Communicating Ubuntu

In order to focus the marketing effort of the Ubuntu community, it is worthwhile to consider who might be most susceptible to such a campaign.

Who to communicate to

At present, the challenge for Ubuntu is to break out of the high-technological, early adopter underground and reach the early majority whose interest in computers is solely pragmatic and who do not find computers intrinsically fun. These potential users have a wide range of different skill-sets and interests including

  • Home Desktop Users (many different skill levels)

The first group are individual users, using the computer for their own personal needs. This group is the most diverse and yet has the most similar needs on the desktop. Adoption of new technology within this group is often based on word of mouth, the help of more experienced early adopters, or the purchase of new hardware. Decisions to adopt can happen very quickly.

  • "Enterprise" Desktop users
  • Public sector policy makers
  • Server and High performance computing

The second group consists of organizations who depend on computers in order to work efficiently. This group tends to depend on specialized hardware, software and support solutions. Adoption of new technology within this group is often based on presentations at trade shows, precedence in other organizations of similar size, and various cost-benefit analyses. Decisions to adopt are usually slowed by a more formal and structured processes.

  • Hardware vendors
  • Third Party software developers
  • IT service providers (support, ISPs etc.)

The third group consists of companies whose business is based on making money on selling hardware, software or support for either of these. Adoption of new technology within this group is central to their business and they tend to adopt whatever the market needs. If enough users want Ubuntu, they will support it.

Of these three groups, the Ubuntu community should focus on the first - the home users. Not only is most computer users today also home users, but it is also easier for the home users to relate to other home users such as the Ubuntu community members, while bigger organizations better can relate to the success stories and recommendations of other organizations.

What to communicate

Thus the challenge for the Ubuntu community should be to present Ubuntu to the home users, but not to all home users at first. The focus should still be on the early majority - To make it interesting and viable for the intermediate or more ambitious desktop users who can see the benefits of adopting and learning new technology compared to sticking with what they know. These are the office workers, the students, the recreational geeks and others who take an interest in their software - and their budgets. These are cool and smart people who will be able to spread Ubuntu further.

Unfortunately, this is also the cynical youth of today. To whom Ubuntu sounds like something from Pokémon. These are people who have high demands for system integration and little patience for bugs and hardware issues.

Thus we need to communicate what Ubuntu is in a clear and coherent way in order to build recognition and understanding of Ubuntu in such a way that this target group can relate to it.

The problem is that Ubuntu is not just one single easily definable thing. Among other things it is

  • a cool desktop operating system for all of your personal needs with plenty of cool stuff and software.
  • an excellent Linux development platform based on Debian and optimized for Python and GTK.
  • an on-line community creating both of the above, collaborating to make Free Software a household concept.
  • a South African philosophy of reconciliation focusing on how we all are human through one another in order to Creating freedom and understanding through community.

Narrowing the marketing focus

The best way to profile Ubuntu is to differentiate it from the current dominant forces, Microsoft and Apple.

As it is, both Microsoft and Apple can (more or less) match Ubuntu in terms of:

  • stability
  • security
  • support
  • applications

Even if they're not currently leading, they can work hard to regain that lead in most of these areas. Both Apple and Microsoft relate to F/OSS in terms of F/OSS service vendors and sponsors like Sun, Novell, SUSE, Red Hat and Canonical, but never directly to the communities such as Debian, KDE, GNOME or Ubuntu. It is in their best interest to keep the choice of technology in a business context. Especially in a corporate discussion of software quality, because they can control that through efficient marketing and by spending enough money and man-power to match the free software community.

But they refuse to talk about communities, openness and freedom of choice because their stance on these points are very far from what most users want. And those are exactly the points we need to emphasize. We need to communicate Ubuntu as an open and transparent community and as a source of personal freedom and potential rather than (solely) focus on the technical capabilities of Ubuntu.


Software Freedom is too abstract a concept to easily convey to pragmatic users. Stallman's message is not very concrete. Personal pragmatic freedom and political freedom may be culturally specific. And as has been discussed again and again, it is remarkably difficult to educate people into using your product.

1. Pragmatic Freedom

We need to focus on the tangible results of freedom - not on the philosophy of freedom. Thus we can make Freedom-based messaging that translate Freedom into meaningful and personal messages:

  • "Free from vendor lock-in"
  • "Free from license restrictions and DRM"
  • "Free to share"
  • "Free of charge"
  • "Freely accessible"

Both freedom in positive or negative terms: "Freedom from" or "Freedom to" - show Ubuntu as an enabler. Connect the possibilities of Ubuntu with the limitations of others. Build scenarios where these differences matter. For instance the case of data preservation.

