What bothers me about the Ubuntu-Yahoo deal

On Tuesday, Rick Spencer announced on the Ubuntu developers mailing list that Ubuntu has entered a revenue sharing deal with Yahoo! and will make Yahoo! the default search engine in the next Ubuntu release (10.04, Lucid Lynx). This sparked an extremely long discussion thread on the Ubuntu Forums about whether this is a good idea or not.

Generally speaking (with few exceptions), the reactions fall into one of two categories:

  1. This is great. I won’t use Yahoo! myself, but if it makes money for Ubuntu, why not? How hard is it to change the defaults. Two clicks.
  2. This is unacceptable. Yahoo! is in bed with Microsoft. This is wrong. If Ubuntu needs money, we should donate. Why wasn’t the community consulted?

Well, my reaction to this deal wasn’t quite either of those. Yes, I believe the community should have been consulted. That isn’t really what bothered me. What bothered me is that the decision was made soley with regard to revenue and not thinking at all about the user experience. It wasn’t “We evaluated the default search engine and decided Yahoo! has better search results or gives a better search experience than Google, and so we have decided to enter a revenue-sharing deal with Yahoo!” Nor was it even “We evaluated Yahoo! and Google and found the Yahoo! search experience to be only slightly worse than the Google one or about equal, but we thought revenue-sharing would be worth the sacrifice.” No, no mention of the user experience at all. It’s just the revenue.

I have nothing against Ubuntu making money. Mark Shuttleworth has deep pockets, but if Ubuntu is to be self-sustaining, it can’t just drain his pocketbook indefinitely. Nevertheless, defaults matter, and if they didn’t this deal would get Ubuntu no money (if most people changed the default, very few users would keep Yahoo!, which means Ubuntu wouldn’t get much revenue from this deal).

That last bit is something people don’t realize. If all (or even most of) the Ubuntu users change the default to Google or Cuil or Scroogle, then you can’t say “Well, I won’t use it, but great for Ubuntu to make some money.” They won’t be making money if you all keep changing the search engine.

But we won’t all be changing the search engine. Anyone handed the live CD and trying to do a search will either not know Yahoo! is the default search engine or just not bother to change it. (One of the reasons defaults matter.)

So I can see only two sensible reactions to this deal:

  1. This is great. Anything to make Ubuntu money. I intend to keep Yahoo! as the default to make Ubuntu money.
  2. Extra revenue is great, but why isn’t the user experience even considered when making this decision?

Obviously, I choose the latter.


  1. 3. Extra revenue is great, yet why make an issue out of having to click twice to configure it to your liking?

    Obviously, I choose #3. I actually never use ‘the chrome’ myself; I have a toolbar button to bring up my preferred search engine’s page (and full interface). I *was* using ‘start.ubuntu.com’ (to show solidarity with Ubuntu), but I’ll use Yahoo! now, just to throw change at Canonical & Co. and help support my OS.

    If Google was the previous default, then any & every user who doesn’t like Google as as search engine could have mounted the same argument that the users weren’t consulted and Canonical “wasn’t thinking at all about the user experience” when *it* was chosen — couldn’t they?

    Or were they consulted? Did Canonical do user-base and search engine research to determine the previous default? (I don’t know if they did or not; I thought they just provided FireFox with Mozilla’s choice of default.)

    If they *didn’t*, then this issue strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. Just configure your browser to your liking, as you do the rest of the UI. I wish other things only took two clicks… ::shrug::

  2. Isn’t this deal also with Mozilla since they are losing the $$$ support of Google this year? (Or did they already…)

  3. The question is: Who is more open source friendly more yahoo or Google (picasa,google earth, etc), yahoo not even the messenger works with linux, so great lets back stub companys that work with linux for a few $$

  4. Your comment looks sensible. If you want to make Ubuntu better, you should improve it’s default setting. And Yahoo is not a good choice for a user, I think so.

