Linux

Ubuntu on smartphones: What you need to know

Canonical announced that Ubuntu for smartphones is now a reality. Jack Wallen gives you a heads up on what you should know at this point and what he expects for the future of this platform.

Welcome to the future. The future is now. It's early 2013 and it's already starting to look promising for Linux. How? Canonical + Ubuntu + Smartphones = Promise. Now, that promise comes with a few asterisks, but the promise is certainly there.

What, exactly, is happening here? It's something most of the naysayers said 'nay' about most often -- it's Linux on mobile devices. The reality of this dream (one that is now coming true) is that it's 100% fiction-free as of yet. But, for the moment, let's dig into what you need (or want) to know about Ubuntu on smartphones.

This is not Ubuntu for Android

There is already a product, Ubuntu for Android, that can be installed on your smartphone. This version of Ubuntu is installed alongside Android and doesn't make itself known until the phone is docked -- at which point, you see a full-blown Ubuntu platform on your monitor.

Ubuntu on smartphones is a complete replacement platform for Android. It's a full-blown desktop operating system with a smartphone-centric interface (not Unity).

Release dates

At the moment, there are no solid release dates. It has been said that, within the month, a release of the build for the Galaxy Nexus will be available. This means users will have to install the platform themselves. By the end of 2013, there should be versions of Ubuntu for many devices (including some tablets). Mark Shuttleworth (of Canonical) has stated that he hopes that sometime within 2014, consumers will be able to purchase smartphones running Ubuntu.

That is where the 'gotcha' comes. As of now, not a single carrier has come to the head of the line to run with the idea of selling an Ubuntu-based smartphone. Does that mean it won't happen? No. I feel confident there will be a few devices available, through carriers, in 2014. Most likely, the carrier will be the forward-thinking Verizon. I cannot possibly imagine AT&T will have any interest in offering a platform to dig into its cash-cow iPhone.

As you can see, on this Ubuntu page, the makers of the platform are calling out for network operators, OEMs, and ODMs. This is Ubuntu's online "dog and pony show" to entice providers. Canonical should certainly be pimping the video on this page to help them attract those OEMs and ODMs. At the 6:38 mark, Shuttleworth dives into the Ubuntu Phone and shows off what it can do. Give a watch to that video and you will see why I say there will be a carrier for this platform.

The 'docked' version

Like Ubuntu for Android, you will get to enjoy the full-blown Ubuntu desktop when you dock your phone. This, of course, means any handset maker will also have to create a dock for the device. I've used a platform similar to this -- with the Motorola take on the dockable device -- and found it severely lacking. This lack was mostly from an under-powered device trying to push graphics and apps to a larger screen. Also, the Motorola take on the docked version was actually less useful than the mobile version. Ubuntu's iteration of the docked device, should solve most of those issues.

My thoughts on what to expect

I've been spouting off about how, if Linux is to make any headway in the mobile market, it has to happen this year. Thanks to Canonical, it looks like this might well come true. What I see happening with this is users getting to experience what Android would be like if it were completely open and the mobile platform fully unleashed to take advantage of the power and flexibility Ubuntu offers.

My honest predictions are this: Canonical is going to deliver what might be the single most powerful and flexible mobile platform to date. Ubuntu on smartphones will have consumers drooling over what it can offer. The big hurdle will be the carriers. Entering the mobile space at this time, with iOS and Android pretty much filling every dance card, will be a challenge. Unfortunately, for Ubuntu for smartphones to have a chance to gain any traction, it's going to require a major carrier to pick it up. This means Verizon or T-Mobile (sorry AT&T, you've already proved yourself too slow and backward-thinking) must step up to the plate and take a chance. Should either one of those carriers see that Canonical has something truly unique, and decide to offer both a low and high-end device, Ubuntu for smartphones will be a huge success.

However, should Ubuntu for smartphones only be picked up by a niche carrier, this brilliant execution of a marvelous design will falter.

