Feature video: Canonical claims that Ubuntu for phone will have great performance, even on low-end hardware.

Ubuntu for Phone and Ubuntu for Android shown at CES 2013

Canonical, developers of the most popular desktop Linux distribution, Ubuntu, were at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show showing off their latest developments for their open-source OS, Ubuntu for Android and Ubuntu for Phone. We were at CES, and got a chance to chat with them.

Ubuntu for Phone

Ubuntu for Phones was on display at CES in Las Vegas.

Ubuntu for phone is a completely new mobile OS, built from the ground up to have a gesture based button-less UI. By swiping in from the edge, what Canonical has dubbed ‘Edge Magic’, users can effortlessly switch between apps, bring up app controls, and view notifications. When viewing the demo, it is clear that Ubuntu for Phone has been influenced by multiple mobile operating systems – Android, Windows Phone and even BlackBerry 10, and Canonical has smartly blended those influences into something fresh and unique.

Canonical is promoting both native QT, OpenGL/GLES and HTML5 apps on their platform, and they say that since it is based on the same codebase as the desktop version of Ubuntu, it should be easy for developers to both create new, and port existing apps to the phone OS. Ubuntu for phone also uses standard Android drivers, so is easily adaptable to existing Android hardware.’

The demos at CES were being run on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, a dual-core phone that would be considered to have mid to low-end specs today. On this platform it ran pretty smoothly, even though the code is unfinished, and Canonical claims that Ubuntu for phone will have great performance, even on low-end hardware. On higher-end devices with quad-core ARM processors, or Intel mobile Atom silicon, Ubuntu for phone can also run a full desktop version of the OS on a secondary display, which will give users thin-client access to Windows apps like Office.

We also asked about Ubuntu for phone’s device management features, for Enterprises considering this platform for BYOD, and were told that it would support both Canonical’s own device management tools, and potentially third party tools, since it is a Linux based OS.

Ubuntu for phones is expected early 2014, and will only be available from OEM partners, unlike the desktop OS that can freely downloaded by anyone. However Canonical is expected to release freely available code for developers sometime in February, which will work on the Galaxy Nexus, so adventurous owners of that particular phone should be able to try this new OS out soon.

Ubuntu for Android

Get two operating systems in one phone with Ubuntu for Android.

Recognizing that perhaps not every OEM or user is ready to switch to a new OS, but would still like to extend the capabilities of their phone, Canonical is also developing Ubuntu for Android. Similar to what Motorola was doing with their now discontinued Webtop software, Ubuntu for Android runs a desktop OS when the phone is docked to a display, keyboard and mouse. However unlike the Webtop OS that could only run a web browser and blown-up versions of the phones mobile apps, Ubuntu is a full version of Ubuntu that can run any desktop app, and can run Windows apps through thin-client access.

The phone hardware required to do this is a lot greater than the mobile OS, and Canonical was demonstrating Ubuntu for Android running on a quad-core Galaxy S III phone at the show. We were also told that as phone hardware power increases, so will the capabilities of Ubuntu for Android, and it is not hard to believe that future mobile hardware will be able to run demanding applications like CAD software on a device that fits in your pocket. Canonical is pitching this as a truly converged solution for businesses to give their mobile workers. Instead of a phone, tablet and notebook, workers will only need to carry one device, along with a dock when desktop OS access is needed.

Again, like the phone OS, Ubuntu for Android will only be available through Canonical’s OEM partners, and we should expect to see hardware shipping with it late this year.

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