And Now, Ubuntu for Tablets – Wait, What?

Six weeks have passed since Canonical’s splashy debut of Ubuntu for phones, but for many here in the Linux blogosphere, the memory is still crystal-clear.

That probably has something to do with the leftover bits of confetti and popped balloons that still litter the blogosphere’s main downtown, but whatever the cause, it came as some surprise to see follow-up news announced so soon afterward.

Sure enough, though, just as many were counting down the final few days before the expected Thursday release of the preview image of Ubuntu for phones, along came the Canonical team with yet another announcement.

‘The Future of Personal Computing’

Linux Girl

The news this time? None other than Ubuntu for tablets, and with it another piece of Canonical’s grand convergence plan.

“Our family of interfaces now scales across all screens, so your phone can provide tablet, PC and TV experiences when you dock it,” proclaimed Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and Canonical. “That’s unique to Ubuntu and it’s the future of personal computing.”

Did bloggers have any opinions on this latest news? Let’s just say this: Down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon, there’s now a new drink on the menu called the “Cointreau Convergence Cooler.”

Linux Girl selflessly volunteered her services as a taste-tester — and got an earful as she went to work.

‘Ammunition for Salesmen’

“Of course GNU/Linux makes sense on tablets, smart thingies and legacy PCs, but no convergence is required to do that,” offered blogger Robert Pogson, for example. “Free Software and a little configuration do it all.”

In fact, “I don’t know any user who cares that the same software runs his smartphone as his PC,” Pogson added. “If the user interface is usable, the user is OK with that. We know this to be true because consumers have been buying hundreds of millions of smart thingies without convergence.”

Of course,”it is important that data be able to move from one device to another, and we do that with open standard networking and file-protocols,” Pogson acknowledged. “All else,” however, “is just ammunition for salesmen.”

‘I Am Not Sold Yet’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien, on the other hand, said he’s taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

“On the one hand, a real Linux tablet is very attractive, and it looks like Canonical has put a lot of thought into some features that make sense,” O’Brien explained. “On the other hand, what will the ecosystem look like? Will there be all of the apps I want?

“I have already been through this once with Android, and now pretty much every app I want is available there,” he added.

“What worries me is that there is a tendency still for companies to not create Linux clients for popular apps,” O’Brien concluded. “So will there be Kindle app for Ubuntu? An Evernote app? What about all of the Google apps?”

In short, “I am not sold yet,” he said.

A Question of Apps

Indeed, “I think that Ubuntu’s entry into mobile is ill-timed,” Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, told Linux Girl.

“In order for an operating system to become successful, it needs a substantial application environment,” Lim explained. “App developers are focused on building apps for Android and iOS and — in many cases — two versions of each, one optimized for a phone, and the other for a tablet. This means money to the developer today.”

Meanwhile, “app developers are probably also already developing, or looking to develop, apps for Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, as well as touchscreen apps for Windows 8,” he added. “This is still a bit of an investment in the future.”

Then, too, there’s “BlackBerry 10 and a fair number of devices that still run Symbian and Bada,” Lim pointed out. “You also have Firefox working on a mobile OS. For Ubuntu’s OS to survive, there would have to be room for at least four or five dominant operating systems.

“It may not be a great idea for one of the smallest fish in the pond to go after five bigger ones,” he opined. “Even David only had to fell one Goliath.”

‘Not the Model to Follow’

The Ubuntu for Android concept, on the other hand, “was a brilliant idea,” Lim said. “Android still does not have a proper desktop counterpart.”

In short, “we got one really interesting concept in 2012, which is pretty much dead by now, followed up by two less interesting ones in 2013,” Lim concluded. “It all sounds to me like a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

“If you want to make money these days in software development, develop apps,” he added. “If you are in the OS business, build hardware to go along with it. The Microsoft model is the old model, and not the model to follow.”

‘That Statement Is Pure BS’

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol was even less enthusiastic.

