Corporate desktops and Ubuntu

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Good news for people with skills deploying and managing Ubuntu: the corporate desktop is being reinvented, and Ubuntu is a popular option for those leading the change.

In the past year there’s been a notable shift in the way IT shops think about their corporate desktops. Suddenly, Windows is optional, or at least it can be managed and delivered as a service to any other platform, so it no longer has to BE the platform on the client. In part, that’s because so much has moved to the web, and in part it’s because virtualisation has become so good at letting people deliver desktop apps (and whole desktops) over the network. It’s also a function of the success of other non-Windows platforms, like iOS, which make IT think in terms of standards for interoperability rather than standard applications.

All of this is drumming up interest in alternative ways to design large scale desktop infrastructure, from Linux-based thin clients (Ubuntu is at the heart of some recent products from Wyse) on alternative architectures like ARM to straightforward Ubuntu desktops with thin client software giving access to legacy Windows applications. In all these cases, Windows and proprietary software continue to play an important role, but the stranglehold of Windows on the platform itself seems to be coming unstuck. That makes for a much enhanced competitive landscape.

A migration from Windows to Ubuntu is still a project that requires a lot of planning, analysis and hard work. But for most institutions, it’s realistic to be confident that 10-25% of the desktops can migrate smoothly if a professional team has that as their mission over a year or two. For large organisations, that might be 5,000-50,000 seats, and the resulting savings are tremendous given the increase in Windows licensing costs driven by Win 7.

I joined a call recently with the team at Canonical that works with customers to plan and deliver desktop migrations to Ubuntu. They have a standard engagement process that charts a course for the organisation and maps out typical risks and low-hanging fruit. They were talking to a bank, traditionally a very conservative audience, about the stages and milestones in a typical migration of 20,000 seats to Ubuntu. I was struck by the tone of the conversation on both sides – it wasn’t a question of whether to do it, it was a question of how to do so most efficiently. And that’s a huge leap forward from the days when we used to speculate if it was sane to even think about Linux on the desktop for anybody other than a developer.

It’s clear that Windows is no longer the target – personal computing and productivity computing are in the process of being reinvented, and being an effective replacement for Windows is no guarantee of relevance in the future. But for many IT departments, the desktop represents an enormous cost base which will not disappear overnight, and Ubuntu is creating options for them to control that cost.

We often celebrate the way free software transforms the lives of those most in need, but it’s equally energising to see it making a difference to IT teams that in turn help inject resources into the acceleration of the free software platform. Winning 20,000 desktops to Ubuntu helps improve the platform for every school or university deployment, just as much as it helps improve the platform for developers and home users too.

40 comments:

  1. Gary Martin says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Just a suggestion Mark-I am currently testing 11.10 and I believe that you guys have made excellent progress refining Unity. In the Software Center I think you should not only include Free/Non-Free software.
    You should also use it as a platform for selling physical products and Services such as OEM Tablets,Desktops,Laptops, Training,Onsite Support,Data Recovery and other Ubuntu optimized hardware. This would be a very large incentive for OEM’s to market products directly to current Ubuntu users. I believe that this would be an excellent revenue stream for Canonical with little effort.

  2. Apple is the target | davidbosman.fr says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    [...] It’s clear that Windows is no longer the target [of Ubuntu]– personal computing and productivity computing are in the process of being reinvented, and being an effective replacement for Windows is no guarantee of relevance in the future. Mark Shuttleworth: Corporate desktops and Ubuntu [...]

  3. dave says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    As always, inspiring to read… thank you sir

  4. Jo-Erlend Schinstad says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Yes, the destop is being reinvented and I think Ubuntu is now in the lead in that regard. It’ll be very interesting to see how Unity Lenses are being used to serve specific business needs, for instance. I followed Canonicals recent webinar about the migration for an insurance company. How nice would it be for them to have a Contracts Lense which could display the most recently signed contracts, expired contracts, prepared contracts, etc. As I understand this technology, there are very few limits to how they can be used.

