Ubuntu for mobile… damn that’s exciting!

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday I wanted to get something done that I’d been planning for a number of months: replace Windows 7 on my PC with Ubuntu, ridding myself of any Microsoft software (I think).

I’d long ago abandoned Microsoft Office in favour of Libre Office and have had my Samsung N130 netbook running Ubuntu for more than a year. Using my netbook had shown me that it was possible so over several weeks I listed all the software I used on my Windows 7 PC and next to each I listed Ubuntu alternatives. Finally, I was satisfied that it was time and the expected Christmas lull gave me opportunity time to back up (which took ages!) and make the switch.

It worked (on the second attempt) and my Acer Z5101 (with 5GB extra RAM, I might add) is now completely Windows-free and running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

The Excitement

During all this I noticed a countdown on the Ubuntu site. There was no mention of what it meant so I made a mental note to return when the timer was up. I didn’t need to in the end as plenty of tweets made it obvious: Ubuntu is moving into mobile.

There have been some doubts about whether it’ll work or even if Canonical have what it takes to build a mobile OS. Only time will tell so I remain open minded but it certainly excites me. As most who know me will testify to, I’m a big Android fan and that’s partly because it’s a Linux-based operating system, as is Ubuntu. That’s partly why I’m excited because it gives the mobile world an alternative to the increasingly dominant Android system on the same free and open terms.

Android to Ubuntu

A bigger reason though is the suggestion, from Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, that Ubuntu’s mobile OS will be developed with Android in mind so that apps built for Android will also work on Ubuntu devices. This is fantastic news! For Ubuntu it kinda makes sense as it potentially gives them a ready-made app marketplace to tap into instead of having to build their own. But what excites me is the potential that as a consumer I could flip from one OS to the other, retaining all the same apps that I’ve learnt to love or tolerate (it happens).

It also strengthens the attraction of both Android and Ubuntu to mobile developers. Too often at the moment developers build apps for Android after iOS. If Ubuntu was to steal market share off the likes of RIM and Windows Phone (’cause let’s be honest, that’ll be another MS flop…) it’d create a Linux mobile OS dominance that would take precedence over iOS for app developers who would know that developing for Linux (rather than Android/Ubuntu specifically) means developing for the largest share of the mobile market. Of course, there are nitty gritty details to get around (different devices need different solutions) but there’s a solid foundation to work from.

HTML5

Long a bug bear of mine is that all too often we see native apps developed (often for iOS only at first, or at all) when a HTML5 app would do just as good a job, and in doing so would be naturally cross-platform, excluding no-one and benefitting everyone (with a smartphone, obviously…).

So when Mark Shuttleworth said that HTML5 apps would be treated as ‘first class citizens’ in the Ubuntu ecosystem I nearly leaped out of my chair! Giving HTML5 apps access to the same features of the OS as native apps allows developers to provide the same experience across multiple devices at a much lower cost. Instead of developing for iOS, then again for Android, then again for Windows Phone, then again for Blackberry (…..no, I’m joking, no-one cares about CrapBerry anymore), you just develop once in HTML5 and deliver the same app to every device.

That will make development cheaper which will give the consumer either lower prices or more bang for their buck. It will also prevent the ridiculous monopoly situations like Apple’s app store where it takes 30% of all revenue (including in-app purchases) that only serve to increase the costs to the consumer, because HTML5 apps will have the freedom to process payments however they choose.

Integration

There’s probably a better word.

One thing I don’t think was mentioned (at least not enough) in the Ubuntu announcement (see video below) was the user experience that can be expected when moving between different Ubuntu devices. Google Chrome is a huge part of my everyday digital life and one of it’s best features for me is that I can open Chrome on any one of my devices and see the most recent sites I’ve visited on each of those devices. For example, I could be reading an article on my PC then pick up my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and carry on reading as I walk downstairs to sit on the sofa, without having to do anything silly like email the link to myself – opening Chrome on the tablet presents me with a list including that article that I just tap once to open up.

Having a similar level of integration at the OS level would be fantastic, and I really hope Ubuntu considers this. One example I keep thinking about is games. I’m very fond of playing Solitaire and do so on my Galaxy Tab and my Galaxy S3 using the same app, always trying to beat the high score. However, each device has a different high score because they don’t talk to each other. How great it would be to simply sync the two!

Or imagine the article scenario with Google Chrome mentioned above, ported to a document in Libre Office. I might start to write a little document out on my tablet whilst sitting on the sofa but decide it’d be more comfortable to do it on the PC, so I just head upstairs, open Libre Office on the PC and it greets me with a quick link to just open that same document (of course you can do this with Google Drive, but what if I’m offline or using my own personal cloud?).

That kind of cross-device user experience is what really gets me behaving like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. It’s why I love using my phone to queue YouTube videos to play in the YouTube app on my TiVo šŸ™‚

2 thoughts on “Ubuntu for mobile… damn that’s exciting!”

  1. Hi Phil,

    This is something I’ve looked at in the past, PC not mobile, do you play any games at all? My biggest concern about shifting to Ubuntu would be the loss of Steam and a few games that I still play.

    I still have Ubuntu (can’t remember the version, but not that old) on a spare drive, which I can drop into my PC to test, but if you have any experience to share I’d appreciate it.

    Cheers,

    Darryl

    1. Hi Darryl,

      I don’t actually play any games on the PC, no – I’m all about the Xbox! Last game I played on PC was the original Shogun: Total War who’s successor I attempted to download as a demo through Steam (now available on Ubuntu as you may know).

      It wasn’t obvious that the game wasn’t available for Ubuntu though and after installing Steam I found very few enticing games available… that may change of course.

      Before I made the switch I did have Ubuntu installed alongside Windows on a separate partition, so I was already testing it out. Unfortunately that installation seemed unable to see most of the drive, leading it to believe it was full and so couldn’t download my Dropbox (which I needed to make it worthwhile). The full clean & install eradicated that issue, but otherwise the dual-boot was fine – so I’d recommend just maintaining both to try it out. See how much you can do on Ubuntu and only switch to Windows if you have to.

      There are a couple of things I plan to use through Wine but I’m hoping I can find good alternatives to those in time.

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