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Canonical Aims Ubuntu At Smartphones

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Canonical will begin work on a multi-device version of Ubuntu Linux that will work on tablets and smartphones

Canonical is set to expand its Ubuntu Linux operating system beyond the world of the PC into mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The company will announce the news at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, being held this week in Orlando, Florida.

Once the company finalises its upcoming 12.04 release in March, developers will turn their attention to smartphones, tablets and televisions, said Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, according to several reports.

Mobile development

Version 12.04 is a long-term support (LTS) version and thus is focused on stability, but developers are aiming to have mobile features fully developed by the time the next LTS version rolls out in April 2014, according to Shuttleworth.

Ubuntu’s controversial new interface, Unity, is at the heart of the multi-platform strategy, Shuttleworth said. The interface, which introduces fixed elements such as a left-hand toolbar, has been under development for the past two years and Shuttleworth said it is intended to give the interface consistency across different platforms.

Shuttleworth said Ubuntu would introduce distinct “personalities” for different types of devices and that the software would be able to switch between personalities depending on the context. For instance, a mobile device could switch into television mode when connected to a television, he said.

Applications, which are to be developed using HTML5 and QML, will be able to run in different modes depending on the device, he said.

Shuttleworth said the mobile world is changing quickly and that there is room for a “disruptive” alternative.

He noted that Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility has given handset manufacturers all the more reason to look for alternatives to Android.

Canonical has been in talks with manufacturers for about 18 months about bringing Ubuntu to smartphones and tablets, Shuttleworth said. He said developers are working on device-specific code and this will be progressively open sourced and added into the Ubuntu code-base.

Cloud success

The current version of Ubuntu Linux is proving popular with cloud providers and Canonical is to deliver the next version, Precise Pangolin, at this week’s developer summit.

Precise Pangolin (Ubuntu 12.04,) is due in April 2012, will include support for ARM processors and consolidate recent changes such as the user interface change. As the next Long Term Support (LTS) version of the OS, it comes two years after the LTS version, Lucid Lynx, and will have three years’ support. Precise Pangolin will replace the Oneiric Ocelot (11.04) interim release, which emerged on 13 October.

Shuttleworth said last week that the focus will be on consolidation rather than on new major infrastructure: “While there are some remaining areas where we’d like to tweak the user experience, they will probably be put on hold so we can focus on polish, performance and predictability.”

“This is our fourth LTS release and it needs to carry on, and entrench, the reputation of the LTS as a carrier-grade platform for mission-critical server deployments and large scale desktop deployments,” said Shuttleworth on his blog.