    It’ll be interesting to see. I’m certainly hooked on them :)

  5. Tim Blokdijk says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    We (homecare organisation) have been very happy with our Ubuntu Desktops over the years. We did a 100% migration to Ubuntu 7.04. Then upgraded to 7.10. We had problems with 8.04 so we stuck with 7.10, only last November we migrated to 10.04.
    I suspect that we will migrate to 12.04 beginning 2013, we’re not rushing everything is working fine. Please keep your focus on Unity, our users were divided about it when we showed them Ubuntu 11.04.

  6. Dave Holden says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Not if you keep changing the desktop it isn’t.

  7. sadig says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    @Mark:

    Honestly, we could have been already there..if someone had the guts in the past.
    But really, in the past there wasn’t a problem of the OS (linux or windows or whatsoever) it was the question: “Is Office running on it”.

    Today, we can say,”Not office, but we have a 99.9999% compatible solution, so yes, Office is running on it”

    And we have to make a difference between “Office Desktops” and “Private Desktops”.

    Anyways, the insurace deal is a great one, and I’m confident that there is more coming…

    Regards,

    \sh

  8. Michael Glasser says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    It is always excellent to see your take on things. Where some in the Linux / OSS world try to make things seem overly rosy for “our” team, you are willing to admit that there are many places we still need to grow and that migrations do not happen over night or even in a span of 6 months.

    Desktop Linux has a lot going for it – and it keeps getting better. It is only though the realistic take on the challenges, however, that we can see where and how to best improve it.

  9. Matthew Nederlanden says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Except for our designer’s computers (a windows machine for usability testing and a Macbook Pro for Adobe), at Security Camera Warehouse, we’re a fully open source company.

  10. Jef Spaleta says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Two clusters of comments.

    1) What is the optimum tech refresh rate for the corporate desktop usage case? In the negotation referred to in this article, is the unnamed bank looking at using LTS releases for desktop deployment or are they using the standard 6 month release cycle and upgrade path? Or are they doing something else like skipping every other release? Beyond initial roll out what is the preferred refresh cycle in this space?

    2) Is this bank signing up as paying Landscape services customer as part of this roll-out? Or are they planning to roll their own centralized management solution in-house to keep the systems updated?

    -jef

  11. Bruno Girin says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Exactly right! There will always be one application that only runs on Windows and that even the most committed to migrating will not be able to do without, be it SAGE or MS Visio. So an Ubuntu desktop with a thin client to access those applications that they can’t (yet) migrate is the way to go.

    At the end of the day, that’s exactly what Windows did 15 years ago: I still remember attempts to replace the green text terminals with Windows 3.11 desktops using a terminal emulator to access the mainframe in a company I used to work for. The IT department faced the same issues of familiarity with the old platform and unwillingness to change. I’m sure there are some lessons to learn from that.

  12. bernard says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    @sadig : where is your 99.9999% office compatible solution ? The layout of my old office documents are not ok (90% ok perhaps…) with Libreoffice or openoffice or lotus symphony or … and wine is sometimes not ok with large files !

  13. Alex Lourie says: (permalink)
    August 15th, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Some companies have so badly planned infrastructure, or it is built so heavily on MS technologies, that moving to Linux is not feasible at all. The problem is not in the cost of the hardware/software, but in human years spent on creating the flows.

    In the company I work for (one of the largest telco suppliers with 100 customers over the world), I spend my day on hardly moving XP machine (due to A/V running, VPN running, administrative tools running, security scanner, corporate utils, etc) developing a product that runs on Linux and Solaris servers.

    There’s no way we move to Linux computers any time soon.

  14. Nick Anderson says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 12:51 am

    When I worked at a small e-commerce company a few years back, I migrated about 60% of the staff (about 30 people) to linux desktops. It took me a couple of months to get the standard config worked out. The biggest challenge was providing “roaming” profiles that could also be used offline. But once it was done it was great, desktop support calls were almost nonexistant, and for the majority of those I could shell in and fix it quicker than what it would have taken me to walk to the users computer.

