Why Ubuntu Should Just Focus on the Desktop Market

Recently, at UDS, it was announced that Ubuntu would soon be coming to tablets, and smartphones, and other devices. Come 2014, Ubuntu, the most mainstream Linux distribution around, will be battling major players like Android, iOS, and Windows for the mobile OS market share.

As exciting as it may sound to any Linux fan, it seems that this is simply one of the worst decisions Canonical has taken recently. Even though Ubuntu is struggling to cross the 1% desktop market share, Canonical is running around in multiple directions when they should focus on their core product, that is the desktop.

Here's why focusing on the desktop market might be beneficial for Ubuntu:

Tough task ahead

Before Unity came, Ubuntu was one of the most stable Linux distributions around. The modern desktop utopia that Unity promised only managed to disappoint its loyal followers. And although Ubuntu 11.10 managed to undo that damage to a certain extent, Unity still is one of the most contentious interfaces around. Let’s say by 2014, Canonical manages to make Unity stable enough to be called a perfect desktop, bringing the same experience on mobile will be another herculean task.

A bit too late

The mobile market is already dominated by Android and iOS. The competition is so tough that even a multi-billion corporation like Microsoft is having a tough time making its mark. In 2014, when Ubuntu will launch its first mobile version, it will face even stiffer competition. And mind you, getting into the market is just the first step. Let’s say Ubuntu manages to get 20% of the market in 2 years, which can’t be ruled out entirely, it will have to be smart enough to play the game of thrones with evil competitors like Apple and Microsoft. The mobile market is a place where lawsuits are thrown at each other every day, and Canonical won’t be spared from the game. What’s more, once Apple starts perceiving Ubuntu as a threat to its empire, we can only guess how ugly things would get.

Changing trends

The mobile market is one of the most tumultuous places around. Even in 2011, it has undergone so many changes that even experienced tech bloggers are finding it hard to keep up with the latest news. Venturing into such a market, that too in 2014, is a huge risk, and it will take a great planning and investment. Ubuntu will have to watch Android and Apple closely for the latest trends. If Apple introduces a new product, let’s say in 2013, the whole industry would flip upside down.

A huge investment

Canonical doesn’t have a lot of money. To bring Ubuntu to smartphones and tablets will take a huge amount of investment in terms of money and time. If only Ubuntu could put that much focus on the desktop, they might be able to reach their 200-million-user goal in time and make Linux a truly popular operating system.

Lack of focus

Recently Google has been busy retiring all their old products. Now, they've just started focusing on what they do best – Gmail, search and few more of their frontline products. Ubuntu, on the other hand, is moving in exactly the opposite direction by focusing on too many things at once. This is exactly the problem Microsoft suffers from right now. Redmond has focused on so many products that they've just lost the focus on their core product that is desktop. We all know how Ubuntu loves Apple. If there is one thing that Ubuntu could learn from the Cupertino-based company, it should be focus. Apple has always focused on their core products, and that's what makes them so great.

I know that it would be very cynical to call it a bad decision yet. However, after the Unity debacle, even the most loyal of Ubuntu fans have started doubting Canonical's decisions. Moreover, many cynics of the industry doubt that a small company like Canonical simply cannot deliver on a platform that's already so crowded. This, undoubtedly, is Ubuntu's last shot at proving them all wrong, and we hope it really does.


  1. Agree. Some other points / confirmations

    1. There is a high opportunity cost ( for attempting to play in the mobile market, I'd rather see those energies get put into the desktop.

    2. Linux in general needs to focus, I know choice is good, but there is such thing as too much choice too. It creates anxiety in people who are new to Linux and it diffuses energies. Imagine there were only 3 distros, and two desktop environments, they would be quality! But instead there are dozens of Ubuntu clones, if those same developers just contributed to Ubuntu I think we'd be a lot better off.

  2. Imagine there were only 3 desktop environments for tablets and smartphones and all of them were run by mega-corporations with closed application environments that they censored, often with evil political motivatons or for the purpose of building a monopoly on other devices?

    Oh, wait - THEY ARE.

    That's why the mobile market needs a linux project, even if it is for a very small market share.

  3. same anonymous from 10:58

    I agree the mobile market could benefit from an open-source solution as I'm sure most people on this blog would. But that does not necessarily translate into me thinking that Canonical/Ubuntu should be the ones to fill that void.

    If Canonical/Ubuntu spreads itself too thin it will lose everywhere instead of winning in one place.

  4. Interesting post, but saying concentrating on the desktop is lacking the understanding of where Canonical is really making a killing, the Cloud. Ubuntu Server is the most popular OS in the Cloud by far, and I think that's where their perfect understanding of what people are looking for makes a huge difference. Focusing on the desktop is one thing, but you also have to be aware of what is happening around you, Ubuntu Desktop is fighting in a market that is loosing ground, people want mobility and convenience and that's where a product like Ubuntu One fits really well in the prospect of having a Tablet and Mobile phone OS.

    My only worry is that it's not coming fast enough, who knows what new mobility device will be popular in 2 years time!

  5. I have to say I agree with you mostly, I really hope things turn out well for Canonical but I have my doubts. For all we know the desktop may be dead on the consumer level in a few years so its good to expand but as the anon mentioned its all about opportunity cost.

  6. But I belive that the focus is the Server.