Canonical has, once again, made the promise of delivering on the convergent desktop. With Unity 8/Mir eminent in the 16.10 (although we've heard that story before) release, Canonical is finally bringing that oft-broken promise of delivering the convergence of smartphone, tablet, and desktop to life.
But there's a problem in their design...one that I don't see them overcoming any time soon.
Before we get into the problem, let's discuss Canonical's plan for convergence.
I'm kidding. Let's talk about the white elephant in the room...right away.
A few years ago, Canonical jettisoned UbuntuOne. From the perspective of the end user (as well as anyone hanging their hat on predicting what Canonical was up to), this was a really bad move. The UbuntuOne service was unique and drew new users into the fold. It wasn't just a cloud storage service, it was also a media solution and more. Once again, Ubuntu had shown it was ahead of the curve in innovation.
And then...they killed it. The only true, 100% Linux desktop cloud solution that just worked.
A few years later, Canonical introduced Ubuntu Touch and the Ubuntu Phone. I've made my opinion well known on this platform, but since then I've given the Ubuntu Phone another go. Unfortunately, that initial opinion still stands. The platform is far from ready.
How can I say that?
In a word...cloud.
Or, rather, a lack thereof.
That's right, the Ubuntu Phone has a pathetic cloud presence. Yes, there's Dropbox...but it barely works. Yes, there's a Google Drive app...but it barely works. Even syncing calendars and contacts requires jumping through more hoops than most users are willing to attempt. In fact, the whole of the Ubuntu Phone smacks of when Linux was built only for the uber geeks and comp sci students.
And Canonical wants to converge that with the desktop?
My question is this: How do they hope to have any success without a solid cloud presence? How will the desktop, tablet, and smartphone share any amount of data without the ability to work with said data across all devices?
You see, Google has all the makings for a perfectly converged experience. Thanks to Google Drive, I can effortlessly access and work with my data on any Google-driven platform. Windows? You've got OneDrive. Apple? iCloud. You see the theme there? Each of those platforms have a cloud service at the center. Why? Data. Simple. The Ubuntu converged platform...won't have that feature (nay, requirement).
That's an Achilles of epic proportions. And it's not one that Canonical will solve with a bandage called Dropbox. This is where they desperately need the ghost of UbuntuOne to resurrect itself to stand as the glue that holds together the data at the center of Ubuntu's converged platform. Without that glue...everything will fall apart.
You see, it's one thing to be able to say "Look, you can now have the same experience across platforms!" That's all fine and good...until someone actually needs to work and has no means of accessing their data across the converged experience.
I know it might sound like I'm shrugging off all the hard work the Ubuntu developers have put into bringing the future to Linux. I'm not. I understand how challenging this must have been. Just getting Unity 8/Mir to function properly has taken years. But the fact that Canonical jettisoned UbuntuOne so long ago, leaves a glaring hole in the convergent landscape that Ubuntu could bring to life. Without a cloud solution, I cannot see how the Ubuntu convergent experience even makes sense.
Of course, maybe they have something in the works. Maybe Ubuntu has been in league with Dropbox to deeply (and completely) integrate their services into Ubuntu Touch. Or maybe there's something going on with ownCloud (although there isn't even a Ubuntu Touch app for one of the most popular Linux cloud services available).
For some reason, I'm doubting this is happening. What I think will happen is that Ubuntu will finally bring the converged platform to market and the users will get to see what should really only serve as a working "proof of concept" or "public beta" release. Why? Because without a cloud presence, whatever they release won't be a viable solution for most users. The cloud has spoken and we have listened. Most users have grown to depend upon cloud services...especially for working with data across platforms. Without such a service built into Ubuntu, how in the world does Canonical believe they can make convergence truly work?
I hope I'm wrong. I really want Canonical to succeed at bringing a technology they imagined (before anyone else) to life. But I'm fairly certain, without a cloud presence, this is going to be more of a challenge to make real than just getting Unity 8/Mir to function properly.
Do you believe convergence can happen without a cloud presence?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.