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Ubuntu in Business

13 July 2010 6 Comments

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How not to promote a product

Imagine going into a guitar shop, with a distinct chance of actually buying a guitar, and not being allowed to try one out.

Imagine a new restaurant coming to your neighbourhood, and staging an open day, but not offering visitors any tasty samples.

Imagine signing up for golf lessons only to learn that you never get to hold a golf club, but only get to hear lectures.

Imagine the Geneva Motor Show crammed into a small noisy nightclub on Brick Lane, with no cars to inspect, but only a series of eight well rehearsed TV adverts to watch.


Now you have some idea of what Canonical did with “Ubuntu in Business” on Tuesday 13 July 2010. Too much noise and too much hype, little or no hands-on and not much chance to “ask an expert”. It was a brilliant idea done spectacularly badly.

I have fumbled with Ubuntu Server, with Ubuntu Desktop and with Unbuntu Notebook. And my business continues to run PCs using XP.

If anybody would like to run a “Linux Open Day” in a proper conference centre, with proper sessions, in proper breakout rooms (without loud music) and provide me with a bit of a hands-on experience and the odd expert to tell me where I’m going wrong with my own Ubuntu experiments, then please let me know.

And if Canonical are doing a debrief after “Ubuntu in Business” . . .

(a) please let them know about this blogpost! Thanks!

(b) and if you actually work at Canonical, can I ask – have you ever been into an Apple Store? How does that compare to your event? How can you promote something like Ubuntu without offering a hands-on experience?


In my experience, switching from Windows to Linux is like switching from a knife and fork to chopsticks. They both do the same job, and they both work perfectly well. But they are different! The trick in mastering chopsticks is to actually have an example to work with. Watching other people do it does not really help. Doing it yourself with no help is tough. Having an experienced person show you how (and actually putting the tools in your hands, not in theirs) can make all the difference. At this event, Canonical were pushing on an open door, and what amazed me was their clownish disconnect with genuine, potential users.

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Posted on 13 Jul 2010 by Proactive Paul



  • alanbell said:

    Well firstly, I am very glad you thought the presentations were well rehearsed.

    There was a jointly organised event between the Ubuntu Community and Canonical, it wasn’t supposed to be a classroom or a shop, so wasn’t a hands on lesson, or, err, a shop. I don’t work at Canonical, and I have also never been in an Apple store, so I am a bit unsure how that is supposed to compare to the event we put on today. The music was not playing during the event, once the event was over there was some music that we successfully talked over all evening. There are other events organised by the community with a different feel to them.

    We have talked about doing a kind of mobile classroom hands on training/messing about type of event, that is still in the planning stages. My demo at the event today included a walkthrough of the Ubuntu install process and some other wandering about the desktop clicking on things. Sure, the only “hands on” were mine really, but it wasn’t a classroom event. If this event didn’t meet your expectations the best thing you can do is to help organise the next one and shape it to your desires and model it on a shop if you want.

  • Proactive Paul (author) said:

    Thanks for the feedback Alan. All feedback is valuable and that’s why I pulled no punches in the blog.

    The event was promoted on Eventbrite . . .


    . . . and clearly says . . .

    “Attendees will discover how they can introduce or extend this technology safely and effectively within their organisation.

    All are welcome, but if you already count yourself as an Ubuntu user, please drag along a colleague who has yet to see the light!”

    I took that to mean that Canonical were trying to reach people like me. A chap who runs a small business, but is not an IT professional.

    I felt alienated. That clearly wasn’t their intention, but none the less that is what happened.

    The eight introductory talks were commercial showcases. I can live with that. Then come session 1, I was sitting opposite Jesse de Carlos in one of the booths upstairs. The music was loud. I was also sitting back to back with another speaker in another booth. I could not hear Jesse.

    The arrangement would have suited a pub quiz, but it did not suit a serious business event. The mezzanine floor was hot and oppressive, and people who could not find seats filled all the open floorspace. And, because they couldn’t hear the sessions, they added to the noise whilst (understandably) chatting amongst themselves.

    Let me know how to get involved and (as long as it starts on time) I would willingly help at a future event.


  • alanbell said:

    The venue was different and a bit quirky certainly. It was busy, and yes a slightly bigger venue would have been good. It is *very* hard to plan for the right numbers for a free event. We released 200 tickets on eventbright and were planning for a 50% dropout rate and there were I think just over a hundred people there. The venue fire limit is 350 (which would be pretty damn crowded). I think we should have used the top floor as well.

    One important point was that this was a community led event, hosted jointly with Canonical. If Canonical had picked and paid for the venue it might have been in a dreary conference centre. Canonical were kind enough to pay for food and drinks, but this was not just a Canonical event. I wrote the agenda, I don’t work for Canonical.

    Most of the commercial showcases were people and partners in the Ubuntu community telling us what they do and what they have done for their customers. Yes, it would be nice to have more case studies and less sales stuff.

    There were a lot of conversations going on in the garden at the back, I don’t really see “people chatting amongst themselves” as a bad thing, that was one of the objectives of the event.

    To get involved in the next one join the UK local team mailing list and come along to our regular meetings on IRC, details of both at https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UKTeam

    In terms of community led events that are more hands on and operational (and more jeans and tshirts than suits) rather than strategic level presentations and demos, we will do that too. It just takes different resources and a different venue and a different way of marketing it.

  • Proactive Paul (author) said:

    Thanks Alan. This just goes to show the value of good communication.

  • Bruno Girin said:

    At the end of the day, it was the first such event so it was bound to have issues. What we now need to do is make a note of them and address them for the next one.

    From my point of view, the biggest issue was that there was very little room around the tables in the mezzanine meaning that it was difficult to move from one demo to another.

    In terms of the content, I can understand why Paul may have felt slightly alienated. Most talks were on the subject of “you can use Ubuntu in business, we did it and so can you (or we can help you do it)”. For existing Ubuntu users, this makes sense. But I suspect non-Ubuntu users would have wanted to know a bit more around how it works in practice, from a user’s point of view rather than an IT point of view, how it works when your business (or part of it) uses Ubuntu and has to deal with customers and suppliers who don’t, etc. It looks like I have just volunteered myself to do that talk at the next UIB 🙂

    Anyway, Paul, it’d be good to see you on ubuntu-uk and maybe we can get some synergy going by having some people from the LoCo participate in BarCamp London. I will, definitely, but I’m sure others would be interested.

  • Proactive Paul (author) said:

    Good points Bruno!

    A quick search for “linux” or “open source” in this blog reveals a number of exploits going back 18 months.

    If the Community wants to shake off the “works OK for geeks” image, then a bit more of “we speak your language” would probably go down well.

    And 18 months on, I still have an office full of machines running XP.


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