I just read a post by Bruce Byfield, where he raises an interesting question: after the fact that Canonical will try and offer commercial software from a specific repository, would anyone use it? And if not, could it alienate other users of Ubuntu from using the distribution at all?
He continues to argue for a whole 2-pages-long article for something that I don't even think exist. His main point is that this idea of commercial repositories has been tried out before and it didn't work. Why try now? After all, it's just a matter of time until something else will replace our current software:
A download service might find a temporary niche in offering software for which no free equivalent exists. For instance, despite recent improvements in apps like Kooka and Tesseract, someone who regularly needed to convert scanned text to a usable format might welcome a GNU/Linux version of OmniPage. The trouble is, given the speed with which free software is developing, such a market would be temporary, lasting a year or two at most. A service specializing in these niches would continually lose out to maturing free software, with no prospect of replacement products.But why doesn't he see that this service may not be different from other software distribution methods? It seems he more argues the fact that there are proprietary and commercial application offers in Linux, than the fact that they are provided in Ubuntu. But, as it seems to me, the main reason for Canonical to do so is not for all Ubuntu Desktop users - its for business users and maybe even Ubuntu Server users, who may use those proprietary applications for their businesses and need a standard way of installing applications. Why should the way of installing Parallels be different than one for installing Open Office? It should not.
Sun has its own software distribution system, just as Apple's Mac OS X and MS Windows do. Why is it forbidden for Linux distributions to have one that includes commercial software?
I can provide the example of commercial software that I have used and had to install on Linux: IBM Rational ClearCase (and trust me, moving to other version management tools was much more expensive in human-hours because of the huge amounts of code and fast workforce turnover). Yes, the are free/open source alternatives, but they were not viable for that specific case.
I see the offer by Canonical as very pragmatic, practical and not hurting Ubuntu in no way. Ubuntu is Linux distribution. Canonical is the company behind it, which goal is to make money. So what is the problem that they try to monetize the free infrastructure they supported to build? The infrastructure is and will remain free, and as there's no additional effort required (except maybe for billing system in-place), Canonical has nothing to loose - and much to gain.
Here's another question while we're here: why the author doesn't criticize the Red Hat's model where you pay for the distribution first, and then if you use proprietary software, then for the software once more? Is it that much better? I don't see users ditch Red Hat and its siblings (Fedora and CentOS) just because Red Hat has proprietary parts in it.
And I don't believe that Ubuntu users will drop using Ubuntu because Canonical has proprietary repositories.
I side Canonical in this specific case not because I'm pro-Ubuntu. While I am pro-Ubuntu, I'm really distribution-agnostic person (although I do have some emotional and personal allegiance to Gentoo). But I think that author just emotionally reacts on the offering of something proprietary for Linux. While it is perfectly fine for some users to be upset, business people might actually be glad that they will be able to get the software they anyway want or need in a standard fashion.
Update: I just thought about it while answering to one of the commenters. Would this issue be such negatively reviewed if IBM or HP would offer such a repository with their own commercial offerings and not Canonical? I wonder...