What Desktop Innovation Needs to Succeed
Open Source Feminism: The Unfinished Revolution
Why Debian Is the Gold Standard of Upstream Desktop Linux
Yesterday's Man: The Fall of Richard Stallman
What's the Future of Free Software?
October 31st, 2014

The Wide World of Canonical

Last week, I wrote an item that mentioned that the original Ars Technica article on 10 years of Ubuntu, since rightfully edited to delete the number of countries under the sphere of Ubuntu’s influence, briefly reflected the following irksome claim:

“Today, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, estimates that there are 25 million Ubuntu users worldwide. Those users span 240 countries…”

Numbers: They may not be Canonical’s strongest suit.

I don’t blame Ars Technica for originally posting it because it’s a common claim by our friends from the Isle of Man. Also, I give Ars Technica all the credit in the world for going back and fixing it. But for the last week, it bothered me that Canonical might continue to make such a claim, knowing full well that they had erred.

Canonical claims

You can work for Canonical in England, one country, and affect what happens in 239 other countries, if there were actually 239 more countries on this planet.
click to enlarge

I thought perhaps it was a one-off mistake, made by a marketing department flunky who had too much Red Bull while writing a press release. Being the responsible company that Canonical/Ubuntu is, and being the good FOSS community member it portrays itself to be, I assumed they’d fix the error right away and make sure that ludicrous hyperbole was not the order of the day.

Would that be asking too much?

Perhaps. Sadly, a company that claims to be a FOSS leader can’t be bothered with getting simple facts correct. An ad on LinkedIn posted a week ago today makes the same claim for a job in London. You can click on the photo to the right and read, “It is used by over 20 million people in 240 countries in 80 languages.”

This achievement — benefitting 240 countries — would normally be awe-inspiring, except the United Nations estimates that there are 196 countries in the world. Even if we are to factor in all the separatist movements around the world — and there could very well be 44 of them to complete Canonical’s 240-country world — do you honestly think that using a FOSS based operating system is in the forefront of their computer use during their struggle for independence?

Nevertheless, back on the topic, you can go ahead and do this with me — Google “canonical ubuntu 240 countries” (no quotes) — or you can just take a look at what I came up with here.

Namely, a FAQ for the Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group — I didn’t know Canonical was considering naval superiority in addition to their operating system, but hey, who am I to judge? — points out the same statistic at the end of the first paragraph on the first page. Want more? OK, how about this gem? Martin Statler, Canonical’s director of global support and services, seems to live in the same 240-country world, according to this slide presentation, specifically the fourth slide.

But more directly, go to this current Ubuntu Design page on the Ubuntu web site, and there you go: designing for a good purpose in 240 countries worldwide.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Canonical is taking into account very, very small countries, like Mylivingroomistan. In this tiny country nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the Pacific Ocean, there are three computer users with six computers running Linux Mint, Korora, Fedora, Debian (on a rack server), CrunchBang and, ahem, MacOS. Judging by the repositories from which Linux Mint draws software, perhaps Canonical is counting users here. Meanwhile, in the neighboring People’s Democratic Republic of Bobshouse, that principality has several Ubuntu servers and desktops, and one openSUSE laptop.

So maybe, just maybe, all these countries — large, medium, small, and minuscule-bordering-on-nonexistent — add up to a total of 240. But until someone shows me otherwise, I’m going to give Canonical the benefit of the doubt and just chalk it up to a simple error, rather than just another case in a long line of misinformation.

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

11 comments to The Wide World of Canonical

  • Larry Cafiero

    Maybe they are, Jason.

    But here are the first words in that particular Wikipedia listing:

    “This is a list of countries AND DEPENDENT TERRITORIES . . . .” (Emphasis mine).

    Going down the list, many of these have ($COUNTRY) next to the territory. Personally, that doesn’t count.

  • Tanja

    Since locales have ISO 3166-1 names, and there are 249 of those (says wikipedia), I’m guessing 240 is the number of locales available in Ubuntu.

    I also guess “accurate locales available to 240 different places” doesn’t sound as nice as “used in 240 countries” does.

  • Steve Nordquist

    If they can capture sovereignty correctly, more points to them, and of course we’d want to know how and see what’s in store for Burkina Faso; but I don’t think those demographics can be wrong based on a UN tally.

    If there were a UN Task Force on Not Leaving Anyone Out I would expect it to be chiefed by people looking for a total around 1 and a deputy of V. Putin’s.

    Canonical on the other hand probably has speculative nations among users. Which solitary declaration, after all, is Egypt (or any of us, TPP variance permitting) now?

  • […] strongest suit." Cafiero points out there aren’t 240 established countries in the world. He concludes, "I’m going to give Canonical the benefit of the doubt and just chalk it up to a simple […]

  • Ray

    Let’s give Mr. Cafiero the credit for fact-finding and catching a number/definition that can change. But we know countries get added/remove throughout history.

    So, this is senseless. Let’s imagine this scenario “what if there is only one person in one country using Ubuntu”. Then, Does it matter if Ubuntu is used in 100 countries vs 200 countries? This referenced article should have been taking into context as a whole, instead of a line specifically.

  • This article is really underwhelming. I expected it to be about something…. but unfortunately it was a nit-picky anti-Canonical they may/may not be right article.

    It sounds like the article is going to be about something positive and exciting in the libre software world. But it is negative and boring, and possibly (likely) not even valid.

    Please refrain from unconstructive rant articles in the future.
    Just write about those positive and exciting things going on… there are a lot of new interesting things happening all the time!

  • aer

    This article speaks like what crab-mentality person, that is. Let us give credit to Ubuntu where it is due, and you know, no Linux desktop out there that I can recommend to an end user. Lastly, I installed one, and so far, its good. My first Linux distro is bayanihan linux, 2nd is Fedora both on server and desktop. Fedora is fine, but no LTS, obviously you need RHEL or CentOS for that, but no, it is not suitable for the end user. So I will use Ubuntu.

  • K.S. Bhaskar

    “Carrier” refers to telecommunications carriers, not aircraft carriers. If you read the link, there are references to things like handsets, which I speculate might be of more interest to communications than naval warfare.

  • Alan

    F.O.S.S. doesn’t need enemies, they kill themselves. Thanks FOSS Force to dismiss the community.