Will Mark Shuttleworth Sell Canonical…if ?


Red Hat has had it enough with SUSE keep finding better owners as it gets acquired again and again, which also proves the value of open source. So Red Hat followed the suite and got acquired by IBM.

Jokes aside, some pundits predict that it would end up being Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst taking over the leadership of IBM; no one better than him understands the fine balance between open source development model and building a business around it.

Which leaves us with the 3rd largest open source player in the market – Canonical. There have been rumors (it doesn’t cost much for pundits to predict such acquisitions) that Microsoft may eventually acquire Canonical.

While Mark Shuttleworth, the founder, and CEO of Canonical, remained unexpected silent when IBM announced the news of Red Hat acquisition, he did speak up during the OpenStack Summit in Berlin.

Shuttleworth told my friend and TechCrunch journalist Frederic Lardinois, “I value my independence.”

According to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (SJVN), Shuttleworth also commented on Red Hat-IBM deal that IBM paid way too much. It’s debatable given Red Hat is not only the world’s most successful ‘open source’ company, but it also has the strongest presence in enterprise space. Red Hat is known to have one of the best sales and engineering teams when it comes to open source companies.

Yes, it’s true, as SJVN wrote that Canonical’s Ubuntu is the leading OS in the public cloud space, but users are running those instances for free, Canonical doesn’t make any direct money by people running images of Ubuntu on AWS or Azure. Mindshare doesn’t always translate to revenue. However, Canonical does monetize heavily from Ubuntu as unlike Red Hat and SUSE its very easy for users to become paid customers of Canonical.

Back to the point of Shuttleworth commenting on him valuing his freedom, what does it really mean? Shuttleworth is not new to acquisitions. He made his fortune by selling off his company Thawte to Verisign for $575 million in 1999.

What would Shuttleworth do if someone offers decent money? And who would that player be? It would be someone who has a vested interest in Ubuntu’s market share. It’s not that hard to see who that player be. Would it be Microsoft? Hard to say, but looking at the current Microsoft and their commitment to Open Source, it might be an ideal match.

Companies like Microsoft tend to give freedom to companies they acquire, depending on the nature of the business. GitHub became an independent company within Microsoft. YouTube remains an independent company within Google and Red Hat is supposed to stay an independent company within IBM. SUSE has remained an independent company within MicroFocus and now under EQT.

So when Shuttleworth says he values his independence, does that mean he won’t mind Canonical getting acquired as long as he gets the same kind of independent that Red Hat and SUSE have under their new owners?

It will be interesting to see how things work out for Canonical in the next few months or year as the industry is moving towards consolidation.

What do you think? Should Shuttleworth agree to an acquisition if he gets to maintain the freedom of Canonical?