Ubuntu Linux was started in 2004 by Mark Shuttleworth: an entrepreneur who made his fortunes [to the tune of 600 million US] by selling the company he founded, Thawte, to VeriSign; and made famous in 2002 for having purchased a flight to the ISS [International Space Station] via one of the Russian Soyuz missions.
Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that primarily focuses on the average end-user.
Everything about Ubuntu screams "desktop" -- from the website design, to the slogan "Linux for Human Beings". The goal of Ubuntu is to create a Linux distribution that "just works" for the average joe.
According to distrowatch.com, Ubuntu has held the number 1 spot for several years as the most popular Linux distribution. It receives media attention often [Google Trends], and has an ever-growing user base that is estimated to be 2-6 million strong.
Canonical Ltd. are the official sponsors of Ubuntu Linux, with Mark Shuttleworth providing the funding, via Canonical, to move Ubuntu forward. So far about $15-20 million has been spent.
And even at this point in time, with the top Linux distribution, the future is very uncertain. Mr. Shuttleworth has stated himself that it might take another two years before he even knows whether Canonical/Ubuntu has a chance to become profitable.
Users are simply not converting to paid customers... And why would they? The product is always free with the GPL, and the support is optional.
Now think "Red Hat"...
Red Hat eventually figured out that all the money to be made with support and services was server-side, and moved away from the desktop as fast as possible. They cut the dead weight, gave up that #1 desktop distribution standing completely, never looked back, and turned a profit.
Since then many have tried to capitalize the Linux desktop, and all have failed miserably... Has Lindows/Linspire made a profit yet? According to their VP of sales and marketing, Linspire is "very close" [at not losing 10 million per year].
Is Ubuntu really any different? Does that even matter?
To answer my own question "Is Ubuntu Linux slowly dying?", I would have to say "Yes." For the simple reason that there is no money to be made offering support on the desktop. For a Linux distribution to be profitable, it has to cater to businesses. Businesses will purchase support contracts as a safety cushion, to have someone to blame, and for real support issues [and sometimes in that exact order]. The average end-user will not...
Ask yourself this... When was the last time you paid for support, services, or even software under Windows? And the last time you had an issue under Linux, was purchasing a support contract even a part of your thought process?
This lesson has been learned the hard way, many times over, and even I'm starting to see the light with the direction DeveloperSide.NET is headed [branching off this site as a wiki, and turning the Web-Server Suite into a community effort -- while I pursue other ventures].
Simply put, Canonical/Ubuntu cannot compete with Red Hat server-side: Red Hat is too well established and no one is going to deploy Ubuntu Server, over RHEL, and keep their job at the same time. Red Hat is a trusted name. Ubuntu Server is an unknown. The only way for Ubuntu Server to succeed, is for Red Hat to drop the ball.
Having said that, Canonical's only option for profit left is the corporate desktop. This market has also been explored by the likes of Novell, Red Hat, and other major players. Again, barriers to entry are high, and profits difficult to make and maintain.
Losing money can only be fashionable for a limited time. Canonical is not a non-profit orginisation. Ubuntu will survive on life-support, as the other "once-darling" distributions have, but profits for Canonical will not be made. At some point, the 40-70 head paid team at Canonical that develops, supports, and markets Ubuntu will be out of the job. Ubuntu, being left solely to the community, will go down hill fast afterwards.
Just as a side thought, does anyone else think the success of Ubuntu Linux is primarily a result of marketing? It's a great distribution, with many merits, but marketing is *always* king and something that Linux needs more of.