Ubuntu on your cellphone? What a fantastic idea!

Ubuntu on your cellphone? What a fantastic idea!

Summary: Would you like to see Ubuntu on your cellphone? Given the state of current embedded platforms, I know that I would.


Would you like to see Ubuntu on your cellphone?  Given the state of current embedded platforms, I know that I would.

UbuntuThe BBC are carrying a story about the Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded project which aims to create the open source platform for initial release around October 2007.  The platform will be developed by developers from the Ubuntu community, along with staff from Intel.

"It is clear that new types of device - small, handheld, graphical tablets which are Internet-enabled - are going to change the way we communicate and collaborate," said Ubuntu CTO Matt Zimmerman.

"These devices place new demands on open-source software and require innovative graphical interfaces, improved power management and better responsiveness."

This is a fantastic idea.  I like it for two reasons:

  1. First, most embedded platforms out there are, well, let me try to be kind, awful.  It's been a long time since I've seen a cellphone or portable media player and thought "wow, that's intuitive/nice to use/well designed/fun."  Ubuntu could change all this.
  2. The exposure that Ubuntu would get from being an embedded platform would be good for Ubuntu and good for Linux as a whole.  It could side-step that whole Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux thing (and what a messy quagmire that is) and be allowed to shine in a segment of the market that's sorely lacking.

Most embedded platforms out there are, well, awful. Ubuntu could change all this.Ubuntu will release more details of the embedded platform at the Developer Summit being held in Seville, Spain from 6 to 11 May and a final version is expected in October this year. 

I can tell you now that I'm looking forward to seeing it in action!  This release of Ubuntu could change how we interact with out mobile devices forever.


Topics: Mobility, Open Source

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  • Makes good sense ...

    With Ubuntu having all of the media attention with the new Dell deal it makes sense to keep with the momentum and go for a cell phone platform.

    It's good for cell phone manufacturers since you can customize the OS for the equipment (Linux) and not the equipment for the OS (Windows CE).
    • Not really...

      First off, there have been versions of Linux for cell phones for quite a while. The development of said distribution, even with the $$ from Motorola, isn't all THAT great.

      You see, I already have a Linux based phone. And it's not quite as great as it could be. I've had a Motorola A1200 (aka the Ming) for the past 6 months. It runs Linux. More specifically, it runs a flavor of Trolltech Qtopia Core with a side of Mandriva thrown in for good measure.

      The thing about Trolltech and their Qtopia core - is that it's designed to run on phones right from the start - so they've already got a major leg up on Ubuntu and any other distro.

      So what's it like - it's ok.. Nothing earth shatteringly spectactular. The only ground breaking feature in the phone is a business card reader. And that only works under ideal conditions - if you've got enough light, if the business card isn't too glossy, if you've got the camera in the proper macro focus mode, etc...

      There's also the somewhat annoying "feature" - the phone will spontaneously reboot itself when there's no signal. But even more annoying - it doesn't remember to keep the bluetooth turned ON when it does reboot so you have to turn it back on, then reconnect manually to your headset. It's a pain in the neck...

      So the bottom line - it's ok. Could Ubuntu do any better? Eh... Maybe. Maybe not. Fantastic? Given the hardware available in phones today , I doubt it. There's a LOT, and I do mean a LOT of work to get phone based Linux up to being equal to or better than say, Windows Mobile Phone edition/CE or even the lowly Palm OS that pretty much everyone - even Palm is giving up on.

      There are few, if any native Linux apps. The native apps that ARE available are hamstrung by the hardware. I can't open a simple 1.5 MB PDF file without the phone complaining about a lack of memory. It only has 8 MB available for storage and execution. Even with the PDF stored on the 1 GB microSD chip, it still ain't enough. My Palm Tungsten T2 with 32 MB is lightyears ahead in that department. Your logic that you can cram an OS into a small space may indeed work but in reality, there comes a point where being cheap with the innards of the phone just doesn't cut it in the real world. Sometimes forcing the hardware people to provide more IS the better way to go about it.

