Why Canonical’s decision to scrap Ubuntu One was all about mobile

Ubuntu Touch

Ubuntu Linux company Canonical has scrapped Ubuntu One, its cloud storage and music download service. In a blog post on Wednesday, CEO Jane Silber said the London-based firm wanted to “focus our efforts on our most important strategic initiatives and ensure we are not spread too thin.”

There appear to be two main reasons for the decision. The first is that, in the free storage market, the likes of Dropbox and Box have things pretty much wrapped up for now. Ubuntu One never gained the same cachet in its four-and-a-half years of existence and Canonical doesn’t have the spare cash to splurge on a big marketing push, nor on supporting loads of extra users.

As Silber put it, “if we offer a service, we want it to compete on a global scale, and for Ubuntu One to continue to do that would require more investment than we are willing to make.”

Instead, that investment is going towards Ubuntu’s big – and as yet incomplete — mobile push. So far Canonical has only got two small manufacturers on board, and most of the company’s focus is on creating an ecosystem. Canonical does not want to compete with potential partners… but which ones?

The partner game

Silber referenced the commercial relationships set up around around Ubuntu’s Scopes feature, which is designed to “highlight third party content and services”, but she wasn’t terribly specific. I’d say the carriers are her biggest concern.

Right now, the mobile carriers are trying to get their mojo back. They’ve spent the last 7 years watching Apple and then Google win their customers’ hearts and wallets. Worse, the platforms of iOS and Android support any number of free or cheap services that compete with the carriers’ own voice and SMS services, such as WhatsApp and Skype.

So the carriers are now trying to get themselves back into the center of the picture, by any means necessary. They’re funding startups and building apps and, increasingly, forming partnerships with major content and service providers like Spotify, Evernote and Line, especially in the areas where they themselves can’t build a competitive rival.

So not only does Canonical not want to antagonize potential direct partners; it wants to make its operator offer as sweet as possible. Its competitors have the same idea. Mozilla’s Firefox OS has been developed with the carriers from the start, and the carriers duly love it and are trying to push it hard (with what success, we don’t know yet). Jolla too was conceived around the idea of integrating operators’ “value-added services”.

These players are there to serve, not to reduce the carriers to so-called “dumb pipes”. They’re there to steer app revenue into the carriers’ coffers and let them set up the content and service partnerships that will continue to erode net neutrality (but that’s another story).

Closing time

Did Ubuntu One have to go? It was clearly more trouble than it was worth, but I’m particularly keen to see which partners in the value chain snap up the opportunity to sell music through Ubuntu devices – if indeed they come to market in a significant way.

Incidentally, if you’re a user of the Ubuntu One single sign-on service, its payment service or the U1DB database API, don’t worry, those aren’t getting the chop. If you use the storage or music services, sorry. They won’t work from 1 June, and anything not downloaded by the end of July will be deleted. I’m not sure how many of you there are — I’ve asked Canonical to clarify.

On the plus side, Canonical is open-sourcing its Ubuntu One storage code “to give others an opportunity to build on this code to create an open source file syncing platform,” Silber wrote. Which is nice.


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