Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

Summary: Canonical wants Ubuntu Linux to compete with Android, iOS, and Windows on tablets and smartphones. Can it?

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Mark Shuttleworth, businessman.

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu leader and businessman.

Mark Shuttleworth is as close as Linux has ever had to Steve Jobs. He has vision, he's articulate, and he can move an audience. But, can he move a market that's in love with Android phones and Apple iPad tablets to give Ubuntu a chance? I think he has a shot.

I've known for over a year that Ubuntu was going to try for the smartphone and tablet market, so when Ubuntu's founder Mark Shuttleworth told me he was going to expand to devices, I wasn't surprised. Technically, Ubuntu, and its parent company, Canonical, have the chops to do it.

In addition, Ubuntu has been working and delivering Unity for more than two years now. Unlike Windows 8's Metro, which also seeks to be a universal PC and device desktop, Ubuntu Unity already has experienced users and developers.

True, many experienced Linux users don't care for Ubuntu's Unity interface, which is meant to work well on PCs, smartphones and tablets, it was never meant for them. Unity is meant for users who want an easy to user interface and don' care if it's Linux under the hood. That may be heresy to die-hard Linux users, but it certainly has worked well for Google with its Linux-based Android devices.

Welcome to Ubuntu 11.10 and the look of Ubuntu's future tablet. (Photo Gallery)

Why is Shuttleworth doing this? As he explained this morning at the Ubuntu Developers Summit and on his blog, "The way we access the Internet, connect to our friends, listen to music, watch films and go about our daily lives is rapidly evolving. We now use a diverse set of devices with an array of operating systems, which have a range of connectivity. Few people are exclusively loyal to a single technology provider."

Consider this quote from Paul Maritz of VMware:

Three years ago over 95 percent of the devices connected to the Internet were personal computers. Three years from now that number will probably be less than 20 percent. More than 80 percent of the devices connected to the Internet will not be Windows-based personal computers.

Shuttleworth continued, "Make no mistake--just as the world is changing for manufacturers so is it changing for Linux distributions. Today, 70% of people in Egypt access the Internet solely via the phone. Even in the US that figure is a startling 25%."

In short, Shuttleworth plans on taking Ubuntu to where the users are, and the users aren't just on desktops anymore. He's not the only one to have seen this though. MeeGo, HP's webOS, and numerous other Linux distributions have tried for the mobile operating system space, and not gone much of anywhere.

I think Ubuntu has a realistic chance to make a plan on smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, and it's not because of the technology. The technology is a given. We already know Linux does just fine on all those devices, and Unity was designed from early on for those platforms as well as the PC.

No, what really makes me think that Shuttleworth can do it is his pragmatic approach to the business side. Shuttleworth wants Canonical to the little company, unlike Apple, Google, or Microsoft, that's willing to go the extra mile for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), independent software vendors (ISV), or carrier. For example, if you're an ISV or carrier and you want more of the revenue stream, Canonical will be willing to dicker.

He wants Ubuntu to be the OEMs and carriers' alternative choice. As Shuttleworth told me, "The smartest OEM strategy is to play people off against each other. Thus, some OEMs want to have Ubuntu as a disruptive element. A strong Ubuntu can be both more co-operative with OEMs than a larger company and give them leverage with Google and Microsoft."

This is a realpolitik view of the new device operating system, business world that makes good, hard sense to me. Besides, as Shuttleworth is also well aware, the smartphone and tablet market is changing every day. It's just possible that Ubuntu can go from being a practical alternative mobile operating system to being everyone's favorite if Apple iOS, Google Android, or Microsoft Windows 8 trip up.

Related Stories:

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Ubuntu Linux will try for the business desktop

Ubuntu Linux 11.10: Unity comes of age (Review)

Ubuntu Linux heads to the clouds

Mark Shuttleworth image by Joi, CC 2.0.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Linux, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Software, Tablets

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61 comments
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  • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

    Ubuntu is the most clean, smooth running, modern Linux OS around.
    mathelli
  • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

    linux distros should have only one goal : how to take 100 % server market from WIN and SOlaris
    saagar9
    • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

      @saagar9 That's a pipe. Despite Linux fanboy lies about how Linux dominates servers, the opposite is true. Windows dominates servers.
      jhammackHTH
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @jhammackHTH Let me guess. Your source is yet another Windows VAR Marketing report? You know the ones, where they claim Windows has 100% market share because they only counted Windows machines.
        anothercanuck
      • Actually, from server vendors themselves

        @anothercanuck
        when a market report states that 74% of servers sold are sold with Windows on them, its a safe bet its true.

