Open Source

Ubuntu Edge: A case of mistaken identity

Jack Wallen has doubts about the wisdom of Canonical forging ahead with the Ubuntu Edge.

I recently penned a post titled, "10 criteria Ubuntu Edge must meet if it's going to succeed". A few days after that post went live, someone pointed out a fact to me that was – dare I say – bit disheartening. That fact? Ubuntu Edge is for enthusiasts only and will not be made available to the public at large.


Let me say that again: Ubuntu Edge will not be made available to the public at large. That's right, one of the most technologically advanced smartphones on the planet will only be sold to the "enlightened few". Of course, I should preface this by re-stating a rather well-known fact: I am a fan of both Ubuntu and Canonical. But this choice, to me, seems a bit at odds with where Canonical is driving Ubuntu and is counter-productive to two major factors at this point in the Ubuntu life span:

  • Ubuntu is supposed to be for the masses.

  • The Ubuntu phone is nowhere near ready.

That being said, why on earth is Canonical hoping to break numerous records with a device that few will actually own – and do this at the expense of the development of both the desktop operating system AND the Ubuntu phone that could be a major game-changer in the world of smartphones. From my perspective, and I may be wrong about this, Canonical should be focusing on their products in this order:

  • Ubuntu 13.10 – they have a lot of users to win back over and a lot to prove with the choice of migrating to Mir.

  • Ubuntu Phone/tablet – they need to prove they can create a viable mobile option ready for the masses.

  • Ubuntu Edge – this should be something developed after the Ubuntu Phone is released and proved to be accepted technology.

It was a vastly bold move for Canonical to attempt to venture into a technology space driven by two major players – iOS and Android. Without so much as writing a single line of code, Canonical was already up against tougher competition than it has ever faced. Even now they only have a few carriers showing interest in what they are doing. Not one carrier has actually signed on to say they would welcome the Ubuntu Phone. That pretty much means all of the promises Canonical has made with the smartphone are worthless at the moment. Until a carrier steps up to the plate, the Ubuntu Phone is vaporware. So why is it that Canonical thinks leapfrogging themselves and going for the super phone is a wise use of resources and time?

It's not. What's worse, if Ubuntu Edge fails (for any reason), it will put a serious wrench in the works of everything they are working to produce.

I don't begrudge Canonical for aiming higher than any other company. But I would think it better business to make sure their cart is placed carefully behind the horse. That is not to say they shouldn't take risks. We all know most companies aren't in a position of taking risks (which is one of the main reasons why Canonical decided to crowd-fund Ubuntu Edge – so they could take a major risk), but this risk offers a seriously razor sharp edge with which Canonical could slice their own throats. Should Ubuntu Edge backfire, how many people will be willing to trust a standard smartphone developed by Canonical? And how much of a credibility hit will Ubuntu Linux take?

I have to wonder if Canonical bothered to ask themselves these questions before leaping into an arena that contains only one player – themselves. The super phone can wait. In fact, I'm fairly certain the vast majority of users would happily sit on their hands for this device given the promise of the regular old, every day, Ubuntu Phone. Give the end users a solid smartphone that proves itself worthy of playing with the big dogs … and then crush the big dogs with the super phone. Once you do that, people will take everything else you do seriously.

Fail and you'll be a laughing stock, with everyone saying "I told you so!"

Personally, I want Canonical and Ubuntu to succeed. Ubuntu and Ubuntu Unity are the only distribution/desktop I use. If the Ubuntu Phone arrives, I'd love to have one. Ubuntu Edge? Although it's as sexy as any piece of technology I've seen, I'd much rather have something practical for day to day usage first – then give me something drool-worthy. First, prove that playing in the smartphone arena isn't a case of mistaken identity. Then drop-kick Android and iOS into next year with Ubuntu Edge. 


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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