  5. Well i believe the User should be asked . When one firsts starts Firefox it asks wether or not one wants to make it there default browser . The same should be done on first start with the Search Engine . I thought the User had freedom of choice . Trickery and slight of hand are starting to become common in many open-source distro’s . Lately i’ve been looking at ways to not use google or google related products at all . This is proving difficult as Google has thier fingers in everything . Yes many say just two clicks to change default in Seach bar . How about the lacation address bar just to the left of the search bar . One believes typing in there bypasses the search but it dosen’t . Further more even if default search has been changed the location address bar maintains google search . Try typing “ubuntu.com”and watch as it first searches Google then takes one to “ubuntu.com”even after one changes the search bar search engine . Now try to change it to use different search engine . Well i’m still looking . Same as we are ask to trust these Companies . Google with thier data collection of everything one does , Searches ,email etc. Now even maybe Firefox as “geo.enabled” turned on by default . This is OK’ed with the belief that we are suppose to be asked , and then excepted by User . Well again Users are stating of this happening without being asked . As a User of Open-source , i hoped to have “Freedom of Choice”and “The Right to Privacy” . These were the main reasons why i switched to Linux many years ago . I’m learning that avoiding Google and Friends , may be impossible , but i haven’t given up ! I believed that Linux and Open-source would allow me to obtain that goal . Ubuntu and Linux as a whole need to not forget about it’s Users , and most Users want Freedom,choice and Privacy . Now is not the time to emulate the Microsoft business model in a quest for profit . Never,Never forget your Users as we are not all SHEEP ..

  6. Ars Technica said about this, “In practice, the ease with which the default can be changed largely mitigates any potentially detrimental implications. As long as Canonical’s efforts to monetize the desktop doesn’t escalate into the kind of crapware epidemic that has infected the major PC makers, it’s not going to be a problem. Selling the default search seems like a fairly uninvasive and practical way for Canonical to boost its revenue, thus helping to ensure that the company can continue to provide its software to users at no cost.”

    I’m all for the “no cost” part, but the point about avoiding a “crapware epidemic” is a good one. I’d rather pay than see Canonical sell out to that B.S.

  7. I also do not want to have anything to do with Google. They are the new evil empire that everyone seems to be cheering on to monopolyhood

    How can anyone claim that Google is good for open source? They leech while rarely contributing code back. Apple is a much better partner to open source than Google is.

    Google uses open source because it is free, as in beer, not to ensure freedom in computing. Kudo’s to one’s who chose Yahoo! for Ubuntu.

  8. You summed up all my concern about this deal. No one is saying Canonical shouldnt make money from ubuntu. Because infact there haev been making a steady stream of profit by building commercial brands round ubuntu. Things like UbuntuOne, Landscape, The coming Ubuntu Music store. Canonical support etc are ways Canonical has been making money from ubuntu. But a line has to be drawn and any change made to the ubuntu offering should be based on Technical benefit to the user experience and not based on what canonical would benefit.

  9. I don’t think the “user” community has as much right to be upset as the “contributor” community — those that add value in some way by their volunteer efforts. Whether they contribute code, artwork, documentation, beta testing, promotion, or end-user support, there are a lot of people who contribute to Ubuntu in some way that are not Canonical employees. These people have varying expectations about where the “lines” are, and for some of them Canonical’s actions crossed that line.

    Canonical needs to make money, but they also need to maintain good relations with the contributing community. IMHO, what they need to do is work out a set of areas that they can use for money making and business deals, such as default search, default home page, default desktop icons, etc. that would be acceptable to the contributor community. In other words, they need to explicitly say “Here’s what we get to monetize so that this project can continue, but here are the lines we won’t cross out of respect for your contributions and efforts.”

    If they start taking the approach that they can screw with Ubuntu in any way they want to make money, community be hanged, they’ll end up like Xandros or Linspire: 95% commercial and 100% irrelevant.

