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Ubuntu's Bold Mobile Gambit

Ubuntu's Bold Mobile Gambit

"Canonical is taking us into a radically different direction," said Mobile Raptor blogger Roberto Lim. "No more desktop, no more laptop, no more tablet and no more console. Just your smartphone, which can be converted into any one of the legacy devices by attaching the correct peripherals. I am pretty sure the people over at Cupertino and Redmond have done a quick dash back to the drawing boards."

By Katherine Noyes
02/27/12 5:00 AM PT

There's no denying the magnitude of Linux's impact on the world of personal computing so far, but you know something has changed when headlines like the ones we saw last week begin appearing.

"Ubuntu for Android: This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of computing" read one, for example.

"Ubuntu for Android shows us the future of computing" read another.

"How RIM could learn from Ubuntu, and why it needs to before it's too late" was yet another.

"Ubuntu crests new wave of mobile computing solutions" was the bold proclamation over at The Guardian.

A Multiplicity of Devices

Indeed, after Canonical's Tuesday debut of Ubuntu for Android, it soon became clear that the news had struck some kind of chord with observers far and wide, prompting nothing less than a large-scale reconsideration of the current state of computing.

How do we compute today? How might that get better in the coming years? What role should be played by all these myriad devices we have on hand?

Such questions and more have been on the tips of Linux bloggers' tongues ever since the news broke -- at Slashdot, at PCWorld, and beyond. Fortunately, trusty reporter and Fearless Friend of FOSS Linux Girl has been on hand around the clock to record some of what's been said.

'The New Way of Computing'

"I think it is great," blogger "TJ" told Linux Girl over at the Linux blogosphere's Google+ Grill, where she recently set up camp.

"Ubuntu is now poised at the forefront of the 'new way' of computing," TJ opined. "I only hope Canonical continues to innovate and come out with their own tablet/phone.

"I can see why they are going the Android route first: to get people comfortable with the interface so that consumers won't hesitate when it comes time to buy an Ubuntu phone," he added.

'This Would Add to the Experience'

Then again: "A lot depends on execution," cautioned Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien. "But I like the direction they are going on with this.

"I already regard my Android phone as a pocket computer, and this would add to the experience," O'Brien said. "I wouldn't replace my desktop at this point, but as an added feature I would like this."

Similar thoughts could be heard in abundance down at the blogosphere's seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon.

'Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained'

"This is a bold move, and one which is definitely not guaranteed to succeed," opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

"It isn't clear if there is a market or how big it is," Travers added. "Shuttleworth has talked about his ideas in this area and they are certainly imaginative."

However, "it is certainly worth watching," he concluded. "It falls in the 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' category."

'Unity Won't Get Them There'

Similarly, "it is a nice idea," agreed consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

At the same time, though, "Unity won't get them there since it's not very mouse-efficient either."

Speaking of Unity, Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza couldn't understand why Canonical has been pushing Unity all these months, only to pursue a different strategy altogether now that it's on a small form factor, he told Linux Girl.

'Just a Replay of Ubuntu TV'

Indeed, "Canonical trashed their desktop user base in an attempt to make Ubuntu touch-friendly, and now the big news is that Ubuntu is running on a non-touch screen? Ouch!" agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"There's a real lack of any sense that Canonical has a plan," Hudson opined.

"This is not 'Ubuntu on Android,' despite Canonical's lame attempt to capitalize on all things Android," she explained. "This is just a replay of 'Ubuntu TV,' except this time, instead of rebranding the samygo.tv hack as their own, they took the Debian hack from last summer to replace the custom Linux desktop that ships with the Atrix for Ubuntu.

"Android apps still don't run under Ubuntu, or vice versa," Hudson pointed out. "And if you have an Atrix, don't expect to be able to buy it -- while the Atrix desktop is open source, the bootloader that was hacked isn't. Methinks Googlerola would not be amused."

'Canonical Is Bleeding Money'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a similar view.

"Why exactly would you WANT Ubuntu on a smartphone?" hairyfeet asked. "I mean, nobody is gonna wanna drag a dock around, that kills the whole point of having a smartphone, and isn't Android Linux? What could I run there that I couldn't run on Android?"

The move is "just further proof that Canonical is bleeding money and throwing ideas at a wall, desperately hoping SOMETHING sticks before they bleed to death," hairyfeet concluded. "First Unity and then Wayland and then killing Kubuntu, then it was a tablet UI paradigm that nobody really liked, then there was talk of netbooks, now it's smartphones."

'Like Magic'

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, took a more optimistic view.

"The future of Ubuntu on mobile was to piggy-back on Android devices; I do not think Canonical saw this as its next big step when it was developing Unity," he told Linux Girl.

"Ubuntu for Android was a shift made in a fluid market, and a brilliant one at that," Lim added. "In a mobile market that looked like the death knell of the Linux desktop, a spark was seen at Canonical headquarters. Like magic."

'A Radically Different Direction'

It could, in fact, "be the start of a new era in computing," Lim suggested.

"Your next Apple iPhone may have OSX inside; your next Windows Phone device might just be called Windows; your next Android phone might run on Android 5.0 Double Dutch Ice Cream Sandwich," he explained.

"Make no mistake about it, Canonical is taking us into a radically different direction," Lim concluded. "No more desktop, no more laptop, no more tablet and no more console. Just your smartphone, which can be converted into any one of the legacy devices by attaching the correct peripherals.

"I am pretty sure the people over at Cupertino and Redmond have done a quick dash back to the drawing boards," he added.

'It's All Good'

Last but not least, "I think GNU/Linux makes a lot of sense for the smart thingies on which Android runs," opined blogger Robert Pogson. "It makes sense for Android/Linux to reach out to x86/amd64 hardware, too -- it's all good."

All in all, "this shows the flexibility of FLOSS that these migrations can take place in a much shorter time than that other OS backed by all M$'s ill-gotten $billions," Pogson concluded. "That comes from tidy, modular programming instead of spaghetti code designed by salesmen."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


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