Thursday, 22 March 2012

News: Ubuntu for Android

Call it a promise, or a threat,but, true to his word, Mark Shuttleworth is bringing Ubuntu to a device near you. Next in line for Ubuntu on Everything, it's Ubuntu for Android. Yes, if you are designing and manufacturing dual-core smart-phones, Canonical wants it running a full-featured Ubuntu desktop.

On a ridiculously long web page (if this is the marketing brochure, then the Mobile World Congress presentation could last the entire conference), Canonical has announced the availability of Ubuntu for Android as a working prototype. Under the snappy tag-lines " every dual-core phone there's a PC trying to get out" and "Ubuntu is the killer app for multi-core phones in 2012," Canonical makes the case for the docked corporate smart-phone to become the next desktop PC.

We are, of course, looking forward to LTE (Long-Term Evolution), or mobile data connections beyond 3G, 3½G and the rare 4G rates, which will eventually offer higher bandwidth and lower latency for business users. Canonical argues that Cloud apps like Google Docs are best used with a full desktop. Adobe, Citrix and VM-ware logos are proudly displayed under Ubuntu's 'trusted brand' tag-line; apparently "it’s the brand that sells devices"

While this is not a replacement for Android, it is more than simply a thin Android 'app' – we're talking a “complete desktop solution” and “a full range of desktop applications” with shared address book, calendar, media and music available. When you connect the phone to an external monitor with keyboard and mouse, Ubuntu boots and runs concurrently with Android. Looking at the images and the technical specification, the 2GB disk image for Ubuntu looks like 12.04 with Unity, sitting atop a hardware compatibility layer on ARM processors.

None of this should come as a surprise to those aware of the time and effort Canonical puts in to Linaro, the consortium it co-founded to drive Linux on ARM for servers and laptops.

Canonical contends that Android beyond the touch-phone and tablet - say as a media center or desktop operating system - has failed, what is needed is the availability of Ubuntu's vast and mostly free repositories of desktop applications. Canonical would have us believe "Ubuntu for Android gives mobile workers a compelling reason to upgrade to multi-core handsets with more RAM, more storage, faster GPUs and CPUs" which sounds more of a pitch to the handset makers than to any users.

Where we disappear through the back of the wardrobe into Marketing-Land is when the announcement gushes about "...a whole new peripheral ecosystem" which is what you'll need to equip your phone with dock, monitor, keyboard and mouse, probably a set for each main location. Another enticement for the hardware makers, who are, it has to be said, conspicuously absent from this announcement. Canonical and Vodafone may have shipped the world’s first ARM smart-book, but there's no mention of that, of Vodafone, or any other partners. It may be true that "Ubuntu ships pre-installed on millions of PC’s from major manufacturers in China, India and Brazil today," but none of those manufacturers are quoted here either.

It's early days and 2012 is looking like Canonical's most dynamic year, with Ubuntu-TV, Ubuntu for Business and now Ubuntu for Android. Some signed-up partners to go with these announcements would be nice, though. RC