  10. I hadn’t considered your argument here about what’s best for the end-user. As a user who occasionally uses Linux, I have always thought of Linux as an OS that tries to bring about the best technical and social aspects of technology to the consumer.

    In these times, it isn’t just about technical merit but also political and business issues (privacy, DRM, freedoms, etc..).

    From a distance… I’ve always respected the ideals the community has fostered.

    Recently I read another article that somewhere along the lines of 70% of the kernel was developed by Corporate Interests. Interestingly… this concerned me as well for the same reasons. Issues regarding the speed of the kernel; support for consumer tech vs high-end servers; discontinued support for older technology (and possibly forcing users to adopt new standards), etc… also plays a role about what’s best for whom.

    From corporate involvement to decisions made for profit — the dream of Linux can be slowly eroding away. As an outsider this just makes me feel that the differences between commercial OSes (Apple’s dystopian future, Microsoft’s dull bloat) and Linux are slowly dwindling.

    Linux has many Distros that mostly derive their products from single sources – Kernel Developers (70% corporate work), the major Windows Managers (gnome/Microsoft), and other key components. It’s these key players that are driving the decisions of Linux today not the community. The distributors are already handcuffed by the decisions these key players are making. To add some salt to the wound… the distributors are now making siilar decisions (profits before ideals).

  11. Folks ! I do not understand the trouble and discussion:

    I.) All the Ubuntu user still have the possibility to choose very easy their preferred search engine.

    II.) In my opinion Canonical really has all the right to make such decisions without asking the users before.
    They spend a lot of money and work to provide us with such a nice distibution. We even do not have to spend a Penny for a CD shipped by Canonical.

    III.) I am a user of Firefox since the birth of this browser. First on Windoz, since three years on Ubuntu.
    I never used this “build in” functionality of a search engine. My firefox has a second button panel with a button for Google, for Google maps, Jajah, Ubuntu (Forum), etc.

    So where is the problem with the search engine ?

  12. Nice attempt to spin out of the picture that fact that, because defaults matter very much, Ubuntu has given Microsoft (through Yahoo) a helping hand in (a) expanding their monopolies (by making it easier to neutralize Google), (b) controlling what people (in particular noob FOSS/Linux people) get from searches, (c) gaining more money from advertizers (money that is that much less likely to go to help Linux and instead will go to marginalizing it), and ???. Additionally, Canonical seems to be putting a chunk of this money they are getting back into spreading the mono sickness that further helps Microsoft.

    Google needs a greater check whenever possible. Unfortunately, Canonical should not have again jumped to help Microsoft (with Bang! this time). Will they at least spell out the details of the money that is changing hands and other details from the deal?

  13. What’s all the fuzz about?
    They got a deal by Google, now they have a better deal with Yahoo!
    Where was all this fuzz when they shipped with Google as default search-engine? How much did they consult the community back then?

  14. This is good for us consumers. We need serious competitors to Google.. not that Ubuntu switching to Yahoo! will matter much, but still.

    I used Yahoo! Search myself, which is a very similar service to Google with a simplistic interface. The reason I changed to Google was because Yahoo! was routinely handing out information to the American government. Now the same thing is happening with Google. The CEO of Google was even quoted saying “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    Privacy International has a lot of concerns regarding Google. My own biggest concern is that almost every single website has embedded tracking JavaScripts from Google. Google knows everything you do online. I use NoScript and denies scripts from Google. You get better privacy if you use Yahoo! Search, how’s that for an argument in favour of Ubuntu’s decision to boot Google?

  15. It is a relief to find your site. You understand what makes a user experience good and bad, and you are helping to make the Ubuntu experience easier.

    I agree with a lot that you say (especially the thing about password entry in the Terminal window – no aknowledgement when you type in a correct one, but acknowledgement when you type in a bad one).

    Unfortunately, people don’t seem to listen to reason (which is what I find that you have in spades).

    Thanks again.

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