Official website for Linux User & Developer

Banshee, Canonical and how to earn an honest living in open source

by Jos Poortvliet

openSUSE community manager, Jos Poortvliet, discusses Canonical’s heavy handed tactics over Banshee referrals, and wonders how an openSUSE Foundation might make an honest living in open source…

This article is due to appear in issue 98 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Banshee, Canonical and how to earn an honest living in open source Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier wrote an interesting article on Open Source Report about the Banshee Amazon store in Ubuntu 11.04. To quickly summarize the situation, Banshee will be the new default music player in Ubuntu. Let me say up front, as a disclaimer: Banshee is to a large extent being developed by my employer, Novell. Banshee has support for the Amazon music store and includes a referral code in there, as you’d expect. The benefits of this amount to around $10,000 per year right now, which goes to the GNOME Foundation. Sadly, Canonical recently visited the Banshee mailing list and told them the Amazon store had to go. It could stay, they said, but only if Banshee gave 75% of the earnings to Canonical instead of GNOME. The Banshee developers graciously declined. Now Banshee (in Ubuntu at least) will have Ubuntu One as default music store and users will have to enable Amazon by themselves.

Like Joe, I have no problem with Canonical trying to make money on Ubuntu One. I do have an issue with them taking it away from the projects who develop the code they ship to their customers, though. It might have been more reasonable if Canonical would have been looking for an even split – even Apple doesn’t take more than a 30% cut from people who ship applications through their App Store. But Banshee isn’t the only project that Canonical cuts in on. The company also replaces the Firefox affiliate ID with its own. I wonder how people would feel if Microsoft or Apple replaced the affiliate code in Firefox in their next OS update…

Canonical has to make money, granted, but I just hope they can find better ways of doing that over taking it from the non-profits, which produce the code they ship. There is plenty of documentation on the web on how companies can generate revenue out of Open Source. Meanwhile, however, this issue did make me think about a rather different use case – openSUSE. We are in the process of setting up a Foundation. Once created, this Foundation will be on the lookout for funding. Obviously my employer will support it, but he Foundation will also want to explore other ways of generating income, and I can’t find much information on how Free Software non-profits can generate it.

Individual donations and merchandising don’t seem hugely profitable in other communities – it brings in a bit of money but not enough to sustain many expenses. I’ve been thinking about the individual sponsorship program – communities like openSUSE, KDE and GNOME have lots of people who used to be active members, but have since moved on. The skills they learned while active surely still help them every day and maybe they even got a job because of their activities. So why not set up an alumni program and target them to give a small share of their income to the community? Organize something for them – a yearly reunion, a special alumni meeting at a yearly conference, some way to share what they have learned since leaving openSUSE…

On the web you do find references about certification programs and trademark lending. Sometimes companies sell services or products around openSUSE and they’re often able to pay for the privilege of using the openSUSE brand. How much revenue this could bring in, though, is tricky to calculate. Something else which works, outside of various donation schemes and affiliate codes, are targeted fundraisers. You can’t do that too often, but the GNOME Foundation, Amarok and Krita communities frequently do such fundraisers.

So maybe openSUSE will simply have to rely on these mentioned ways of making money. Don’t forget about specific, targeted fundraisers for specific causes, but stay reasonable. An e.V. or Foundation should protect, support, mediate and communicate. It doesn’t need to employ hundreds of developers, marketeers or consultants. That is for the other, commercial parties in the ecosystem…

Linux User & Developer is the magazine for the GNU Generation
Click here to try 3 issues for £1

Return to the homepage
See what features in issue 97

twitter follow us

  • Tell a Friend
  • Follow our Twitter to find out about all the latest Linux news, reviews, previews, interviews, features and a whole more.
    • Mark Kretschmann

      Great article, Jos.

      I fully agree, and if Canonical should ever try to play such dirty games with Amarok, I will get “a bit” angry.

      Mark S. seems to be losing it a bit, lately. Driving a distro straight against the wall is one thing, but messing with the people who provide software for it, for free, that is going too far.


    • Marco

      > even Apple doesn’t take more than a 30% cut from people who ship applications through their App Store.

      This comparison is wrong, if you would try to sell music via iTune they would send you to hell. That’s a lot different. Ubuntu move will probably give the Banshee-Team more money in the end.

    • alfonz

      This is interesting. Ubuntu is the largest Linux provider and having such a big channel means a lot of money, they are entitled to make. Just like a chain of big supper-market and you expect they will sell products for free? Don’t understand this free-of-charge for something that is bought (music).

