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MWC 2012: Canonical Puts Ubuntu Desktop On A Smartphone

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Canonical announces an Ubuntu version that helps kill off PCs by taking smartphones to the next level

Canonical has introduced a new version of its popular Ubuntu operating system that will run on Android-powered smartphones.

This latest Ubuntu version is not trying to replace Android (especially because both are based on the same Linux kernel). Instead, it will use Google’s OS while on the move and then, when the smartphone is connected to a bigger screen, switch to Ubuntu for its full desktop capabilities. Both operating systems will run simultaneously on the device, sharing the same kernel, with seamless exchange of contacts, messages and other common services.

The device will be demoed in public for the first time at Mobile World Congress next week.

 “In every dual-core phone, there’s a PC trying to get out”

Ubuntu is the world’s leading free desktop operating system. It is also the leading desktop version of the Linux open source operating system, although other versions are competing, and is available on more hardware platforms than any other OS.

Google’s Android, meanwhile, has become the world’s leading smartphone OS, but like other phone systems is straddling the gap between phones, tablets and PCs.  Several companies have tried to market Android-based desktop systems before, but none have succeeded.

Android was designed for interfaces operated by touch and, as Canonical ‘s website states, it “has its hands full winning the tablet wars”. The developer has been in talks with manufacturers for about 18 months about bringing Ubuntu to smartphones and tablets, culminating in yesterday’s announcement

In recent years, mobile devices have been seriously beefed-up. They now contain dual-core, or even quad-core processors, several gigabytes of RAM and quick flash memory, which qualifies as an SSD. In some cases, these devices are far more powerful than desktops were five years ago. Canonical decided to apply that mobile power to a traditional desktop computer.

A phone with Ubuntu on it will still behave like a normal Android phone. However, when the device is docked (with access to a keyboard and screen), it will launch a full desktop OS on the computer display. It is exactly the same desktop used by millions of enterprise and home users on their Ubuntu PCs, and includes hundreds of certified applications, from office productivity to photography, video and music.

“The desktop is the killer-app for quad-core phones in 2012” says Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth. “Ubuntu for Android transforms your high-end phone into your productive desktop, whenever you need it”

There are further plans to introduce distinct “personalities” for different types of devices and clever software that would be able to switch between personalities depending on the context. Canonical even plans to bring Ubuntu to TV screens. Ubuntu’s new controversial Unity fixed interface will be present in its current form across all platforms.

Work on multi-device version of the operating system will get into full swing after Precise Pangolin (Ubuntu version 12.04) release in April. This new distribution will present an opportunity to fully exploit the capabilities of the multi-core ARM processors that are appearing on the market.

The Ubuntu for Android will be on display at Canonical’s booth at MWC next week.

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