Hands-On With Ubuntu for Android


A few days ago, Ubuntu announced its plans to marry its full desktop operating system with the Android mobile operating system. Ubuntu, of course, is mostly known for its Linux distribution, but the company has recently also branched out into consumer electronics with its Ubuntu for TV initiative. Today, we got a chance to spend some hands-on time with the first prototypes of Ubuntu for Android. While it's still obvious that this is a prototype, it's hard not to be positively surprised by the current state of the project.

Here is how it works in practice – and this is a bit similar to the experience with a Motorola Atrix: when you use your phone on the road, it's a regular Android phone. For the most part, you wouldn't even know that it is running Ubuntu as well. When you plug it into its base station however, it becomes a full-blown desktop system that you control with a mouse and keyboard. It even runs Ubuntu TV as well.

A Need for More Speed

The prototypes Ubuntu is using to demonstrate the operating system aren't among the fastest. It takes a little bit before applications like Chrome start up, for example. Ubuntu is quite aware of this, of course, and expects that the first phones with the operating systems will use faster, multi-core processors with more RAM than its current prototypes.

Once your applications are running, though, the desktop feels sufficiently speedy. Maybe the coolest feature of the desktop, though, as that you still have access to the full Android OS, too. You can still make calls, use Google Maps or any other app that runs on the phone. This isn't some emulator either. All the apps still run natively.

Ubuntu hasn't announced any partners yet that will manufacture the phone, but an Ubuntu representative told me that a number of top-tier manufacturers have already approach the company since it first announced this project a few days ago.

More Than a Gimmick

Going into the demo, I couldn't help but think that this was mostly going to be a gimmick, but after seeing the product in action, it does feel like the Ubunut team is on the right track. Chances are, your phone will never be as fast as that multi-core (but also power-hungry) desktop under your desk, but most users never really tap into this power anyway.

Ubuntu is aiming this feature at high-end users for now, but one could also imagine this as a smart solution for developing countries where phones are often peoples' only way of getting online.

7:55 am

Ubuntu Founder: “The Stranglehold of Windows on the Platform Itself Seems to be Coming Unstuck”


If you have watched the Linux community long enough, you know that every year is inevitably proclaimed to be the year where the Linux desktop will finally break through. Sadly, though, that has never happened. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu developer Canonical, however, thinks that a major sea change is currently happening in the corporate world that could give Linux another chance. Ironically, what’s giving Linux on the desktop a new opportunity is the fact that the desktop itself is slowly becoming less relevant thanks to virtualization and the move towards productivity computing in the cloud.

As Shuttleworth notes, “Windows is optional, or at least it can be managed and delivered as a service to any other platform, so it no longer has to BE the platform on the client.” Microsoft’s “stranglehold of Windows on the platform itself seems to be coming unstuck.” He estimates that 10-20% of desktops will be able to migrate to Linux smoothly over a year or two.

Rightly, though, Shuttleworth also notes that the Linux world shouldn’t really think of Windows as a target anymore. “Being an effective replacement for Windows,” he writes, “is no guarantee of relevance in the future.” That, indeed, is very true, now that a majority of what we do with our computers involves the browser more than anything else. With ChromeOS, Google is effectively making a push for Linux in the corporate world, though it barely ever mentions the Linux underpinnings of its project. Then, of course, we’ve heard this story a few times too often before, so before you get too excited, remember that every one of the last 10 years was declared to be the “year of the Linux desktop” by at least one pundit.

3:14 am