News about Ubuntu Linux 12.10 is coming fast and furious as the software's October release date approaches, but it seems fair to say that not even the project's Secure Boot plans have been as controversial as a new feature that came to light late last week.
Specifically, the latest prerelease version of Ubuntu 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal” now integrates Amazon results into searches conducted through the Unity desktop Dash. So, when the user searches in the Ubuntu Unity desktop for “BBQ,” for instance, results will include not just local results but also related products for sale on Amazon, as shown in the screenshot below.
Any purchases made through the Unity Dash, meanwhile, will earn Ubuntu a small percentage in affiliate revenue.
“For each product sold (not searched) from Amazon or the Ubuntu One Music Store, Canonical takes a small cut,” explained Jono Bacon, Ubuntu community manager, in a blog post on Sunday. “This affiliate revenue is a useful way in which we can generate revenue that we can continue to invest into the Ubuntu project to build new features, maintain our infrastructure, and improve Ubuntu.”
'Like adware itself'
In fact, Bacon's explanation came largely in response to considerable controversy and user outcry over the new feature.
“That this turns every desktop search in to an advertisement threatens to make Ubuntu seem like adware itself,” wrote Aibara Iduas in a comment on a bug report, for example.
Concerns over user privacy and desktop clutter have also been frequently mentioned by unhappy Ubuntu fans.
Such has been the extent of the outcry, in fact, that Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth weighed in with a blog post of his own on Sunday as well.
“It makes perfect sense to integrate Amazon search results in the Dash, because the Home Lens of the Dash should let you find *anything* anywhere,” Shuttleworth began.
Besides, the feature as currently implemented in Ubuntu 12.10 “isn’t the full experience, so those who leap to judgment are at maximum risk of having to eat their words later,” Shuttleworth added. “Chill out.”
The Amazon results are not ads, he stressed, since they're not paid placements.
As for privacy concerns, users' anonymity is preserved because Ubuntu handles queries on their behalf, he said.
"Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root,” Shuttleworth noted. “You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update. You trust Debian, and you trust a large swathe of the open source community. And most importantly, you trust us to address it when, being human, we err.”