The latest news is that the desktop Linux distribution, Ubuntu is coming to smartphones.
For those who don’t know about Ubuntu: it is a Linux distribution and kind of an important one. Ubuntu is the most popular desktop Linux distribution in the world. Clear-cut statistics of the popularity of Ubuntu is not easily obtained. However, we have been looking through Wikimedia Foundation’s traffic analysis report for a year ending in Oct 2012, published in November last year. It showed Ubuntu Linux users have made 1.18 billion page requests from various Wiki projects.
The only other Linux distribution to surpass Ubuntu is Android and it is due to its popularity on mobile devices. Several estimates say more than 20 million computers use Ubuntu OS. With Ubuntu available on smartphones, the smartphone OS war may probably become fiercer.
In October 2011, Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) published a post regarding Ubuntu extending support for ARM architecture. ARM is the primary processor and instruction set architecture working on mobile processors. Read this post to know more about tablet and smartphone microprocessors. This was the first ever indication of Ubuntu’s move into smartphone and tablet market.
Ubuntu supports now three major architectures and provides unofficial support for IBM PowerPC.
|Intel x86 & x86-64||i386|
|AMD64 & Intel EM64T||amd64|
|ARM||armel||Marvell Dove, Freescale i.MX51, TI OMAP, Versatile||dove, imx51, omap, versatile|
Watch this video by Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical:
The video explains fairly well the Ubuntu smartphone. The operating system has been attempted on Google’s Galaxy Nexus phone.
It has been claimed that Ubuntu on smartphone will give the complete experience of a PC on a smartphone. However, this claim has yet to be verified. A smartphone’s processor and instruction set architecture are different from those of a regular PC, and since ARM cannot run Intel-based PC applications, Ubuntu phone may not be able to run Ubuntu’s desktop applications.
However, there are about 45,000 apps on Ubuntu marketplace (the desktop interface), which can be easily adapted for the smartphone setup. On the top of that, Ubuntu is actively looking for developers and does provide high level support for app development and distribution. Mark Shuttleworth seems highly enthusiastic about this new venture.
The smartphone interface of Ubuntu is pleasantly different from the other OSes in the market. People who have been using Android and iOS for such a long time and looking for a fresh change may gravitate toward Ubuntu. One of the major fresh innovations done in the interface of Ubuntu for smartphones is the presence of a personalized graphic on the welcome screen.
There is no lock screen, but only an easy-on-the-eyes welcome screen which gives you instant access to your apps and settings. And this graphic can provide you with a lot of information—call log, message log, talk time information, and even certain special info based on apps installed (such as number of tweets received).
Left-hand side has an array of web-based apps that you can open quickly. Also, swipe gestures on the left and right edges can help you switch through apps easily.
Another major thing Ubuntu is advertising about is its ability to search just about anything online. Voice-based search option, they claim, return relevant results that you are looking for. For instance, if you are looking for a person, Ubuntu returns contact list results, Twitter and Facebook profile details, etc. If you’re searching a book or a movie, it returns results from Amazon or IMDB.
Developing for Ubuntu
According to Shuttleworth, “Web apps are first class citizens of Ubuntu”. Web apps are the ones based on HTML 5, which may revolutionize the app environment of smartphones today. With HTML 5 app development in place, an app created for iPhone can be easily converted for working with Android, Windows Phone, or Ubuntu.
In essence, although Ubuntu for smartphones has virtually no apps today, it will be easy for developers to incorporate their existing apps for Ubuntu platform.
Ubuntu Software Center can be used to distribute apps among all Ubuntu devices. Also, with proper tweaking to Ubuntu for smartphones, developers can distribute their existing desktop apps to smartphones.
Also, since Ubuntu has its own cloud implementation services, all apps can utilize this feature to back up data into a personal or Ubuntu sever cloud. Ubuntu One gives you 5 GB of free storage and you can order further storage if necessary. As a platinum member of OpenStack Foundation (a collaboration of NASA and Rackspace that provides open cloud services), Canonical (Ubuntu’s parent company) can provide you with cloud computing software that works well with all Ubuntu systems.
Canonical and Ubuntu will be present in the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, from Jan 8 to 11. At that time, we may be able to see more about Ubuntu for phones. Also, this may create a really challenging smartphone market in the coming days.