    • r_a_trip

      Canonical better tread lightly here. Making money is important, but what they proposed is outrageous extortion. Not even the Mob “asks” 75% for their “services”.

      If the referal money Banshee gets was used to generate profit, I’d be a smidge more sympathetic, but Banshee donates all the referal money to GNOME. GNOME uses that money to fund development of its desktop environment. Said desktop environment powers much of the Ubuntu experience. The idea of taking the bulk of this money seems largely self-defeating.

    • Andy Prough

      If you want a money raising idea, I hope you will put those green boxes of software back on the shelves at all the computer stores in the U.S. again. I don’t know if SuSE made money or lost money on that deal, but over the years I bought several of the $90 “Pro” sets of SuSE software with the built-in support period.

      At one point I had myself and several of my friends all running SuSE from those CDs and DVDs. And it was cool to tear through the big manuals in the boxes, and figure out all the stuff we could do with the programs.

      It’s a sad feeling these days to walk into the computer stores and not see the stacked SuSE boxes with the funny green lizards staring back at me.

    • Bob Harvey

      I agree with Andy Prough – I used to buy the boxed version of Suse, every one between 7.(something) and 10.0 . I would still be doing it tomorrow, partly because the documentation inside could be given to my clients, and partly because the install DVD was worth having. Oh, and put a mousemat and some keyboard stickers in the box as well.

      I have also been a Mandriva subscriber till I get fed up with the ‘barrow boy’ sales tactics and spamming. It is still a good product, but taking 45eur for version 9.0 of something, then trying to sell you version 9.1 for the same amount of money as soon as I registered 9.0 was double plus uncool. Mandriva is still a great product, and I am told the commercial basis has changed.

      I don’t think that Cannonical behaved too badly either: they did discuss options with the developers beforehand and went along with what they chose.

      Ways to raise money other than sponsorship? Training days, selling hardware? HP used to sell their netbook with suse on it. Why not buy some whitebox netbooks from China and ship them with Suse on? or better still, sell them branded but unloaded to independent high street shops with a CD that does a hands-off network install of the latest image. So the customer can have brand-new-out-of-the-shop. Mice with branding on, external drives with branding on, and a suse install image.

      Oh, and printers. Re-brand printers that work well with Linux, bundle a year’s ink and paper slip folders and hole punch and stapler and install instructions and deliver them straight to people’s homes a’ la Amazon. Take a margin.

      Laptop cases. Get expensive neoprene slip covers and leather cases into airport shops, branded with the chameleon and with an install/bootable DVD and instructions packed inside. Sell matching items on-line, but from a web site only accessible from Suse.

      Beer. Suse has German roots. find some small regional brewers and get them to supply beer for computer events, FOSS meetings, etc.. Marketing, but also a skim-off.

    • Nelson Marques

      Damn, you should’ve used the Compiz example!

    • ElderGeek

      To quote Darth Vader, “Pray I alter the deal no further.”

      Personally I am not thrilled by this at all. It smacks of being low class. You would like to thing that we are all on the same team when it comes to open source. But like any company, or community, when it grows and there is success it all comes down to who gets credit and numbers, nickels and noise.

      Because Banshee is open source, Ubuntu can do pretty much what ever they want. The 75/25 split, or a 100/0 split, or use the Ubuntu One store. Since QT is now part of Ubuntu, they could move to Clementine, or to Exaile, or GMusicBrowser, etc, etc, and just write a plugin for Ubuntu One or Amazon.

      From a “Free” software prospective the Banshee folks may have made the right decision, but I suspect that they would bring in more money for the Gnome foundation if they had the default 25% split from all music purchased from Amazon via Banshee.

      I also have to give credit where credit is due. Thank you Ubuntu for coming out and talking with the Banshee community, instead of just making these changes without warning anyone they would be happening. It was also classy to offer Banshee a choice.

    • Pingback: I got no beef with Canonical : nmarques

    • Andy Prough

      I have to agree with Bob Harvey – selling beer is a great idea for making money – especially for a German based distribution. And on St. Patrick’s day, you could sell green lizard beer.

    • DigitalVampire

      Aww, goes easy guys. The Ubuntu community just wants to make a little cash for all those contributions to the Linux ecosystem. I’m sure it was a LOT too. Go ahead and look it up. ROFL!! Ah, the Ubuntu community is so CUTE!

    • Joseph

      Hang in there, Jos and my friends at openSUSE. My experiments gluing flash drives to chameleons are nearly complete and almost perfected. Speaking of which, I have some slightly used lizards for sale really cheap. May be sticky.

    • Pingback: A different take on the Banshee/Canonical conflict « Striving for greatness