms and satellite systems. It\’s really out there.

Ubuntu server compared to RHEL, well, Ubuntu server has a ways to go. I haven\’t been impressed with the Ubuntu server product at all, but maybe it\’s just me. The install needs more work, but I\’m sure if they put the same attention to the server that they put into the desktop they\’d have a rockin server. I\’m going to install 10.04 server in a VM and see if there\’s any new stuff to pay attention to.

I just installed Ubuntu 10.04 LTS desktop on a couple of laptops, and I think this is \’the one\’ that will tip the distro in to the green light of \”acceptable enough to replace Windows\” for the desktop. The finished product is even better than the beta was. It\’s good enough to be a server no question, which is why I challenge the notion of desktop vs server.

Ubuntu 10.04 gets the checklist:

– Wireless networks. . Wireless works painlessly and flawlessly.

– Flash. . Needed a manual install but installed the plugin into Firefox painlessly and perfectly.

– Bluetoof. . Works flawlessly.

In order to beat Windows these three needed to work out of the box, and they did it! Windows days are numbered with this release.


I put RHEL 5.5 on my Ubuntu desktop at work under VMWare Workstation just to have a copy and to have my own reference install. RHEL is a good nuts and bolts Linux server, always seeming to lag a little on the installation, but good enough. Now that they are going with more VM support it should get really interesting.

RHEL\’s package management has improved drastically, getting better with yum, and farther and farther away from its ugly 1995 style and limited admin tools, to getting better GUI interfaces for admin-ing components. I think it\’s time they did away with LVM, it was good to have early on, but now with SANs, LVM is a bit unnecessary.

Anyway, I think RHEL 5.5 is pretty darn good, and things seem to be improving for the better.


Sorry but replacing Windows with ubuntu 10.04 lts is only in special evioremnts an Option.

To be realistic the TCO is way to high (still) and there are many small anoying bugs which are no problem for adavanced user but they are for standard \”secretary\”.

also theres still way not enough \”end user suiteable\” software for the daly office work,.. not to mention the private users with a lot more wishes…

dont get me wrong its a start in a good direction but far far far not a replacement except for some small enviroemnts with a small range of needs and a close support.

for specialist on the other hand its way better but only additional not as an replacement – i couldnt drive with ubuntu only no way for that .. sadly but it is how it is


@boh999 I don\’t know how you can say that the TCO is high for a linux distro as ubuntu, and that there\’s problems for standard \”secretary\”.

I can tell you that at work we switched the secretary computer from Windows XP to Ubuntu 10.04, and solved a lot of problems. She isn\’t an expert user at all, but she already was used to Thunderbird, Firefox and OpenOffice, and felt this change just as her computer was becoming more stable.

I know that she doesn\’t call me any more speaking about troubles with her computer. Before this switch, she had problems with viruses, slow system, and windows updates that sometimes leaved the machine in an bad state. Every week I had to go there and check that computer.
Now it just works, and everything else is OK for our needs.

Maybe it\’s just a matter of different needs and different people.

good luck


Not really meaning to pick nits, but the expression is “beck and call,” not “beckoned call.”


As a desktop user, I must say that Ubuntu has got support for wide varieties of hardware than the counterparts (say Fedora). I have been a Fedora fan but have not been able to install on my laptop (tried F12 and F14). I tried with Kubuntu and really works like a charm.


Definitely would love to start a website like yours. Wish I had the time. My site is so amateurish compared to yours, feel free to check it out: Alex :)


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The Ubuntu Advantage? Canonical Takes On Red Hat | Linux Magazine


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