“How can Mark say that amount of BS with a straight face?” Ebersol asked Linux Girl. For example: “‘The beautiful Unity interface, which millions of people around the world use on Dell laptops, Lenovo, HP’s,'” Ebersol said, quoting Shuttleworth. “Where??? Where are those laptops??? Perhaps only in South Africa…”

Similarly, “he says, ‘The user will have the same UI experience, either in a cellphone, in a tablet, in a PC, and Ubuntu can even power a smart TV set…,'” Ebersol pointed out. “Hahahahahaha, that’s not possible. He’s promising things he can’t keep. Unless the user is on ARM hardware, that statement is pure BS.”

Shuttleworth saved the best for last, however, by including “a glimpse of MS Office 2010, running on Ubuntu Tablet…” Ebersol asserted. “That must be the Office Microsoft will release for Linux… (LOL).”

Throw in the fact that “there’s no hardware for Ubuntu Tablet OS,” and the bottom line is “another Canonical announcement, more disappointment,” Ebersol concluded.

Past Experience

Last but not least, Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, took a high-level perspective.

“In general I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that convergence is just not something that is either as possible or desirable as folks want to think,” Travers began.

“For a long time the question was convergence of voice networks,” he explained. “This has eventually happened on the backbone, but in a way nobody ever thought, namely the development of internet-backbone switching systems very much unlike either packet- or circuit-switched systems.

“The typical efforts to just converge the networks never went anywhere,” Travers pointed out. “Now we have VOIP and PSTN calls routed over the same MPLS backbone.”

‘Anything Else Will Be Painful’

Needless complexity “tends to be introduced when convergence is desired or assumed,” he said, and “the same goes on here. Tablets and desktops are just different in terms of input and UI requirements, and therefore convergence only gets you so far.”

It’s far more likely that development tools and kernels will show convergence than it is that user experience will, Travers concluded.

“Indeed, we might say that the same thing will happen that’s happened with PSTN and VOIP: the core will converge, but only insofar as both experiences can be maximized and maintained,” he added. “Anything else will be painful.”

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 and Google+.


  • Well, I’ll be darned.

    "Elessandro Ebersol apparently couldn’t be bothered to actually listen to the video, as Mark Shuttleworth clearly stated…"

    Why did you single out Mr Ebersol. What I read was that NONE of the panel was impressed. ‘Underwhelmed’ would be too charitable. It’s not that Mr Ebersoll "…apparently couldn’t be bothered…".; Mr Ebersoll COULD NOT be bothered.

    The GLOBAL problem Mr Shuttleworth has is that not a single person who has suffered his horseshit for the last several years cannot–no, will not–"…be bothered to…listen to…" what ‘Mark’ clearly states. Stupid us. How DARE we not believe something that the Mark CLEARLY STATES.

    Major, major clue: people are just plain TIRED of ‘Mark’ clearly stating anything and everything. ‘Mark’ is out of time. If he delivered on anything now, no one would care. Except those few cult members who slavishly hang on to and believe every word.

    By the way, the very fact that this article is not bogged down with vitriolic responses from The Cult is extremely telling. Where are your loyal, blind supporters when you need them, ‘Mark’?

    • "Where are your loyal, blind supporters when you need them, ‘Mark’?"

      Maybe just using their Ubuntu laptops and desktops without giving a damn about what the usual Linux elitists have to say?

      You might be surprised, but it doesn’t matter if Shuttleworth is an arrogant prick or not. I tend to think he is, but he still produces the best Linux distro for ordinary people out there. By far. And I use Ubuntu because of this, not because "I love Mark" (I hope it’s clear I don’t).

      Convergence is a good idea and Unity is probably the only UI capable of doing it right. Not just in Linuxland, but on the whole market. Both Apple and Microsoft are trying and failing. I can see a lot more consistency from Unity.

      Of course, for people who think UI convergence doesn’t matter at all, it means nothing. But most good things in technology don’t arrive "by popular demand". The general public discovers they are great after they are invented and tried. We’ll see if UI convergence between form factors is just a stupid idea or a good one. It’s just too early to judge.

