Ubuntu on mobiles by 2014

Brian Turner

October 31, 2011

Popular Linux distro Ubuntu could be powering mobile devices such as phones and tablet PC’s by 2014.

That’s according to an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company that develops Ubuntu.

He is expected to formally annnounce the plans at the Ubuntu Developer Conference in Florida.

Shuttleworth also revealed that Canonical have been talking to manufacturers for the past 18 months about making preparations for the move to supply Linux-powered mobiles and tablets.

According to the interview, Shuttleworth wants to see hardware planning go hand in hand with code development to make for a smooth transition, with mobile chip manufacturer ARM especially in target sights.

While Ubuntu is still a minority operating system for desktop PC’s, it remains the most popular among the Linux flavours for consumers, with an estimated 30% of the home Linux market.

Additionally, Canonical itself estimates there are around 12 million users worldwide, with Ubuntu powering the IT systems for a number of public sector departments in a number of countries.

And the big kicker is that there is currently little choice of operating system for mobile manuacturers, and those available have commercial flaws:

  • Apple iOS is not made available for use by other hardware manufacturers;
  • Windows for mobile is a proprietary system with licence fees attached, an unwelcome fact in the cut-price world of mobiles (and traditionally a bit naff);
  • Android is nothing more than a tool for collecting personal user and behaviour data by the world’s largest advertising company, Google

Therefore initially, in theory, Ubuntu would be a perfect alternative option for hardware developers and manufacturers, especially where “free = good”, which so far has been the main drive behind Android uptake.

However, manufacturers have been made to think twice about Android already.

The first issue is that, while distributed freely, some manufactuers have since found to their cost and chagrin, that it was only free because Google was openly violating the software and patent rights from other companies.

This has resulted in a massive wave of litagation against companies using Andoid, by major brands such as Apple and Oracle. The late Steve Jobs – who had to watch Microsoft steal the Apple GUI – swear to destroy Andoird for being little more than a clone of iOS.

Additionally, Google – always happy to crap on its commercial partners and alienate itself from everyone – has since bought out Motorola, meaning Google can now push ahead with developing its own Andoid phones directly, further allowing Google to try and copy the Apple mobile experience.

However, despite the initial appeal of a free OS, Ubuntu needs to talk to more than just the hardware manufacturers – it needs the apps developers on board, too.

Without apps, any mobile OS is effectively dead in the water – as HP found out when they tried unsuccessfully to launched WebOS on the Touchpad and Pre 3.

Hopefully for consumer-choice sake, Canonical are already looking at this. After all, it would be a damn shame if another potential new option in the mobile computing field were to bite the dust too quickly.

Canonical are already talking about having a single unified Ubuntu experience, regardless as to whether a desktop, mobile, or tablet is used. It remains to be seen how much that aspiration lives up to practical experience.


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