It’s beginning to look as if the naysayers are right about Mark Shuttleworth’s hopes to raise $32 million to produce about 40,000 Ubuntu Edge devices. It ain’t going to happen, unless he manages to pull another rabbit out of the hat. Right now, his Indiegogo campaign is stalled at a little over $7 million, where it’s been for several days.
I’m not going to go into the details that led to this, we’ve covered that already, but it’s beginning to look like the Ubuntu Edge happy train is running out of steam, especially since about half of the money raised came in the first day or two of a campaign that’s now in day nine.
Even if Shuttleworth misses his stated goal, however, he’s still going to show the ability to raise a substantial amount of cash. Indeed, the $7.3 million already raised isn’t chopped liver, as the expression goes, and unless this campaign is already completely spent, which I doubt, he stands to raise somewhere between $15 and $20 million by the time the curtain falls at Indiegogo. If he does some tinkering, which I imagine he will by offering another incentive or two, he might even get the finishing number up into the mid-twenties.
Let’s say the campaign comes in at $20 million, $12 million short of goal. What does Shuttleworth do? Because this is what Indiegogo calls a “fixed funding campaign,” if he falls short of his goal at all, then all contributions are returned. This would seem to indicate that not achieving the goal after the $20 million mark is met, might possibly kinda sorta be something that maybe won’t happen.
In case you don’t get it already, I’m not sure about that last thought. I’m just kinda sorta speculating out loud.
Shuttleworth’s got a lot riding on this. It certainly looks like the Ubuntu Edge is a make or break moment for Canonical as a GNU/Linux distro developer. There’s plenty of reasons to suspect that if the Edge doesn’t get some traction, then Shuttleworth will either shutter Canonical or turn it into something else.
According to an article published last summer by Forbes, Shuttleworth has an estimated worth of $500 million–or did when the article was written. This means that $12 million is merely chump change, mad money to be hidden in a wallet in case a wild hair gets stuck somewhere. He could easily have some discrete “donations” made to push the Indiegogo campaign over it’s goal, announce the fundraiser to be an overwhelming success and go about the business of manufacturing his product, the Ubuntu Edge.
Why would he do this? For the same reason he’s turned the introduction of the Ubuntu Edge into a three ringed circus from the start. It would be another PR ploy for the benefit of the likes of Samsung, HTC, Dell, HP or any other equipment maker looking to latch on to “the next big thing” and bring it to market.
Do you think, with the memory of the WebOS fiasco still lingering in their institutional memory, that HP might sit up and take notice if Canonical can raise $32 million selling a way overpriced desktop handset to millions of people who are essentially buying blind, completely on spec? Do you think that Michael Dell, who’s got to be worried about betting the back forty on the XPS 10 tablet running Windows RT, might see possibilities–especially if the new Ubuntu Edge owners start reporting that the device works as well if not better than advertised?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it would be unethical for Shuttleworth to donate to his own campaign to inflate the perceived demand for the Ubuntu Edge. That would’ve probably been true back in the 20th century, but ethical lines in 21st century capitalism seem to have become somewhat blurred. As long as he doesn’t play any games with the tax people on this, the folks who officially decide ethical issues in our culture these days will be perfectly happy. You and I might have a question or two to ask, but we’re the trees falling in the forest when there’s no one around to hear.
Besides, ethics might not come into play here at all. If the device is really cool and works really well, if it’s liked by everyone who bought one and envied by all of their friends, then it would be a no-brainer for HTC, Dell or maybe Nokia to board and ride the bandwagon–especially since by this time mainstream media and the blogosphere will be busy creating free demand for the product. Even Perez Hilton will have something to say by that time.
This is all just speculation. In 22 days, Mark Shuttleworth may very well look at the numbers and mutter something about “$25 million just not being enough” and walk off into the sunset to to leave the Ubuntu Edge and Ubuntu Linux behind forever.