      Insulting the owner of the company promoting it is not precisely "a rationale".

      • Riiight, that is why when they ONLY sell less than a dozen systems, maybe 8 different parts in total making up those systems, that Dell has to RUN THEIR OWN REPO because surprise surprise if you use the default Canonical repos? the drivers break, no Wifi, sound is sketchy at best, its a mess.

        Canonical will be dead in 3, joining the likes of Linspire, Xandros, Mandriva, and all the others that tried to make a "distro for the masses" only to find out trying to get Linux devs to work together is like herding a bunch of REALLY maladjusted cats. I mean look at what they did in the past few years would any SANE person that cares about the ecosystem do anything THIS stupid? Strip out ALSA just as its becoming stable for…surprise! Yet another broken extraction layer in Pulse, Take KDE 3 and Gnome 2 that were FINALLY getting rock solid and feature complete and what did they do? Oh that’s right, they threw them both out for alpha quality garbage that to this day doesn’t even have all the features of the previous version! BTW I predict when it DOES have all the features of the previous version? They’ll throw it out for something even buggier and more resource intensive. How sad is it when Windows 7 runs better on a netbook than KDE or Gnome?

        That is why after years of banging my head against the wall trying to get anybody in the Linux community to listen to common sense and stop this insanity I came to a revelation…Linux is NOT an OS at all! Its a bunch of little fiefdoms run by maladjusted devs that since many aren’t getting paid get their payment in ego stroking and worship by the suck ups. It is THIS "works for me (TM)" attitude that has made sure no matter how horrible an OS MSFT puts out, and Win 8 is truly a Windows ME level stinkbomb, even Vista wasn’t THIS bad, that Linux will gain ZERO share.

        What Shuttleworth has found out is nobody plays nice and nobody listens and he just doesn’t have the money to "pull a Google" and fork the entire OS away from the devs so its Canonical dead in 3.

        • Dear Hairyfeet:

          Do yourself a favor and RMA that crystal ball of yours. It isn’t working.

          In the past you used to sound somewhat silly when announcing the death of Canonical every year (based on nothing but your very subjective impressions). Now it’s just plain idiotic. Maybe you should try another line, because Canonical keeps stubbornly alive despite all your predictions, year after year.

          • Never bothered to actually READ any of my predictions, have you? I called both Vista and Win 8 as the turkeys that they were, I was 90% right on Win 7, the one thing I missed was third party support of the jumplist which I wasn’t sure after Vista if MSFT could get devs on board and as for Canonical? I said 2 years ago they’d be dead in five…what is my current prediction? Oh yeah they would be dead in 3. Can you play the counting game? What is 2+3? You’ll see my prediction HAS NOT CHANGED and is in fact right on track.

            I also predicted Canonical would be flailing around trying to find a bandwagon that could give them positive cash flow after Ubuntu netbook Edition…what have we seen again? Ubuntu TV, Ubuntu Phone and now Ubuntu tablet? Care to explain how EXACTLY any of my predictions have been inconsistent and/or wrong again?

            You see unlike the fanboys that said Ubuntu netbook was a great idea (which I called correctly that the netbook fad was winding down and Canonical had missed the boat by a year) I base my predictions both on past performance as well as on hwat the consumer seems to be doing. I knew Vista and 8 were bombs because the consumers in my shop didn’t like them, could see the writing on the wall for netbooks when both Intel and AMD canceled refreshes of their netbook chips, and it don’t take Kojack to solve the case of Canonical as I again predicted correctly that once Shuttleworth stopped the money train that Canonical would slowly but surely bleed to death, just as every other desktop for profit has done.