  15. Ubuntu Founder: “The Stranglehold of Windows on the Platform Itself Seems to be Coming Unstuck” — SiliconFilter says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 3:20 am

    [...] though, that has never happened. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu developer Canonical, thinks that a major sea change is currently happening in the corporate world that could give Linux a chance. Ironically, what’s giving Linux on the [...]

  16. Tom Deckert says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 3:35 am

    G’Day,

    I’ve spent five years trying to inject discussion of Linux on the
    Corporate Desktop into the LinuxToday web site. Literally over those
    five years, Linux Today has silently repressed several hundred
    (polite, constructive, pertinent, witty, thoughtful)
    posts I’ve written encouraging people to think about
    and talk about Linux on the Corporate Desktop.

    Second point: Think about all the other Linux Media
    (websites, print magazines, long serving pundits) and go
    back through their history to attempt to find their
    discussions of Linux on the Corporate Desktop. You’ll find
    that they have covered a bewildering range of topics, but
    have not discussed Linux on the Corporate Desktop.

    Most specifically, the most helpful thing (and the thing you
    will not find) would be explicit, concrete examples of actual
    corporations actually using Linux on the Corporate Desktop.
    (There would be an infinite number ways to mention specific
    Corporate Desktop Linux examples, if one were a Linux Media person.)

    In other words, I claim that 95% of Linux Media people
    receive their pay in exchange for sending the message that
    Linux is _NOT_ used on the corporate desktop. I argue that
    to effectively send the message that Linux _IS_ used on the
    corporate desktop, this problem must be explicitly acknowledged
    and addressed.

    Cheers,
    Tom

  17. Hallow Demon Friendz | Blog | Corporate desktops and Ubuntu says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 5:10 am

    [...] Read the full article HERE [...]

  18. Dilton McGowan II says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 5:29 am

    I’m a huge Ubuntu fan. The 20K seats is a win. Congratulations to you and Canonical!

  19. Dilton McGowan II says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 5:29 am

    I’m a huge Ubuntu fan. The 20K seats is a win. Congratulations to you and Canonical!

  20. Jian H. L. says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I switched to Ubuntu 11.04 from Windows XP & 7, Debian 3.1, 5 & 6 and Fedora 14 & 15. I think I like Ubuntu. The only thing in 10.04 I don’t like is that when I keep maximizing and restoring the application window size, eg Firefox by double-click on the topbar and the window title bar. You know what is the result? — the window goes out of the screen. I can even stay peace with the initially turned on launch bar.

    What will you do ‘IF DEBIAN DISCONTUNES’? Can you build the kernel and re-package all the packages for Ubuntu yourselves?

    Regards

  21. Johnsie says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Ubuntu doesn’t have an adequate replacement for Outlook/Exchange with a global address list, shared calendars etc. There is also no an adequate alternative to Microsoft Access. Open Office is pretty good, but until the issues I’ve mentioned are fixed it will be very difficult for most companies to switch to Linux on the desktop.

  22. K. Manikandan says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Really, you said the truth of linux and its migration might take sometime but it will be so steady.

  23. Links 16/8/2011: GNU/Linux is Ahead, GCC 4.7 is Coming | Techrights says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    [...] Corporate desktops and Ubuntu A migration from Windows to Ubuntu is still a project that requires a lot of planning, analysis and hard work. But for most institutions, it’s realistic to be confident that 10-25% of the desktops can migrate smoothly if a professional team has that as their mission over a year or two. For large organisations, that might be 5,000-50,000 seats, and the resulting savings are tremendous given the increase in Windows licensing costs driven by Win 7. [...]

