The free ride for many, getting a shiny new CD with the biennial Ubuntu distribution for inclusion on their machines is now gone, as Canonical has announced that the ShipIt program is officially over.

The program was a great idea in 2005, when broadband penetration was not significant, and the bulk mail rates were more appealing, but now, with everyone’s costs rising, Canonical must put the money where it can be best used, and distribution of CDs is not considered to be where that is. Today, it is easy to obtain a copy by download, if not at your own location, then by download at a public library, or college, where broadband capabilities make even the most stingy of allotted times at the library usable to obtain the 700 MB needed for the image. In those locations where no access to an optical drive to burn the CD is available, it is easy enough to connect a flash drive to an open USB port, and then make the copy at one’s home. It is also possible to leave the download on the flash drive, and use it as the point of entry for many newer machines. If your machine is not one allowing boot from a USB-attached peripheral, there are still other methods available. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention, and we can be very inventive when needs be.

The newest version of Ubuntu, 11.04, will not be able to be obtained by the ShipIt method, but though Canonical is not doing the disbursement directly, various local communities for Ubuntu will still be shipping discs from their various locations. In the United States alone, there are LoCos (their moniker, not mine) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah. The list is located here, and tells who needs to be contacted to get your very own disc – what you can’t do any longer is obtain a slew of them, for your own distribution.

Those truly interested in furthering the efforts of open source (and who isn’t?) should also be reminded that one can still obtain those discs from the Canonical store, at a very small price which covers media costs as well as a small amount to continue development efforts. Mark Shuttleworth is no Rupert Murdoch!

So though this announcement precludes some from obtaining many discs, it is still easy to obtain each release from a local unit of the Ubuntu family. It is not known whether the discs will include the cardboard sleeve with graphics that the discs from the Ubuntu mothership did, but the content is there, nonetheless.

While the one large program ends, Canonical is speaking of a new one beginning, with the possibility of a testing environment in the cloud coming this year.

Though it will no doubt raise the ire of those Ubuntu fans reading this, I might suggest a more complete (and up-to-date) set of man pages be a part of the newest distributions, as well as much better interactive help in the OS itself. To my way of thinking, making help for problems even closer than a possibly disconnected internet would do the very most to help adoptions rise.