What is Ubuntu One ?

What is Ubuntu One ?

Ubuntu One tray icon

Since my first post was kind of messy, here I come trying to do some aftermath and clear up some of the most recurring doubts. Feel free to correct me if anything I write is wrong, but keep in mind my blog tagline if you do. ;-)

What is Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One is a Canonical proprietary project. Whose goal is to build a full blown online platform for Ubuntu.

The project at the moment, is just a DropBox clone, but that’s only the beginning, many new features will come. The project will evolve into a set of server services, along with public API’s, freely usable by third party applications. A talk about the API’s is planned at OSCON 2009, in July.

I am talking about Contact Sync, and other kinds of data  synchronization.


Ubuntu One is a Canonical project, owned enterely by Canonical and enterely developed by Canonical’s developers. In my previous post, Filmm commented noting that the name is misleading, because it relates such platform with Ubuntu community – which is probably misleading (also see the launchpad bug). Anyways, it’s totally legitimate, as Ubuntu is a trademark owned by Canonical.


The Ubuntu One terms of service webpage says it better than I ever could:

Intellectual property and software licence.

The client software of Ubuntu One is released for free public use under several open source licenses, primarily the GPLv3 and Creative Commons licences.

See the licence text included with the code for details. Canonical grants you a non-exclusive, personal licence to use the server software while you receive the services from Canonical. You acknowledge that all intellectual property in the server software provided as part of the services belongs to Canonical or its licensors. You will not acquire any rights to the software or the intellectual property from your use of the services, other than as set out in this agreement and in the software licensing of the distributed client code.

So, yes, the server side is proprietary and no plans about freeing it sooner or later have been made public. The client is mostly GPL3 (that’s what the COPYING file from the source package says) with some Creative Commons part (probably only the documentation).

The client code

The code is written in Python, and pretty heavily documented in some parts. There’s even a SVG flowchart in the Doc/ directory and I even found an Open Office spreadsheet while wandering in the source folders. It’s been developed from not less than 7 people (plus a new entry in the team).

Ubuntu One workflow

The source code for the client is being kept in bazaar and everyone is able to branch it for their own purposes.

The server side (update)

Ubuntu One currently runs on Amazon EC2 and uses S3 to store files. This will make it easy to scale the capacity up incrementally as new users are added to the beta. Murphy told me that Canonical might eventually host the infrastructure itself on a Eucalyptus cluster. The server software is primarily written in Python, he says, and it uses some components of Twisted, Django, and Zope.

[ Source ]

Requirements, Status and how to test drive Ubuntu One

The project is currently in closed-beta status. It requires the very latest Ubuntu version to work, 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. While it may probably work on other versions, that’s not contemplated at the moment, nor supported in any way.

While everyone can download the client, you’ll need an invite to connect to the server.


This sudden release from Canonical raised some concern here and there, I’m trying to address them here, to the best of my knowledge.

Canonical is trying to compete with the beloved DropBox

It’s very unlikely Canonical is trying to compete or in any other bash Dropbox. There is a couple of reasons for this:

  • at the current stage, Ubuntu One is not competitive with dropbox. The pay for plans are worse than DropBox’s for example.
  • the Ubuntu One client is not currently multi platform, and hardly will be in the near future (though I shuold mention that Canonical has no experience on deploying a real Windows app and did release BzrTortoise as an experiment in shipping such kind of software)
  • Ubuntu One is a file-sync tool just because that has been choosen as the first step in the development of their Cloud platform. Best matches for possible competitors would be Microsoft‘s Windows Live and Apple‘s Mobile Me.

Canonical doesn’t care about Linux in general, and are just caring about Ubuntu. What about other distros ?

Legitimate concern. Let me start saying that it’s pretty unlikely for any company busy in developing a Beta-status product of this grade of complexity to actually care anything on allowing it to work on multiple platforms. In fact, they’re not actually caring even for any Ubuntu version prior of Jaunty.

I have the heavy suspect the only thing they care about is to get things done, at the moment. Weird, uh ? ;-)

But you can’t even the get the client (source?) on other distribution. How evil is that !

Hubiert (rightfully) brought up the fact there are no tar.gz releases for the client part, so non .deb users are being discriminated in some way. Well, fair enough, a .tar.gz would be handier, but – other than using some weird tool to extract the source from the deb – getting the source is actually pretty easy:

bzr branch lp:ubuntuone-client

Yes, you need bzr.

