Canonical’s placement of an advertisement for its “Ubuntu Pro” service in the application update tool sparked heated debate among users.
Ubuntu has once again sparked debate among Linux users by implementing a very controversial approach – using the most often used shell command, notably the software update tool, to advertise its service.
But first, let me explain what this is all about.
Ubuntu Pro Ad in Command Shell
Canonical has recently launched a fantastic initiative – a free personal Ubuntu Pro subscription for up to five machines. In other words, they opened up its previously paid-for Ubuntu Pro update service free of charge.
So far, so good. The news flooded the Internet, well received by all users. And everything would have been perfect if Canonical hadn’t decided that the APT command, which users use to update their system software from the terminal, is the best place to advertise their service.
We also should point out that this is not the first time Canonical has taken this approach. Years before, they used the MOTD message in Ubuntu to promote another of their products, Microk8s, similarly. Or remember when the default GNOME menu had Amazon search results in Ubuntu?
Now, if you’re a dual-boot user who usually uses Windows, you’re probably asking what’s the big deal with two lines and who they’re annoying.
On the other hand, if you see Linux as more than just “great, no need to pay,” but as the principles and values underlying Open Source, you’ll grasp the issue.
So, is this a good approach regarding Linux distribution and FOSS? Well, as always, there are two sides to every coin. So, let’s look at each side.
Ubuntu Is a Company-Backed Distro
It should be made clear that Ubuntu is a company-backed distro. But what does that mean?
Canonical is the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. This means that it fully funds its development and maintenance and then provides it for free.
Unlike other completely free Linux distros, such as Debian or Arch Linux, which are truly community-driven, the situation here is vastly different. In other words, without funding, the Ubuntu fairy tale is over.
As a result, Canonical is well within its rights to provide users with a product that is as close to the company’s vision and goals as possible.
At the same time, Canonical, like any other corporation, has and follows business interests and objectives. The end outcome of all of this is one simple thing: profit for the company. And this is entirely expected and normal.
Ubuntu Pro is a service with commercial objectives meant to generate income for Canonical. So, its free use of up to 5 client instances by anyone is a forward-looking move by Canonical. On the one hand, to promote the service, and on the other, to potentially turn current free users into paid subscribers.
From what has been said thus far, no Ubuntu user should be surprised when a distribution wholly financed by a company intends to use its flagship product as a platform to advertise its service.
But now, let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Do Ads Have a Place in FOSS?
A rhetorical question with an unequivocal answer: of course, now and forever, NO!
Because this completely contradicts the principle and philosophy behind Free and Open Source software. Where ideas, beliefs, and freedom stand above monthly income statements.
Most Linux users are like this not because Linux is free but because they believe in its ideology. This precious little grain of romance, shining brightly, has proven itself and changed the entire modern technological world.
So, understandably, Ubuntu users who profess FOSS beliefs have every reason to feel betrayed and disappointed.
“What’s the big deal about two advertising lines?” Some will argue. But I’d say that’s shallow thinking.
It is also unacceptable that the magic phrase “company-backed” is used to justify everything. Instead, the end user should accept the facts or follow the wise recommendation to “use another distribution, such as Debian.”
That is not acceptable. Reconciliation has never been and will never be a characteristic of FOSS users. Maybe, just maybe, the Ubuntu advocates, in this case, wouldn’t be wearing their awesome t-shirts now and probably talking about Linux at all. Why?
Because if the FOSS pioneers had their way of thinking and had not followed and stood up for their beliefs 30+ years ago, Linux might not exist today.
How to Get Rid of Ubuntu Pro Advertisement
If the advertising message bothers you and you want to remove it, there is a simple way to do so. The
strace command reveals that its source is the file “apt-pre-invoke-no-packages-apps.tmpl” in the “/var/lib/ubuntu-advantage/messages/” directory.
So, removing it eliminates the annoying advertisement:
sudo rm /var/lib/ubuntu-advantage/messages/apt-pre-invoke-no-packages-apps.tmpl
Finally, we’d like to make a few remarks. First, there is nothing wrong with Canonical using advertising in their distribution – it is very typical. Is it acceptable in terms of FOSS values? No, it is not acceptable.
Should I switch to another Linux distro? You can only find the answer in yourself, based on your understanding and FOSS views. However, I believe that standing in your position is the best solution rather than running away or reconciliation.
Because if this is allowed, it will get worse. Because that’s what happens with ads in any product or service, it’s like finding cockroaches. When there’s one, more are to follow.
It starts with two lines of text, and once they realize they can get away with it, it escalates to considerably more intrusive self-promotion or even third-party monetization more tightly integrated into the system.
Again, remember that taking little steps toward a line makes it simpler to cross.
So, if you use Ubuntu and love this tried-and-true Linux distribution, they may hear your voice despite all the “company-backed” arguments. And if those voices become loud enough, probably, just probably, Canonical’s marketing department may reconsider their approach.
Furthermore, over the years, Ubuntu has built a well-established pattern of abandoning anything that does not generate the expected revenue for the company. Do you remember Ubuntu One? So, that advertisement may not be around for long.