        And before you give us this "but then most wipe off Widows and load Linux" BS line the Linux zealots throw around, understand that [b]all[/b] the server OEM's offer it without an OS, the customer has to choose which OS to be preinstalled or it ships without it.

        So it would indicate that 74% of people are running Windows Server, as those above metioned sales don't even count Windows Server site licenses and such.
        William Farrell
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @William Farrell I am not arguing the numbers that say 74% of server sold with windows are windows, I am arguing that only counting sales by Windows vars will only show Windows sales. Kind of like determining the car maker market share but only surveying Toyota dealers.
        You will find 100% of new cars sold are Toyotas.
        anothercanuck
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @jhammackHTH - According to this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems#Servers - Linux enjoys more server market share than Windows... Ahhh, the Linux life :). Soon, we will own the server market (As we already do) and the connectivity market... Poor Microsoft will be GONE!!!!
        LinuxRocks
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        for those arguing against the "windows is still winning" point...

        while I prefer Linux over windows, I work for a company with 7,000 windows servers, 680 linux/unix based servers (including ESX hosts), and 173,000 windows desktop/laptops. tell me who won that one.
        aiellenon
    • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

      @saagar9 Completely agreed. Also many people looking for tablets that include useful software including comprehensive office suits, complete set of internet applications, etc. they don't want tablets for some cute games or useless office applications. This is a good idea to port a complete desktop operating system into tablets because it ships with a lot of useful and comprehensive softwares.
      majidazimi
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @majidazimi "many people looking for tablets that include useful software including comprehensive office suits, complete set of internet applications, etc" HUH? Very few people look for that. Hence the success of the iPad.
        fawlty70
    • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

      @saagar9 wrote:<br>"linux distros should have only one goal : how to take 100 % server market from WIN and SOlaris <br><br>Prediction: It won't be with smartphones and tablets (the subject of this article). <br><br>Questions: Does this mean that you like HP-UX, openVMS, AIX and z/OS? Or that these OSs have 0% market share? And what about the BSDs server market share? Whatever, here we go back to a mono-culture.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @Rabid Howler Monkey

        Ahhhhh....OpenVMS, wide area share everything clusters.

        Now back to "modern" technology
        thedavidmckenzie
      • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

        @Rabid Howler Monkey

        Don't worry about it. There is market share for HP-UX and Solaris. Also, Red Hat is sufficiently different from Debian that attacks on one will mostly not work on the other. BSD continues to be a good choice, though not as well known.

        I don't believe that we are going to see a true monoculture in Servers any time soon.

        And that's a good thing.

        Now, about the 'desktop'.
        YetAnotherBob
    • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

      @saagar9
      Yes, that would be fun, a monopoly on the server market? Let's hope that will NEVER happen.
      Martijn2
    • I agree they are spinning their wheels with phones

      @saagar9 So far Android has been the only one to even challenge the iPhone. So why bring in yet another Linux type mobile OS to just mess things up? I don't see them being successful on a Tablet. Maybe their is some hope on a phone but its doubtful.
      jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
    • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

      @LinuxRocks said:
      "@jhammackHTH - According to this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems#Servers - Linux enjoys more server market share than Windows... "

      You are incorrect. The report you quote clearly states the following (cut and pasted):

      "however it only includes servers publicly accessible on Internet"

      Everyone in IT knows the VAST majority of servers in operation are NOT publicly accessible. The vast majority of servers are internal corporate servers which do not run Linux. Counting publicly-accessible, hobbyist Linux servers running in the basement of Bobby's mom's house does not make Linux the dominant server OS, no matter how you spin it.
      BillDem
  • RE: Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

    "Canonical wants Ubuntu Linux to compete with Android, iOS, and Windows on tablets and smartphones."

    I want to win the lottery. But it's not going to happen.
    jhammackHTH
    • Shuttleworth tries to be like Jobs was...but fails

      @jhammackHTH He talks a lot, but Ubuntu still doesnt grab users. Nobody cares about what he does.
      otaddy
  • The UI is dumbing down as more Joe Average's come on-line

    There will always be a market/need for advanced Desktop GUIs, one of which Canonical chose to leave behind: Gnome 2.x.
    True, Gnome chose to create Gnome 3.x but it doesn't change the fact that in their current incarnations the UIs are simple/dumbed down for the 'mass market'.

    Is that good or bad? That's up for debate.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Wouldn't it be wonderful if some interface guru

      were to fork GNOME and provide power users with an updated GNOME2 version that worked with the latest Ubuntu updates ? I want to be able to place my most commonly used launch icons on the Ubuntu top panel as in GNOME2, something, alas, which neither Unity or GNOME3 allow me to do....

      Henri
      mhenriday