Canonical is privileging Ubuntu over Linux

Does that surprise you ? Ubuntu is completely free, but developed, distributed and marketed by a number of paid people, other than the Ubuntu community itself. It’s no wonder that Ubuntu benefited largely the Linux ecosystem in general, as much as it took benefit from it.

And Canonical is benefiting Linux in general by developing a full blown Cloud service, to compete with Windows Online and Mobile Me services. Did any other company do that ? To get in the game, other distribution *may* just need to liason with Canonical. (and until known Canonical has prooven to be very open as a company)

What would be required to them, would just to patch here and there the client or their applications and use the public API’s that will be made available soon. That may seem a burden but it’s really a lot easier than developing a full blown platform from scratch.

Ubuntu One client is probably based on iFolder and Mono

No, it’s fully done in Python, as most of Canonical software. A wonderful choice imho.

Eeeek ! It’s proprietary !

Yes. As much as DropBox, Mobile Me, Windows Online and pretty much every cloud service I know of.

Canonical is illegitimately using the Ubuntu trademark

This is a pretty debated question. I can’t say anything useful, but I invite you to read Mark ShuttleWorth’s stance on the topic.


How to get an invite for Ubuntu One ?

You can request invites on the Ubuntu One website, but don’t expect the invite to arrive too soon.

Currently every launchpad account has been automatically put in the invite queue, that means the queue is pretty long already. If you have a launchpad account you don’t need to do anything, you’ll receive a mail when your request gets accepted. (WRONG ! Thank you Elliot !)

Also hanging out in the #ubuntuone channel on freenode.net and kindly asking for an invite proved to work for some. ;-)

(plan B may also work)

Should I abandon DropBox for UbuntuOne ?

Not yet, really. There’s no need to drop a better and more stable platform for an experimental one, especially if you already have a DropBox account. When Ubuntu One get’s more stable and refined, and adds more comprehensive features, though, you may consider that. Given that you don’t need cross platform features (other PC’s running MAC OSX or Windows).

Will the server side software ever be released as Open Source ?

Let me guess on that. No. Individual pieces may be released on a one-to-one basis, though. We’re still waiting for the full release of Launchpad, by the way (promised for July 2009, but Shuttleworth’s answer to the 11:45:60 question is a little bit foggy).

Which benefits for Canonical, beside the profit ?

It’s pretty important for Ubuntu and Linux in general to be as seamless as MAC OS and Windows and to try offer all the feature those OSes offer. Having a well integrated cloud feature will benefit Ubuntu and in turn benefit all Canonical activities (support, landscape, etc)

Does Ubuntu One run on Xubuntu?

With some workaround, it seems it does.

Does Ubuntu One run on Kubuntu ?

Not really, not yet perfectly integrated but works.
update: Seems like Canonical is looking for someone to help with Kubuntu integration. Nice of them !

Stefano, did you tested it yet ? Are you already using it ?

No, and I have no hurry. Not even a little bit.

This seems like a great time to subscribe my RSS !

14 responses to “What is Ubuntu One ?”

  1. Orlsend

    It kind of hard since dropbox supports more releases of Ubuntu than the own Ubuntu product.

  2. Mackenzie

    Works fine on Kubunt here..Drop a file in ~/Ubuntu\ One/ in Dolphin and it’ll sync just like what I assume you do in Nautilus. The icon shows in the KDE Systray as expected and spins when it’s syncing something in your ~/Ubuntu\ One/ directory.

    That bug is just that it’s not all prettily integrated. But does it *work*? Yes, it works.

  3. Stefano Forenza

    Ok, thanks !

  4. yungchin

    I think Canonical are going wrong on this one completely. It will cost them massive amounts of goodwill in the FOSS community, and for what?

    They’ve gathered the biggest mindshare among Linux desktop users already, and it didn’t take any proprietary software to get there. If they had used existing open-source tools to build this, and released everything under an Affero license, I would have bought services from them anyway, even at a slight price premium, and not from some other company (like DropBox) that means nothing to me personally. Why? Because they’re a trusted entity to me.

    What are they afraid of? That someone will run off with the system and offer it on OpenSUSE.org? Well if that would happen, so what? It’s not as if those users will now come to Ubuntu for this. They’re tribe members, not just any customers. That makes it all different.

    I really think this is a mistake.

    One question though:
    “We’re still waiting for the full release of Launchpad, by the way (promised for July 2009, and unlikely to happen, )”
    It’s another two months until July. Do you have personal reasons to mistrust Shuttleworth?