  24. MattiK says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    @Mark:

    “Good news for people with skills deploying and managing Ubuntu: the corporate desktop is being reinvented, and Ubuntu is a popular option for those leading the change.”

    Biggest problem is Unity coming in next LTS. Migrating now is insane in production machines if the user interface changes next year. However, Ubuntu was good solution three years ago on 8.04 LTS.

    @Johnsie:

    “Ubuntu doesn’t have an adequate replacement for Outlook/Exchange with a global address list, shared calendars etc.”

    You can buy Zimbra.

    @Jef Spaleta:

    “1) What is the optimum tech refresh rate for the corporate desktop usage case?”

    Six years. Home users four years. Developers and hobbyist prefer 6-12 months. This is definitely greatest weakness in Ubuntu on corporate desktop, and most difficult to change (expensive). LTS should be at least 4.5 years on desktop, it helps a lot. Those six month cycle releases I could not care less how long these are supported.

  25. Victor Palau says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    @jonhsie and other Open Office comments

    IMHO, I think is the delivery of software as a service, mainly by Google (mail,calendar and office) but also by companies as Salesforce.com that is taking the shackles of IT professionals all over the world.

  26. Jo-Erlend Schinstad says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    MattiK: please elaborate. Why does Unity create any kind of difficulty in regard to migration? But I think close to all businesses would want to stick to LTS in any case. 10.04 is supported and that’s probably what most businesses would migrate to if they do it now. It is of course very important that upgrading from 10.04 to 12.04 is painless, but that goes for all LTS-to-LTS upgrades. Why is 12.04 different in that regard?

  27. Shuttleworth, Desktop aziendali ed Ubuntu: “Windows è facoltativo” - Chimera Revo says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    [...] è dir poco il nuovo intervento del numero uno di Canonical che, tramite il proprio blog, ha voluto dire la sua sull’attuale situazione che coinvolge i desktop aziendali ed Ubuntu. [...]

  28. MattiK says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    @Jo-Erlend Schinstad:

    “Why does Unity create any kind of difficulty in regard to migration?”

    Unnecessary user interface change to end users. We do not want to change location of buttons every year so Ubuntu 10.04 LTS is no longer option. One year cycle is anyway too short, so it is best to stick with current operating systems. Most of the operating systems are Windows XP machines so it is probably best to skip 12.04 LTS too excluding a small group of machines.

    We do not want to start all over again every year and see how the peripherals and closed source software break. First phase will be 12.04.1 LTS to some low risk machines for testing and 14.04.1 LTS to rest.

    If Unity changes radically 12.04 LTS -> 14.04 LTS, Ubuntu will fail corporate desktop in this decade. If that happens, everybody has decided to migrate to Windows 7 and stick with that. No reason to change because you don’t want to break something that works.

    For corporate desktop, shorter refresh cycle may not be big problem because of cloud services. But consumer desktop definitely requires at least four year support for desktop. We can’t sell preinstalled machines because consumer protection laws requires at least two year responsibility. Operating system upgrades are too risky so machine we sell must work any time at least two years without need of upgrade. Ubuntu is clearly “seasonal product” now.

  29. MattiK says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    ..or perhaps the after-market product describes it better. Ubuntu is great now to put old computer, but I like to see and put it to new computers, but it requires longer support to releases.

    How is this possible to achieve may require to limit supported components and offer clear “Ubuntu platform” and some separate software ecosystem top of that, or limit six month release cycles support to minimum.

    Or just need a lot of money but it is not sustainable with a free product.

  30. mark says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    @MattiK

    Your point about change being detrimental to large deployments is certainly valid. That’s one of the reasons we took the plunge on several major changes in 11.04 – it gives us two whole cycles to refine them and get them right for 12.04 LTS.

    We are pretty focused on scientific evidence-based design, which includes hard comparisons of real experiences by real users with common task goals. For example, we sit users down and ask them to get stuff done, with various differences in their desktops, and see how those impact their productivity. In our tests, Unity comes out well ahead of the older desktop even in it’s current, slightly rough form. So I’m confident users will be much more productive with Unity in 12.04 LTS than they are with 10.04 LTS, which is a good thing.

