Canonical on Path to IPO as Ubuntu Unity Linux Desktop Gets Ditched

In October 2010, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu open-source operating system and CEO of Canonical, announced his grand plan to build a converged Linux desktop that would work on mobile devices, desktops and even TVs. He called the effort "Unity" and poured significant financial resources into it.

Seven years later, the Unity dream is dead. 

On Oct. 19, Ubuntu 17.10 was released as the first Ubuntu Linux version since 2010 that didn't use Unity as the default Linux desktop. In a video interview with eWEEK, Shuttleworth details the rationale behind his decision to cancel Unity and why he has now put his company on the path toward an initial public offering (IPO).

Because Ubuntu has moved into the mainstream in a bunch of areas, including the cloud, he said some of the things his company had been doing were never going to be commercially sustainable.

"As long as we stay a purely private company, we have complete discretion as to whether we carry things that are not commercially sustainable," Shuttleworth said. 

Shuttleworth, along with his executive management team, decided that Canonical should become a public company. As such, Canonical couldn't have on its books substantial projects that clearly have no commercial angle to them.

"One of the things I'm most proud of in the last seven years is that Ubuntu itself has become completely sustainable," he said. "I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and Ubuntu would continue on."

The big areas of opportunity for Canonical are in the enterprise in terms of defining how cloud infrastructure is built and how cloud applications are operated. There are also opportunities for Canonical in the emerging internet of things (IoT) landscape.

"What you'll see at some stage soon is that we have broken even on all the pieces that we do commercially without Unity," Shuttleworth said. "At some stage after that, we will take a round of investment which will be a growth round and that will be aimed at helping us to become a public company in due course."


Unity was a platform that Shuttleworth really believed in, and he said emotionally, he never wants to go through a process of ending a project like that again. He noted that he made some miscalculations around Unity and he really thought the industry would rally to the idea. That said, Shuttleworth has no regrets about his decision to start the Unity project in the first place.

"Lots of people will complain about the options that they have and don't go and create other options," Shuttleworth said. "It takes a bit of spine and as it turns out, quite a lot of money to go and try and create those options."

Watch the full video with Mark Shuttleworth above.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.