Canonical's bid to raise $32 million to build a hybrid smartphone running its Linux-based Ubuntu for Phones operating system has failed well short of its goal - but that may not be bad news for the company.

Founded in 2004 by millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical is the big corporate behind Ubuntu - a spin-off distribution based on Debian Linux, created due to community displeasure surrounding that project's long release cycle. Since launch, Ubuntu has released a new version every six months without fail but in recent years has been accused of taking more from the open source community than it delivers as well as failing to listen to its users with regards changes to the user interface.

Ubuntu remains, however, one of the most popular Linux distributions around - and it's this cachet Shuttleworth is hoping to ride into the mobile phone market. The Ubuntu Edge was, the company promised, a high-end smartphone designed to run the company's Ubuntu for Phones spin-off operating system. Boasting a 128GB internal storage, 4GB of RAM and the fastest quad-core ARM processor around, the phone's gimmick was that it could be connected to a keyboard, mouse and monitor and used as a fully-fledged Ubuntu desktop computer.

A neat trick, but one for which Canonical demanded a high price, taking to crowd-funding site Indiegogo with a demand for $32 million in order to build a batch of the devices for early adopters. To put that into perspective: that figure is around three times the world record for a crowdfunded project.

Nobody will be surprised to hear that the month-long crowdfunding effort has failed to reach its goal, ending at $12,809,906 - but that may have been Canonical's plan all along. Shuttleworth's company is a software house, not a hardware developer, and many had questioned whether the company had the expertise to bring such a high-end device to market should the funding run prove successful - concerns which did not lessen when the company admitted to press that its pictured prototypes were, in fact, simply fake plastic shells with no electronics inside.

While it may have fallen short of its funding goal, there's little doubt Canonical has benefited from the effort: from its initial enthusiastic début to the news that it had broken the world crowdfunding record, the Ubuntu Edge project has translated into numerous column inches throughout the world - valuable publicity for the real power behind the project, the Ubuntu for Phones operating system.

Shuttleworth's last words on the project, posted when the funding run closed, reveal the truth: 'The big winner from this campaign is Ubuntu,' the company founder explains. 'While we passionately wanted to build the Edge to showcase Ubuntu on phones, the support and attention it received will still be a huge boost as other Ubuntu phones start to arrive in 2014. Thousands of you clearly want to own an Ubuntu phone and believe in our vision of convergence, and rest assured you won’t have much longer to wait.

'All of the support and publicity has continued to drive our discussions with some major manufacturers,' Shuttleworth adds - revealing, it would appear, Canonical's real goal: to demonstrate enthusiasm for the software in order to convince hardware manufacturers to take it on - either, as with the fictional Edge, to run alongside the far more popular Android OS or as the sole OS for a niche-market smartphone.

Canonical, naturally, would spin Shuttleworth's statements as simply being a way to accentuate the positives of a sadly failed funding run - but with no working prototypes ever built it would be no surprise to learn that it was never Canonical's plan to create the Edge, with the company relying on a sky-high funding goal to drive publicity with little risk of having to make good on its promises.

The big winner here, however, is Indiegogo: unlike rival crowfunding site Kickstarter, Indiegogo demands that funds are taken up-front with the promise that they will be returned to backers if the project proves unsuccessful. As a result, the company is currently sitting on nearly $13 million of other people's money - and warns that it could take up to five days for the refunds to be processed, on top of the thirty days it has been holding day-one cash. Interest accrued in that time will, naturally, not be returned to backers.
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October 14 2021 | 15:04