            So I fully expect you to proclaim my greatness when in less than 3 years Canonical "gives Ubuntu to the community" (read abandons the desktop to make a last ditch attempt at survival on servers only to die) and we add Ubuntu to that ever growing list that includes Linspire/Lindows, Xandros, and Mandriva. Anybody with a brain can see that the redistribution clause makes for pay desktops impossible in Linux. FOSS works on the "blessed three" model and ANY product that doesn’t fit that model? Doomed. This is why you don’t see a triple A FOSS game at even the quality of a 7 year old game like Bioshock, because games don’t fall under the blessed three.

            The blessed three is 1.-Selling services/support,2.-selling hardware, 3.-the tin cup. Canonical is already waving the tin cup and simply won’t make enough to keep the lights on, I doubt they even get enough donations to pay for the bandwidth those downloading Ubuntu use. You look at EVERY FOSS company that has been a success? They fit the blessed three. RH? Number 1. Google? Number 1 and now they are dabbling in number 2. Its really VERY simple, if your business model doesn’t fit into the blessed three history shows us it’ll flop, that is just how FOSS works.

          • "Care to explain how EXACTLY any of my predictions have been inconsistent and/or wrong again?"

            Err… no. I usually don’t enter arguments with future tellers. But anyone can go through the pages of this website and see your predictions of Canonical "dying soon". Sometimes it’s two years, sometimes it’s four, today’s flavor is three.

            Again: return your crystal ball to the manufacturer. It’s just not working.

          • If you are gonna lie at least don’t make it a lie anybody can check. Sadly this website don’t allow links in the comments but anybody who reads your lies are free to look up Ms Noyes past articles and will see THE PREDICTION HAS NOT CHANGED, you are simply trolling because you don’t want to admit that so far? I’m batting 900.

            I predicted Xandros, I said Linspire was toast a full year before they admitted it, said netbooks were doomed a full year and a half before they rolled the last one off the line, predicted that after all his BS of "We are only interested in desktops" Canonical would start flailing around for a business model (netbooks, TVs, Tablets, Phones, even ads) and I predicted that even though Win 8 is the biggest stinkbomb since MS Bob Linux would gain NO share on X86 AT ALL…what are the numbers again? Oh yeah flatline.

            maybe you should go back to school since 2 plus 3 seems to be above your head because the ONLY changes have been keeping up with time, which is also a concept you can’t seem to grasp. 2 years ago I said it was 5, the next year 4, this year 3, its called counting, you DO realize that years progress, yes? And that if you predicted 2 years ago something would last for 5 it would have 3 years left, 5-2 is 3, see how that works?

          • >"So I fully expect you to proclaim my greatness when in less than 3 years Canonical "gives Ubuntu to the community" (read abandons the desktop to make a last ditch attempt at survival on servers only to die) and we add Ubuntu to that ever growing list that includes Linspire/Lindows, Xandros, and Mandriva."

            Well that ever growing list is largely due to Ubuntu eating a lot of their marketshare, customers, users, etc.

            >"The blessed three is 1.-Selling services/support,2.-selling hardware, 3.-the tin cup. Canonical is already waving the tin cup and simply won’t make enough to keep the lights on, I doubt they even get enough donations to pay for the bandwidth those downloading Ubuntu use."

            Ubuntu has proven to be an ever evolutionary project. They have been slow in the past but are rapidly picking up the pace and becoming and innovative company which is not afraid of moving away from the traditional model and take risks.

            Huge amount of changes are being rolled as we speak in every area of the company, development and release process. So a lot of things you bashed them about before (which many I agree with) are probably already getting addressed.

            So, I doubt they die off in 3 years just because you like to play Nostradamus, in fact I think msft, rim, etc. will see them (probably for the first time)as a really big threat for the 3rd and 4th spot in the mobile world and even second in the desktop and of course servers.

            Things change quickly, You’ve also bashed android quite a few times. I day trade but I wouldn’t bet my house (and probably neither should you) on your hunches.

  • Elessandro Ebersol apparently couldn’t be bothered to actually listen to the video, as Mark Shuttleworth clearly stated that *enterprises* can make Microsoft Office available on Ubuntu devices via thin client technology – you know, exactly like major corporations do *today*. Not much of a cred-boost there.

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