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I love Ubuntu and have been using it on my main PC and the wife's netbook for a few years now with great results.
It works, it's free, it is robust, it is a much smaller target than Windows (so is less bothered by malware) and it isn't a Microsoft or Apple product.
The guys at Canonical have been regularly updating the OS while ensuring that versions with long-term support (LTS) are made at sensible intervals so that even enterprise users can hitch their wagon to this horse without constant pain.
Okay, they dropped the ball a little when they tried to force the unfamiliar Unity user interface on people but some have adapted and the rest have stuck with pre-unity versions or installed Gnome instead.
So why am I now carefully considering whether I might jump-ship and switch to some other Linux distro rather than Ubuntu?
Well it seems that Canonical have decided that they want to squeeze more money out of the market and have come up with a cunning plan that I'm sure will outrage many users.
In fact, if they go ahead with this, I strongly suspect that the installed base of Ubuntu users, at least within the geek-community, will shrink very dramatically over the next year or so.
Now it's not that you can't (supposedly) turn off the advertising suggestions that the new version of Ubuntu is reportedly going to dump on its users. Some reports in the media say that the advertising is unintrusive and only appears when browsing specific sites that agree to pay Canonical a commission on sales.
The *real* problem is that for this "advertising" to be targeted, more information than most of us may like could be changing hands here.
Is this any worse than Google dishing up search-relevant ads when you use its search engine?
Possibly not -- in fact the whole "Ubuntu now has ads" thing is a little bit of a beat-up I suspect.
However, it ought to cause us to re-evaluate this whole ad-funded marketing model.
For some times now, Amazon has been pitching their Kindles with the option of an ad-funded discount. Be prepared to put up with ads on the lock-screen and you'll save a few bucks on the price of your hardware -- what could possibly go wrong with a deal like that?
Indeed, everyone I've heard of who has opted for the ad-funded deal seems happy with it. The ads are non-intrusive and some folk have even found that they've promoted deals which were actually worth buying.
Sounds like a win-win doesn't it?
So what could be wrong?
Well for the ad-funded model to work, the ads that are shown have to be carefully targeted to match the user's tastes, preferences or needs. No matter how many ads for lipstick you put on the Apple Fire or Ubuntu desktop of a "good Kiwi bloke", none of those burly, testosterone-flooded men are going to rush out and splurge on some "Kissable Cherry Red" -- not even for the girlfriend or old-sheila.
So how will those who are pushing the ads know exactly what is likely to interest *you* when you're using your Kindle, Ubuntu or other ad-funded product?
Well they'll have to keep a history of your activities. That means logging the websites you visit, the stuff you purchase and perhaps even scanning your emails for important keywords.
Yep, this is the type of stuff that Google does right now -- so why worry?
Well Google has some pretty strict privacy policies which (we hope) ensure that this information goes no further than the precincts of that "do no evil" company. Of course they could change these policies at any time -- but I suspect they'd have far more to lose than to gain by doing so.
Can we rely on Canonical and Amazon to be as ethical?
After all, Australian power companies seem happy to sell some rather significant data about their customers and their power-use patterns.
I guess that ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves whether we surrender a little (or a lot of) privacy in return for a saving a few dollars.
Personally -- even though I'm not a rich person, I would rather that the likes of Canonical offered an "ultra-privacy" version of their OS that came without *any* advertising or data-sniffing, even if I had to pay $50 to buy it.
Ad-funded was a great model when it was a one-way street -- such as it is with broadcast advertising and radio. However, in the 21st century, when those delivering such advertising need to know what you're doing to "better target" those ads, I'm not so sure.
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