    The testing is relatively easy to do, take 10 people in two groups of 5, make a list of things they need to get done, and just observe how they do over an afternoon. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself, and we’d welcome the feedback on where people get stuck and how best to smooth those blockages.

    Mark

  31. mark says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    @Gary

    Interesting suggestion, thanks!

  32. MattiK says: (permalink)
    August 16th, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    @Mark:

    “Your point about change being detrimental to large deployments is certainly valid.”

    It is also true for small deployments, but small deployments are good for testing. I do couple of installations 11.04 to prepare for future support. I HAVE to know user problems when they are transitioning from different UI. I’ve already done observations from users.

    “That’s one of the reasons we took the plunge on several major changes in 11.04 – it gives us two whole cycles to refine them and get them right for 12.04 LTS.”

    It is probably good idea to label those six month cycle releases something like “bleeding edge”, “experimental”, “developer release” or “preview”. I’m worried about Ubuntu’s reputation because those live wildly and YES, it causes problems to those have not been told that this is very bleeding edge technology. IT professionals understands Ubuntu releases but not the rest of the world. This is the reason why Fedora is different brand than Red Hat Enterprise and why there is “Solaris Express” or “openSuse”. I understand that Ubuntu project needs feedback from new releases but people are mixing LTS and sixmonth cycles and this is very harmful.

    “We are pretty focused on scientific evidence-based design, which includes hard comparisons of real experiences by real users with common task goals.”

    My own experience from Unity:

    * Users can’t found any help button when they use Unity first time.

    * I’m poweruser and four desktops is not enough. I didn’t figure out yet how to get more.

    * Focusing on search is great leap forward, but I feel that “good old” hierarchy should be found fast (=directly) too like before.. Apps, home folder and settings. Hierarchies are difficult learn but they are excellent to obtain an overall picture from system.

    * Mac OS like shared menubar is great for small screen but it sucks big time on workstation with FullHD screen (It sucks Macs too on larger screens). Too long distances to move mouse, and move eyes. There should be at least switch and good default guessing based on screen resolution to use Gnome/Windows etc. like menu for big screen. Another drawback is that the menu changes on screen and unnecessary changes/animations are distraction.

    Possible biggest drawback is that the open source ecosystem have many kind of user interfaces, and even own toolkits in software. This only adds to the fragmentation and this decreases usability a lot. It is practically impossible to change all software to works with shared menu, especially not all software even care about menu and menus are anyway inconvenient with touchscreen. Windows like ribbons are better. Generally speaking, it is drawback from Gnome 2.

    So.. I REALLY like to see this as default: Keep the “dock” and search from Ubuntu logo button, change shared menu back to previous design where applications have own menus, and change top panel to traditional gnome panel (like) where you can put virtual desktops, menus hierarchies etc. Probably it’s easiest to fork old gnome panel and rip unnecessary and duplicate features of.

    This gives possibility to clean up those “special buttons” from the dock to give room to apps. In future, software center may be hide to behind Ubuntu logo button search, and maybe later to use shared design or something to them. These are however bigger changes.

    And yes, I do perfectly understand that there is strong focus to touchscreen and usability with smaller screens in Unity. These changes would not harm much. However, abandonment of a shared menu will use more screen space on some applications, but it is impossible to get everything. It’s best to forgot those 6″ screens for now and focus to get good UI for rest (10-60″). Maybe there can be add some switch to near similar UI like I describe which is optimized for <=11", where all apps are fullscreen with shared menu, and virtual desktops and top panel menus are removed from UI to get more room to top panel shared menu.

    "The testing is relatively easy to do, take 10 people in two groups of 5, make a list of things they need to get done, and just observe how they do over an afternoon. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself, and we’d welcome the feedback on where people get stuck and how best to smooth those blockages."