      Sure, the A1200 does Java apps and games. Big deal. So do 99.9999% of the phones currently on the market. I'm leaving that .00001% on the off chance that someone is making a phone today that doesn't do Java.

      For Ubuntu to succeed in the phone arena, they will have to really put out something that will knock people's socks off. Think Apple's upcoming iPhone and make it a MEGA quantum leap ahead of that. And that should be a tough enough rabbit to pull out of the hat.

      Sure, it sounds great - but writing an OS for a phone is a LOT more complicated than writing an OS for a modern Intel/AMD box with gigs of RAM to run apps in and even more gigs of space to store stuff on and all the power it could want delivered right from the wall socket.
  • Not new.

    There are already embedded Linux distributions, as you showed by your comments on your current experience. A (very different) version of Windows is also available, and has been gaining some ground in the market.

    So the world hasn't been waiting for Ubuntu to produce embedded software. What does Ubuntu have other Linux distributions do not(?), aside from inexperience.
    Anton Philidor
    • Simple

      Ubuntu is increasingly becoming a brand. That's what they would bring with them.
      • Are embedded Linux OSes advertised?

        Would the words Embedded Ubuntu prominently displayed increase sales to the wider population?

        Most companies don't seem to advertise the base software much, except possibly those with Windows, a brand with its own cachet. A lot better known than Ubuntu, certainly.
        Anton Philidor
        • There is the branding, and also the cost savings. Somebody else does

          all of the heavy lifting, and maintains all of the packages.

          Ubuntu is an up and coming brand.
      • And that would mean what exactly?

        Motorola is a brand name - a bigger, more widely known brand name than Ubuntu. They've got had a couple of Linux based phones on the market since about November '05.

        I don't know about you, but when I go shopping for a phone, I look more for the brand on the phone rather than what OS it's running. In fact, I really could care less WHAT OS the phone had as long as it worked as advertised. I would rather know what features the phone brought to the table and how well they worked.

        Having the Ubuntu brand on the phone wouldn't make the phone more or less desirable anyhow. Think about it this way. The Motorola phones use Trolltech's Qtopia Core distribution. If I didn't read that little fact somewhere on a web site, I wouldn't have guessed WHAT OS my A1200 was running - other than it was Linux. If Motorola (Or Nokia, Samsung, or any of the other phone makers out there, for that matter) were to buy into an Ubuntu phone OS, what makes you think for a second they would allow Ubuntu to put their brand somewhere on the screen?
        • Well, Dell is a bigger brand than Ubuntu, and Dell could have made their

          distribution, but, they chose the Ubuntu brand to complement their own brand.

          I think a Motorola phone with the Ubuntu brand would add a cool factor.

          But, Ubuntu will not be on cell phones to start, though I think they should target this market eventually.

          Heck, Nokia might even switch to Ubuntu for the 770 and 800. That would reduce costs, and add another complimentary brand.
    • ubuntu made a lot of ground against x86 linux distributions

      why should you not consider the possibility their secret formula might work in the cellphone world?

      No one expected something like Ubuntu in the mature Linux Distro world, but it happened. I suspect there's some sour grapes going on here.
  • Check it out

    There are already great examples of embedded Linux.

    Check out the Nokia N800 internet tablet running an embedded version of debian.
    Tim Patterson
  • If I could, I would

    I have a craptastic Sanyo SCP-8100. If I could run embedded Ubuntu on it, I'd surely give it a try. I hate the current setup of my phone, so the ability to customize it would be great.

    I'm considering buying an FIC Neo1973 with OpenMoko when they're available. I'm surprised nobody's commented about them yet. http://www.openmoko.org/
    • You should also check out Maemo.org. It is more likely that

      Ubuntu will use this project as the basis, since they will not be doing cell phones to start (though I think they should also do cell phones).


      In any case, stay from Qt/Trolltech based stuff. They hold the sole rights to charge for development licenses based on the work of the whole community.