I look forward to the possibility of getting my hands on a smartphone driven by Ubuntu. As soon as a ROM for the Galaxy S3 arrives, I'll be on that baby like a Geek on Battlestar Galactica!

About

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.

31 comments
jdudeck
jdudeck

it's the big service companies, specifically Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, the carriers, and to a lesser degree Facebook etc that we are suspicious of. We like the idea of Ubuntu on mobile because it gives some hope of freedom.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

When I read about this (and Ubuntu for Android) I was beyond excited: practically bouncing in my seat. I'm really glad they will be pushing out an install for the Galaxy Nexus since that's what I have. My concern is the pre-boot/recovery environment. Will I still be able to use ClockworkMod and all the backups I have on it? What if I don't like Ubuntu on my phone and want to switch back to a backup of my current ROM? I haven't seen anything about that yet. And while I rather enjoy the risky things you can do w/Android devices, this worries me more than normal.

chudak10
chudak10

What can the objective for adopting Ubuntu, other then turning your phone to full blown desktop platform?

emenau
emenau

I like the idea to be able to have a full debian system in my pocket. BUT this: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/ubuntu-spyware-what-to-do worries me. Can canonical be trusted now they walk with the bad boys? Ubuntu vs Android... Does google still beleive in "Don't be evil" and why does Canonical go evil on Debian??? Debian does all the hard work to make things secure, and Canonical breaks it like a herd of bulls in a China shop What's the verdict?

ricardoc
ricardoc

Our company was really close to adopt the Motorola Atrix precisely for the ability to have a phone that can have "desktop" capabilities when docked. Then once you take off you take the "brain" with you. The idea is to have just one device that does everything you need to get your job done. This capability has been potentially around for quite a while but not many hardware makers have jumped into providing it in a seamless way. I can see why; there is a conflict of interest for them since with this capability the need for tables dwindles a lot, not to mention most users won't need a full blown laptop. This is more true for those whose main use of computers is to work with cloud based applications; for them there is no need of powerful computers, a smaller device can do the job. Thanks,

raymond_lau_168
raymond_lau_168

Who cares which carrier will take up the Ubuntu OS ? All I want is to get it on my tablet which has no phone capability anyway. Will the Ubuntu OS be generic enough for us just to download it to an SD card and flash to any tablet device meeting HW requirements ? If that's the way Ubuntu is going with the OS, I'm sure it will win the hearts and minds of all tablet users to give it a go...

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If it can be flashed to a Nexus device, can read the SIM and supports the carrier's network type then who cares what the carrier's think or if they pick it up. They aren't stopping me from running Android (proper) or dropping CM or similar after market firmware. Ok, I get it.. no carrier means no adoption by the majority or are non-savvy or casual users. For my personal opinion, I latched on to Nokia's N### devices because they where the only upgrade path from the Palm T5 erra devices and because Maemo was about as close to a general purpose OS on a mobile device as one could possibly get (and much closer than anything available now). If Canonical can deliver a "Debian on my phone" experience where I get mobile device GUI/apps with full *nix behind.. oh baby.. Even with the amount of data Android has managed to siphon off into Google's storage servers.. it'll be a hard decision not to go through the grief of migrating my data back out of Google.

Andy M
Andy M

I agree with you that a carrier is needed for this to take off. I disagree with your assessment of Verizon as "forward-thinking". This is the carrier that disabled the ability to load mp3 files to the original Motorola Razr, even though the phone was fully capable of supporting USB syncing. Verizon wouldn't carry phones with Wifi radios until the success of such phones on alternate carriers (the iPhone and BlackBerry, in particular) forced it to catch up to the market. I see nothing to indicate that Verizon has changed their thinking - they still like to charge for every little thing as much as possible. I think T-Mobile is the most likely to experiment with Ubuntu as an alternate OS to offer customers. They've been willing to try new operating systems in the past, so there's a track record already in place to support the idea.

water-man
water-man

From an European perspective, I'm not so much interested in what the carriers will do. Will be too little too late anyway. I'm more interested which manufacturers will step in. This might be the opportunity for HTC to escape from the pressure from Samsung in the Android segment and make a beautiful business/prosumer product. But can we all wait till 2014?? Hurry up Canonical!!!