    I know. I've also read thousands of pages of user interface books, US DoD UI guidelines and similar material. For usability testing, small group of people, even three users, can do a lot. It is more important to get good data out than lot of testers. It is good to have different personalities (DISC assesment) for testing, and of course user interface specialists to say what is and why and how wrong if they notice something (and interpret test results). One cheap trick to get data is set computer to record screenshot at one second intervals and replay that as video. Eye-tracking stuff requires more investment.

    Of course I have not give much attention to Unity usability problems because I'm starting company and my time is limited now. However, I'm interested to know more what is behind current Unity design decisions. I'm not all-knowing oracle how things should be so it is very possible that I'm totally wrong about this shared menu and "hidden" hierarchy.

    Matti

  33. srinivas says: (permalink)
    August 17th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    @Mark I will take this blog as a response to my comment on your previous blog.

  34. jdaines says: (permalink)
    August 17th, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Would be awesome if the bank that was switching to Ubuntu would also hand out Ubuntu cd to make online banking safer for their customers and gave tutorials on how to install and dual boot into ubuntu when doing online banking.

  35. yman says: (permalink)
    August 17th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I’ve been saying for a while something similar to Gary Martin: Ubuntu has a section that lists certified devices, component, and software, but there’s no easy way to purchase these products. I suggest that there be a dedicated site for certified products, say store.ubuntu.com, where the manufacturers can sell their wares. The site would offer all the same customization options that you’d get at the manufacturer’s site (except those that aren’t certified, of course). Canonical itself wouldn’t sell anything, but simply forward the orders to the manufacturer, taking a small fee for each purchase. The store would list any type of product that is certified for Ubuntu, both hardware and software. However, if the software is in the USC then maybe Canonical should be the one to sell it. The Ubuntu Certified section will then host links to the product’s page in the store.

    Perhaps the store should also host compatible products and options that haven’t been certified. Those could be placed less prominently, and perhaps with a warning saying that they should be compatible, but have not undergone Canonical’s thorough tests and that they are more likely to develop problems in the future than certified products.

    As far as placing stuff in the USC, putting physical products in a software store may be a little confusing, not to mention that they will be using different infrastructure.

  36. Robert says: (permalink)
    August 20th, 2011 at 7:05 am

    @Tom Deckert

    ‘explicit, concrete examples of actual corporations actually using Linux on the Corporate Desktop’:
    French parliament since 2007 1000+ ubuntu desktops

  37. salemboot says: (permalink)
    August 21st, 2011 at 4:08 am

    Admirable, though corporate needs legacy support.

    Consider iron-cladding older distributions for longer time periods.

    Version 8.04 support should be extended until 2014.

    Two key points:

    1. Amateurs, Hobbiest’ and students will fantasize about the latest distribution
    2. Professionals, Artisans and craftsman retain the same old tools; discipline

  38. La visió esbiaixada de Shuttleworth « Només 5 línies says: (permalink)
    August 23rd, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    [...] i Linux, però comença a tenir una visió molt esbiaixada de com fer que Linux s’imposi. En aquest article parla de l’escriptori corporatiu, però en aquest altre mostra que tots els seus esforços no [...]

  39. Dragos says: (permalink)
    September 1st, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Hi Mark,

    Ubuntu needs a Directory Server. This is an important feature for enterprises.

  40. enedene says: (permalink)
    September 5th, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I find governments to be the biggest problem. They are spending tax payers money inefficiency buying expensive licenses from Microsoft and not looking at alternative solutions.
    Not all the government jobs, but most of them need just a decent word processor, ability to make a simple table, read/send email, to connect Internet and that’s it. Linux is a perfect OS for such tasks. But still my government not only pays for every new version of windows, but also the tutorials for all the employees for every new version of windows and office.
    In any case if the trend is changing and companies/governments are looking on Linux desktop more seriously, that is great news.