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Ubuntu fluffs web file-synchronization service

Battles Microsoft off desktop

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Ubuntu's commercial backer won't fluff its own cloud, but Canonical isn't eschewing online services in the battle against Microsoft.

Canonical has begun beta tests of a web-based service that'll let you store and synchronize files on your Jaunty Jackalope PC with other Jackalope-powered machines. Called Ubuntu One, it's designed to provide you with access to your files using a web interface when you're away from your main machine. The service also promises to let you share documents with others.

The fledgling service seems like an early attempt to diversify Canonical and offer fresh appeal to Linux on PCs, while outflanking Microsoft and Windows.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth told The Reg during a recent, separate interview that Canonical won't compete against Amazon by providing its own cloud - despite making Jackalope cloud friendly. Rather, the fight is against Microsoft, and the battleground is online services.

"We will not provide infrastructure. We will not compete with Amazon. We'd rather provide slick and leading services," Shuttleworth told us.

"I think the folks to beat are Microsoft - there's a tremendous amount of inertia in the market place. For the moment, the Windows versus something else is the big question in peoples' minds. Our focus is on delivering the best web experience."

The pressure on Ubuntu and other distros will increase in the lead up to, and aftermath of, Windows 7 this year - especially in the open market for netbooks. Services are seen as the ideal complement to this class of devices that are lacking in storage and processing power.

Microsoft has already deployed online services ahead of the Windows 7 launch. SkyDrive, part of Windows Live and the Hotmail family, comes with 25GB of storage for free and the ability to upload your documents and photos for online access from any device, not just a PC running Windows. SkyDrive also features collaboration and document sharing, while it's immediately available to one of Microsoft's best online assets: Hotmail, which serves up an audience of more than 270 million individual accounts.

Unlike SkyDrive, the Ubuntu One beta has its hurdles. But this is a beta. You need to download a piece of code to your machine. Storage space is limited: 2Gb for free and 10Gb for $10 per month. And it's only for machines running Jaunty Jackalope, Ubuntu 9.04. Also, this being a Web 2.0 beta, you can't get on Ubuntu One unless you receive an invitation. And there's already at least one non-Microsoft alternative: Dropbox, which works on Windows and Mac in addition to Linux.

It's not clear what Canonical's plans are for Ubuntu in terms of features of whether it will become something partners or Ubuntu users can re-brand and re-sell.

As far as Ubuntu goes, the idea is to add features that help other people build public and private clouds and online services that can compete with Microsoft and Windows on the PC. Jaunty Jackalope made Ubuntu more suited for use in an Amazon cloud, with the ability to run Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) and the Eucalyptus open-source framework to implement your own, hosted elastic computing cluster.

The next edition of Ubuntu, Karmic Koala, will build on this. There will be work in messaging, directory, web capabilities, and collaboration.

Canonical, meanwhile, is working with Oracle to certify the giant's database on Ubuntu. Oracle has been a strong backer for Linux where it can advance the company's database: Oracle became the first commercial database on Linux, back in 1998. Canonical, meanwhile, has already worked with Sun Microsystems, which is being acquired by Oracle, on making Java run properly on Ubuntu. ®

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