2. Communicating the Consequences of Unfree

One of the first problems new users run into when running Ubuntu is the unfree drivers of graphics cards and the licensing issues around multimedia formats. It will be relevant to clearly communicate why these formats are not immediately accessible and the limitations around this. The user may not care at first, as long the relevant codecs can be easily downloaded, but eventually this information be relevant, not the least also in relation to the question of data preservation.


Second, we need to build the Ubuntu brand by associating it with positive, human values as stated in the Ubuntu Promise (on the CD covers) and the Code of Conduct to give the association of an earthen, friendly, pan-human, all-inclusive community, but in such a way that it does not come across as corny (the seemingly prozac-induced smiles of the current CD covers are just that).

The focus should squarely be on emotion. Focus on positive concepts such as the sharing of knowledge, transparency, creativity, tolerance and equal opportunity in such a way that they can identify themselves with it.

1. The Wow factor

The "wow-factor" which gets people excited and wanting to know/learn more. The brown is instantly recognizable, no matter whether it is for good or for bad, it does set Ubuntu apart which is always good.

2. Passionate Users

Ubuntu needs to appeal to their passions. And people tend to be passionate about something that they're good at or want to be good at. You create passionate users by helping them to/letting them kick ass. It is essential to provide a clear path to mastery - A clear image of mastery: "Wouldn't it be cool you could do X?"

What does Ubuntu enable users to do? How can users excel with Ubuntu? What does expertise through Ubuntu look like?

Here we need to supply the target group with success stories, user cases in order disseminate stories of mastery. In the community, through the community. Famous people using Ubuntu, real people using Ubuntu. Ubuntu developers sharing their stories and interest in Ubuntu and how they use it for other things than development! It is central to surprise the the target group with cases and stories that does not match their expectations: Jono Bacon playing heavy metal, John Leach doing a web comic.. hopefully something a lot more surprising: Poetry, Extreme Sports, Firefighting, Performance Theatre or something even stranger. The brain is a prediction machine - it reacts best to things that do not match your expectations.

3. Value Partnerships

Ubuntu can associate itself with organizations and people already well linked with the core values mentioned above. These could include:

  • Other on-line phenomena such as Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and integrating them deeper into Ubuntu.
  • Traditional knowledge bases in public institutions such as libraries, hospitals, universities and schools.
  • Artists using digital media: musicians, installation artists, writers whose work is distinctively building upon the work of others: Remixes, collages, montages, mods, etc. Offer to be their platform!
  • Official organizations representing tolerance and equal opportunity - such as the United Nations with all of its affiliate programs and the Red Cross/Crescent Moon/David's Star/etc.

4. Ubuntu per association

Once Ubuntu has become - or at least is becoming - associated with these values, people will begin to want to associate themselves with Ubuntu! Not just on their desktop, but also in their daily lives. T-shirts, stickers, posters and other merchandize are all good indicators or initial measure of passion. But you need to ensure that the designs and the quality of the merchandize match that of Ubuntu - if it is tacky Ubuntu will appear tacky by association, while the opposite is equally true.

Good T-shirts, interesting web sites, viral marketing (free CDs a big bonus!) can create more interest than most other things on the Internet. Just a little push can make a huge difference. At the moment the marketing focus of Ubuntu is too tied up with new releases and trade shows, Ubuntu needs continuous coverage which will build brand and user passion and involvement. They need to see Ubuntu in unexpected connections, and they need to understand what Ubuntu is.

How to communicate

Many different means of communication has been mentioned above. Here I'll sum them up in relation to the relevant specifications for implementing some of this communication.

Ubuntu, the Operating System

The most powerful means of communication is the Ubuntu system itself as it appears when installed or run from the Live CD which should embody the values we seek to communicate, therefore it is relevant to make these values apparent within the system. Some specs address some of the issues raised above to a certain extent:


Wow factor

Value Partnership:

(none yet)

Ubuntu, the Ship-it CD

(none yet, though a greater consistency with the desktop artwork would be a good nice-to-have)

Ubuntu in Use This is one of the places where there is plenty of room for community expansion. We need to transmit the passion in positive terms. LOCO teams will be especially important to spread Ubuntu use cases and surprises in this way.

The Ubuntu website

The website may need an overhaul. Partly [ localizing it in different ways], partly changing its focus to surprise and appeal to the reader in new emotional ways - both technically and socially:

Technically Socially Screenshots Faces Bling Mastery possibilities Use cases Try it Stories Download it! Get involved, learn more!


T-shirt designs are still needed. Stat. Smile :-)


CommunicatingUbuntu (last edited 2008-08-06 16:17:13 by localhost)