dangoody27_1
dangoody27_1

I have really high hopes that this works out. It would be a neat little trick as an IT Manager to show the capabilities of the Ubuntu OS to get shops off of their Microsoft-fix (and eliminate any considerations of upgrading to Windows 8). Go get 'em Canonical!

jvin248
jvin248

A buddy of mine just upgraded his AT&T Blackberry phone to a Google-Samsung Android phone by ordering the new phone on his own and swapping the data chip/card over. Powered it up and he has all his existing phone plan, his phone contacts, email, everything plus the new phone goodness. That is what Ubuntu needs to work on: communicating how and the ease of upgrading ("just swap that chip").

danbarbulescu
danbarbulescu

Getting onboard at least one big-name carrier or OEM producer is what is needed for this platform to take off. And it might happen: carriers do not like to depend too much on Google or Apple - see the other initiatives: Firefox OS, Tizen, etc. What I am afraid of is that we will have again a fragmentation of the mobile environment similar to the age of Windows Mobile, Symbian, Maemo, WebOS, Blackberry, Android, iOS ...

suplero
suplero

will this be installable by the user? or have to come pre-installed? I have a smartphone and tablet i would love to put linux on, and now that the 3.7 kernel has arrived, any hope for new functionality in these devices? thanks for the article.

emenau
emenau

I once liked Ubuntu very much. If we accept this crap from them then we don't actually care about freedom at all. Don't just hope for freedom... It's like hoping for a god... Freedom is NOT a religion. Stand up for your right.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I was thinking the same last night. My thoughts are that they'd just drop the OS firmware over top of Android leaving the boot loader in place; same as flashing Android proper over device original Samsungandroid. That's what I'm hoping anyhow. I'd like to see a dualboot option too personally though if it's one or the other, Ubuntu is a pretty good sell. I'd also suggest a full phone backup including your CM backups. Wugs makes it easy.

Rick-J
Rick-J

It's all explained in Shuttleworth's video, linked in the article. This isn't Ubuntu desktop at all, it's Ubuntu phone.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

They are different products assembled by different companies with different target customers and this results in different priority choices when developing the product. I don't see how it is "going evil on Debian" that Canonical chooses different settings. That's why one forks a distribution, because they want to assemble it differently. Debian is producing a server and system builder's product. Canonical is producing an end consumer and workstation product. Simple. As for the search spyware.. It's Ubuntu.. "$ sudo aptitude purge badthingy", disable the feature or watch for a community patch. Also, this is about Ubuntu on phones which does not use Unity. For that though, we'll have to wait until community devs get to install and tinker with the firmware build. In terms of a mobile phone, I didn't see it do anything more sinister than your already allowing with Android/Iphone and browsers today. What would be interesting though... Ubunto Phone forks.. maybe even a Debian Phone build including only what Ubunto Phone requires additionally. Just wait until the Hackers get at it and see what they can make it do (clarity; Hacker meaning the creative tinkerers not mass media miss-representation).

Rick-J
Rick-J

It's a question of what you define as "bad". There's no doubt that R.S. has a highly paranoid view of the net. The fact is that the world is changing, and we are all finding the concept of cloud services of every type to be highly convenient. We LIKE the idea that local and cloud storage is seamless, so we WANT a search to cover everything. R.S. still wants different buttons for "search my device" and "search the net", but the increasing proportion of non-technical users just don't want that fuss, many barely even understand it. By subscribing to Google, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Amazon, etc. in the first place, we are constantly letting these services know what we like, search for, etc. anyway. Only by not using these services at all (maybe R.S. doesn't?) can you be genuinely private. Truly malicious software is a genuine problem, but I think it's actually mischievous to suggest that a feature that links local and global searches is "spyware". Unless we all want to live in private bubbles, we need a clearer definition of what constitutes real malware, and what constitutes a net-connected convenience.

steamIngenious
steamIngenious

I agree with this assessment of Verizon. I have been a Verizon customer for many years and I fail to see where this popular "forward-thinking" misconception comes from. I think you're right about T-Mobile, and I would potentially add Virgin to that list.

