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A recent rumor has sparked waves of fear and outrage throughout the Linux community. The word is that Microsoft is in secret negotiations to purchase Canonical, the Ubuntu company.

With Ubuntu and its derivatives installed on millions of home computers and Web servers, the takeover would be disruptive to say the least. After all, in a world where most people think that Windows is “just how computers work”, not using Microsoft products is a deliberate choice. If Microsoft bought Canonical, millions of users would have to jump ship or accept life under the Microsoft banner.

Of course, Canonical is no stranger to controversy. It has been involved in very public licensing disputes with the Free Software Foundation. Its decision to include Amazon ads in Ubuntu’s menu system was seen as a crass attempt to cash in on users. And, there have been concerns over the company’s treatment of private data, with users’ search information transmitted to its corporate servers.

But when all is said and done, few would deny that Canonical is a valuable member of the Linux community. Its hundreds of developers contribute to the Linux kernel, the Debian project and its own open-source projects, which are available to the entire community.

The same sentiment does not hold true for Microsoft, even though it is now one of the largest corporate contributors to the Linux kernel. Of course, most of those contributions are driven by the company’s own requirements.

So, is there any truth to these mysterious murmurings?

To begin with, where do they come from? The “news” comes from a single tech blog, which in turn credits two undisclosed “sources within the community”. Following the original publication, some readers demanded clarification. After all, if we don’t know who these sources are, how can we tell if their information is valid?

The author of the article refused to give up his sources but contacted Microsoft and Canonical for an official statement on the rumor. Within a few hours, Microsoft declined to comment, and “an employee” of Canonical (actually the CEO) categorically denied the rumor.

Now, of course, it is possible that this is just a smoke screen, and that neither side is going to make an announcement until the deal is finalized, but it seems highly unlikely, especially given the nature of Canonical.

Canonical was founded with the goal of bringing Linux to the desktop. In particular, it aims to break the Microsoft monopoly in that space. This spirit is encapsulated in bug report #1 (https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/1), which calls Microsoft’s market share a bug (Microsoft has said worse things about Linux, by the way).

In addition, Canonical is not a profitable company. It appears to be making a huge financial loss each year (more than $10 million according to its UK tax filings). The majority of its software is open source, so there’s little potential for developing an income stream from selling licenses for those products. And Canonical has around 600 employees–from a purely financial view, that’s a sizable liability.

Read more at:   http://www.linuxjournal.com/content/ubuntu-conspiracy

My suspicion is that Microsoft would steer clear of the strongly anti-Microsoft user base that Canonical possess. But …

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