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All Eyes on Ubuntu as CES Draws Near

By Katherine Noyes
Jan 9, 2012 5:00 AM PT

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious," a very wise man once said, and that's surely as true in the tech world as it is in the rest of life.

All Eyes on Ubuntu as CES Draws Near

Maybe that's why so many have been so intrigued by Canonical's cryptic announcement last week about its plans for this week's CES event.

"Canonical will have a presence at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas," wrote Canonical blogger John Bernard last Tuesday. "On display will be the latest in Desktop, Cloud and demonstrations on Ubuntu One, plus an exclusive Ubuntu concept design which will be announced during the show."

It is that "exclusive Ubuntu concept design," of course, that has had tongues wagging so enthusiastically in the Linux blogosphere and beyond.

Will it be a tablet? A phone? Something else? Inquiring minds are anxiously waiting to find out.

'Hoping it's Not a Unity-Based Phone'

"Last year, Canonical announced its intention to release a mobile version of Ubuntu by 2014, so I guess that it would not be too surprising if Canonical would show off an Ubuntu phone or tablet," mused Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

"I would not get too excited, though -- 'concept design' usually refers to some sort of mock-up," Lim added.

"I'm just hoping it's not a Unity-based phone," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza offered. "That would really take the cake."

'Less Annoying on a Touch Screen'

If it's a tablet, however, "it had better be a quad-core tegra-based unit," Espinoza added. "I'm looking for something with a working GPS antenna. :)"

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack chose to accentuate the positive.

"On the plus side, Unity should be a lot less annoying on a touch screen," he offered.

'You Need Product Engineering'

"Hopefully it won't be about the long-promised 'We'll have Android Apps running on Ubuntu on a tablet,' because that's already been done, on a (US)$59 tablet from DataWind on a hacked linux kernel," noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"Besides, Canonical doesn't have the engineering chops, or they wouldn't have abandoned it," Hudson added.

"So, what could it be? Stepping back, it's obvious that Canonical was never about engineering," she asserted. "It's always been marketing, hype, generating buzz by trying to get their fingers into the latest trend, and 'oh look -- shiny.' Unfortunately for them, unless you have a practical monopoly like Microsoft enjoyed, you ultimately need product engineering to stand out."

'Sales Will Stink'

Hudson's guess? "Canonical will announce some sort of partnership with a tablet manufacturer running Ubuntu's mobile interface," she said. "If so, 2012 may be the equivalent of the Mayan Apocalyptic Calendar -- the year Canonical is forced to realize that they don't bring anything unique to the table."

Sales will "stink so badly that nobody will be able to ignore the rotting corpse, if it's anything nearly as bad as the ghastly 2007 Walmart Ubuntu PC," Hudson predicted.

"For those who forgot (and really, who wants to be reminded), that ended up with Walmart losing money because of the insane return rates -- and Walmart isn't known for losing money on anything," she pointed out.

'Way Too Little, Far Too Late'

The reality, Hudson concluded, "is that tablets are going to go through the same market evolution as other computing devices -- and consumer electronics in general, for those who remember the VHS vs. Beta wars," she said.

"The cheapest solutions quickly put price pressure on the mid-range devices, then add more features at a lower price point as the technology matures," she explained. "Ultimately they displace all but the high-end market."

Currently, "cheap tablets like the Kindle, Nook, and Datawind -- not iPads -- are setting the price expectations for the masses, so unless Canonical is announcing a sub-$200 tablet that also runs Android apps, it's way too little, far too late, no matter how they try to spin it," Hudson opined.

'There Isn't Any Money to Be Made'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.

Ultimately, Canonical "will get into device building and simply abandon the desktop build to the community," hairyfeet predicted.

"There is a GOOD reason why the big players like Red Hat don't spend any real effort on the desktop, and that's because unless you are MSFT and can get economies of scale or like Apple lock up the high-end boutique market, there isn't any money to be made," he explained.

'I Wish Them All the Luck in the World'

If, however, "Canonical can 'pull an Apple' and control the hardware as well as the software, it may solve a couple of problems Linux has had for years, which is drivers failing on update and OEMs using their junk bins to build Linux boxes to get rid of old crud," hairyfeet suggested.

"Just look at the machines Walmart had a few years back: while everyone else was running dual core they had a REALLY weak Via single core with a pathetic amount of RAM and specs that wouldn't make XP run well," he noted.

"Having a total system from hardware to software could finally give Linux a showcase platform to really give the public a good running Linux device, so I wish them all the luck in the world," hairyfeet concluded.

'Better Suited to Tiny Screens'

"This could mean Canonical is retreating from the desktop a bit," blogger Robert Pogson conceded. "Unity is obviously better suited to tiny screens with fingers than huge monitors and mice."

Either way, "what Android/Linux can do on ARMed gadgets, GNU/Linux can do as well, only faster," Pogson predicted.

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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