Rick-J
Rick-J

The rest of the world does not suffer the carrier-muscle lock-in of the N.A. market. You can buy the phone you want, and buy the SIM & contract you want, and there are plenty of independent retailers who will do a competitive bundle so you don't pay for the phone up-front. Ubuntu may well do better outside the USA (Canonical is a London-based company). I think the big issue is apps. It takes time to build up a wide enough range of apps before heavy users of one patform will migrate to another. If Ubuntu could run an Android emulator, that would help pull Android users over. It's why original Windows succeeded (you could still run DOS apps), and why Palm's WebOS didn't (you couldn't run legacy PalmOS apps). You have to ease transition.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'd just be happy to get my staff off Itunes dependent Iphones, BES dependent blackberries and buggy Android devices. These devices have the current benefit of no killer business app. On the desktop side, it's still going to depend on what applications your business is addicted two. Nothing for Ubuntu can currently break the Office addition because only MS apps can fully function with current MS file formats. For Exchange, you can get close but your still looking at a user revolt and angry executives. Quickbooks... unless you go to the hosted service.. local Quickbooks is going to keep Windows on your accountant's machines. You only need to sign off on the invoice for one MS Office or Exchange license to start wishing for anything else with a remotely reasonable price point.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Move the SIM and/or SD card if you have one and the new hardware should authenticate with the SIM just like the old one did.. provided it supports the network type (HSPA+ etc..)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If there is an Ubuntu firmware for the Nexus, Wug's will be able to help you install it.

Adrian_curiosu
Adrian_curiosu

If the platform will be good enough, I expect the major players to offer incentives to the carriers to *not* implement the software.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I kinda don't care how they do it (average user thinking, I know) but if they keep the Android bootloader, then I'm happy.

emenau
emenau

Or is it fine when everyone (including theives) can look inside, at any given time Privacy is the better security. And surveillance is killing freedom. my data is MY data. I payed for it worked for it, and NOBODY has to browse in it. Apart from that i'm happy to share other stuff, But I"M the one who need to decide WHAT i share...

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

Best to go cold turkey, like Munich. I have no problem, though, being the only Mint guy here. And I can open and edit PDFs with LibreOffice.

emenau
emenau

First of all... Did you actually read the post? Here is a second chance to do so: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/ubuntu-spyware-what-to-do That they ENABLE it by default. Things would be different if it was DISABLED by default and peopl can enable it afer reading and accepting an apropiate warning, AND is there would also be a privacy setting in the system preferences that can lockdown all privacy for the entire OS with ONE click. Privacy by default, and all the other features for nitwits who don't give a damn. That's more humanitarian... Don't call it UBUNTU if you don't care about UBUNTU

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

My understanding was that the feature only used your search string. If the thing was harvesting data out of your hard earned files then this story would be a hell of a lot bigger than this post and a few passing mentions end of last year. Still, turn off the feature.. uninstall it (likely possible) and get on with life

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Not for any company that already has a nice big library of Office file formats. Maybe in an office of IT savvy that are not change adverse but if IT isn't the company focus it'll be hard making the change. Libre may work for your PDFs (I'll have to try some of ours actually.. nice tip) but there are still too many formatting changes between Libre/Office file format handling. The way Calc and Excel handle cell formulas is incompatible (Excel has a fit when Libre/Open save the current tab into the formula) and your outright SOL if you've got staff using document macros. On the networking side, we'd also want complete Active Directory profile support on the *nix side or (preferably) a *nix hosted LDAP on par with Active Directory in terms of policy management and everything else above and beyond authentication (auth is easy.. ). Oh baby though.. the day I can put a user in front of my *nix test rig and they can get all there tasks done.. oh I'll toss Windows like a turkey into a deep frier. Good on you though if you can make it work seamlessly. Mint is a nice choice too.