  5. Stefano Forenza

    @yungchin: well, that’s just a uncomplete sentence I forgot to complete while writing the post. I don’t remember what I really wanted to say there, but see sabdfl’s answer about launchpad at this link:
    I’m still sure about what it means.

    Also I’m not sure Launchpad will be released as one package or just the individual piece without the glue.

    Nor I’m sure they’ll be able to make it for July.

  6. Elliot "statik" Murphy

    Hi Stefano, fantastic article, some of the most thoughtful and balanced analysis of Ubuntu One that I have seen so far. You definitely seem to be understanding all the details :)

    One minor correction to your article – we haven’t added all the launchpad accounts to the waiting list for Ubuntu One invitations, that would be kinda weird. We did send invitations to everyone who was an Ubuntu member, we thought that would be only appropriate to give Ubuntu members the first look at the service, so that we could have some good and productive discussions at the upcoming Ubuntu Developer Summit. Absolutely anyone can request an invitation at this point though, although it requires you to have a launchpad account since we are relying on Launchpad OpenID for authentication (it made more sense than writing a new authentication system). We’ll be making some changes to the authentication in the future though, to simplify things more.

    You are absolutely 100% correct in your observation that we aren’t trying to exclude other platforms, versions, distros, etc. we are just trying to get some things working and we had to start somewhere :)

    Thanks again for your nice post.

  7. yungchin

    Hi, thanks for the link. Yeah, not sure what that means either…. I guess it means “not all of it” :) Weird part is where he says licensing might preclude releasing some parts – they used proprietary bits in the backend??

  8. Vadim

    Good stuff. Might want to point out that iFolder isn’t exactly friendly to get setup on a non-suse distro either (which is why I never bothered with it)

  9. Stefano Forenza

    @Statik: thank you! also, corrected the post, that was my incorrect guess.

    @yungchin: reading it again I think only pretty specific services may be omited. PPA stuff for example (warning: that’s just a random guess, to be intended just as a poor example). My guess is that Launchpad will be released as complete front-end, leaving to the user the duty to hook it to this or that back-end service.

    @Vadim: yeah, an iFolder comparison may also be good but I guess would be a little too much OT in the post. Also I saw Jorge and other guys on Ubuntu Planet asking for someone to step up and package iFolder. That has to be not that easy though, as currently it seems to use Mono 1. (I may be wrong on this point though)

  10. mariuz

    Talk is talk facts are facts
    you can’t be half way free or open source like orcle or microsoft
    canonical should put the server part in bzr and make it free and open source

    i can give you one example for such an service (cloud stuff) that is made open
    http://laconi.ca is the open source part for the service http://identi.ca

    ahh and by the way ubuntuforums are propietary and many other things in ubuntu or should i say canonical land

  11. Ubuntu One enfada a los usuarios | MuyLinux

    [...] y Open Source. Aunque el cliente de Ubuntu One sí es de código abierto, la parte del servidor aún es algo misteriosa y muchos creen que Canonical ha utilizado una filosofía propietaria, quizás con la excusa de [...]

  12. 65Bits Episode 119 : Freshly Squeezed and MmMMM Good : Singapore Entrepreneurs

    [...] [4] HP recalls 70,000 notebook batteries because of fire hazard, [5] Acer Aspire Timeline, [6] Ubuntu1 is in beta now, [7] Google goes down, [8] Microsoft vs Apple Ad wars, [9] End of NextBus? [10] Singapore TweetUp; [...]

  13. Rodger

    One of three questions:
    Can not log back into Ubuntu1
    Is there “defrag” program for Ubuntu
    Had a person needing help (the site is locked would have helped if I could), just learning linux and slowly learning the program language.

    PS: Is there a “down and dirty” place where I can talk to a human about basic programming with linux, understand binary, oct, hex, etc.

  14. duanedesign

    The source for bindwood, ubuntuone-client, ubuntuone-storage-protocol, couchdb.one.ubuntu.com, desktopcouch, evolution-couchdb, funambol, tomboy web sync, and more have been published.

    The client software has been written to make it extensible to other platforms. Ubuntu One developers are making changes to the way the client works to make it even easier for those in the community to port the client to any platform they wish.

    The source for ubuntuone-servers (the webUI and file storage backend) is not planned for release, although they recently split out the AWS S3 emulator that we use for testing and contribute it as a branch to the txAWS project.

    The webUI and file storage backend is built using apache, haproxy, squid, django, postgres, twisted, rabbitmq, and S3, all running on Ubuntu.

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