So, Canonical is bringing Ubuntu Linux to smartphones, but what does that really mean? I’ve seen a lot of confusion about this new offering, even from other Linux and device pros, so, here’s my quick guide to what’s what with Ubuntu on phones.
1) It’s Ubuntu, not Ubuntu for phones.
Yes, Canonical will be releasing Ubuntu for smartphones, but, unlike Microsoft with Windows RT for ARM-powered devices and Windows Windows Phone 8 for smartphones, there will be no separate version for each device. If all goes as planned when Ubuntu 14.04 rolls out in April 2014 one Ubuntu image will support smartphones, smart TVs, and computers.
2) You won’t be buying an Ubuntu phone anytime soon.
Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said yesterday in the news conference announcing Ubuntu Linux on phones that the soonest it would arrive in late 2013 or 2014. I’m voting for 2014.
Don’t get me wrong. The technology will be there. The problem is getting the carriers on board.
Canonical’s Ubuntu smartphone OS, in pictures
True, Shuttleworth said that Ubuntu can give carriers “their own content and we’ve essentially put their content on an equal footing with content from the ecosystem. The handset manufacturer or operator that has music, films, or other types of content can promote their content to their users or other users directly in a way that doesn’t feel like a bolt-on or a sideshow.” And, that sounds great, but, Canonical has talked about hardware partners before who have never shown up
When I need a big-name carrier or smartrphone vendor announce they’re on board with Ubuntu on phones I’ll feel a lot better at Ubuntu’s chances.
3) But, you will be able to run Ubuntu on smartphones soon.
Hang in there. You will be able to load the beta of Ubuntu on a smartphone within the next few weeks. To run the low-end version of Ubuntu you’re going to need a phone with a 1GHz Cortex A9 or better processor with at least 512MBs of RAM and 4 to 8 GBs of storage plus an SD card and a multi-touch screen. Lots of phones have the horsepower to do this.
If you want to run the high-end of Ubuntu on a phone, which can support a desktop from the phone, it won’t be so easy. The high-end Ubuntu phone will require either a quad-core A9 or Intel Atom processor, at least a GB of RAM, and 32, count ’em 32, GBs of storage and an SD card and multi-touch screen.
If that sounds like you could run this beta version of Ubuntu on a tablet as well, I agree with you. Yes, yes you could. That’s not Canonical’s immediate goal.
4) Ubuntu on phones is Not the same thing as Ubuntu for Android.
A lot of people have gotten tripped up by this one. Ubuntu for Android is designed to put Ubuntu on Android phones so that two can co-exist. With Ubuntu for Android, you use Android for your phone operating system as usual but you also have Ubuntu on-board so you can use your phone, with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, as a PC.
Ubuntu for phones, however, is a complete replacement for Android. High-end Ubuntu phones will also give you the power to use your smartphone as a PC replacement, but there won’t be any Android involved at all.
5) Ubuntu will support both native and HTML 5 applications but not Dalvik programs.
Because Ubuntu is an alternative operating system for Android, it does not support, Dalvik, Android’s Java Virtual Machine (JVM). So developers will not be able to simply port applications from Android to Ubuntu.
Indeed, Shuttleworth sees this as an advantage. He believes native apps will run faster on Ubuntu,” whereas Android has the overhead of Java.”
Instead of Dalvik, as Jono Bacon, Ubuntu’s community manager pointed out, the Ubuntu “phone platform supports applications written in QML, HTML5, and OpenGL.” In addition, “We have been working on an SDK [software development kit] with a special set of phone components (think widgets and other UI [user interface] elements) that run on top of QML and Qt, and the applications look and feel as beautiful as the rest of the phone platform.”
Want to know more about developing for Ubuntu on phones? Visit the Ubuntu Go Mobile App Developer site.
The real question, of course, is whether Ubuntu on smartphones will take off. For the answer to that one, we’re going to have to wait and see.