Could a touch-friendly Ubuntu be a game changer?

Could a touch-friendly Ubuntu be a game changer?

Summary: Ubuntu appears to be getting ready to break into the fiercely competitive mobile ecosystem. Does the Linux distro have what it takes to be a game changer?


A teaser on Ubuntu's home page suggests that a touch-friendly version of the Linux operating system is just a few hours away. This has the potential to be the biggest game changer for 2013.

In a holiday message, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth made it clear that his priorities for 2013 were to put the platform to mobile devices, and integrate the operating system even more tightly with cloud service.

There's not much holding Ubuntu back from being an effective tablet operating system. Ubuntu -- along with a number of other modern Linux distros -- offers support for the ARM platform through various platform ports, so making the architecture jump wouldn't be much of a problem.

All Ubuntu needs is a touch-friendly user interface, and it is ready to load onto tablets. But, getting Ubuntu onto hardware is the easy bit. Selling that hardware still requires a little more push.

First, the operating system is going to need application support, either in the form of apps written specifically for mobile hardware, or through leveraging Android applications. These apps could either be run through an emulator, or utilities such as Myriad's Alien Dalvik could be used to offer app support. Leveraging Android apps would mean that there would be a pool of ready-made apps for the platform, which helps at least initial adoption rates.

See alsoBest Android-powered tablets

Also, by leveraging Android apps, as opposed to bespoke apps, Ubuntu wouldn't be fragmenting the mobile market any further. Android and Linux could co-exist together and help grab more market share from the other players, especially Apple's iOS platform.

Another problem is getting the hardware into the hands of users. While Ubuntu has quite a significant albeit still small following, alone it doesn't have the clout to break into the mainstream tablet market without some significant help. Partnering with a hardware OEM, and possibly network carriers, would be a good way to get Ubuntu-powered hardware in front of users.

As other players -- such as BlackBerry maker Research in Motion -- have discovered, the hard part is not coming up with a software and hardware solution, the problem is putting that hardware in the hands of users. A good platform, even with a reasonable price tag and a decent app ecosystem can still fail.

Getting Ubuntu to a point where it is usable on mobile devices is the easy part. The hard part is convincing people to buy the hardware.

Image source: Ubuntu.

Topics: Ubuntu, Linux, Mobile OS, Tablets

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  • my vote is ...


    these guys don't do innovation
    • I cant tell if he was joking or not. Android hasnt been a game changer so

      why would anyone think ubuntu would. a me too clone yes, game changer no.
      Johnny Vegas
  • My vote is yes

    They don't need to do innovation. They just need to offer a stable, low cost, user friendly interface with access to the android app ecosystem. The success of the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 have shown that there is a market for low cost tablets. If they can find a hardware maker to partner with, they might be able to carve out a comfortable niche market.
    • I Agree with you

      Find hardware maker, and bundle it with Linux OS, and sell it with low cost.
      Buda Suyasa
    • Wow

      Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)

      Happy New Year!
      • Apple's too expensive, Windows 8 seems like a Vista, A good tablet would be

        I've always thought that the Unity Interface was for touch devices, when introduced, and that was where they were heading. If it was inexpensive, hardware speaking, cross compatible with the other Desktop OS's in a simple way, and had extensive input/output options, that it could, potentially gain a good market share. I would particularly like to see a tablet device with say Ubuntu Studio (I'm a musician, and don't dig Apples emerging grip on the music production scene- no particular grudge against Apple except their pricing- And I can't get into Windows 8, I'm still using XP... . I would like to see a tablet that would run Open Source OS/ Programs etc..with a solid, if not specialized interface. Maybe certain custom features for the different Ubuntu flavors? I'm a musician that comes from the old Analog tape school, not a programmer/hardware guy, so forgive my Lack of knowledge of how these things work) Or Edubuntu for Schools etc...
        Steve Sleep
    • Not sure.

      Although this would be a good chance for them to spread their brand around and get some brand recognition. Hopefully their first tablet is better than the current Nexus 7. If not then they will be an also ran.
    • A Nexus 7 for $200 that runs full Ubuntu from the factory? Yes.

      Hey, I like Android plenty and have 3 androids lying around. But holy smoke, if you could get a Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 type tablet for $200 with full bloody Ubuntu Linux with intelligent touch interface on it from the factory - that would be rocking awesome. Every Ubuntu nut on the planet would want that, immediately. Just forget everyone else, merely the Ubuntu and Linux nuts would be more than enough to make that device a massive hit. Like tens of millions of units.
      • I mean think about it

        For $200 you get a quad core computer that runs a full Linux distro - true heavy duty any kind of Linux desktop app. Plus whatever true touch apps come out eventually, or just run web apps in a smoking fast browser like chrome or ff. You could add a BT kb or an external monitor . . . stuff you probably already have lying around. Can you buy a $200 quad core tablet that runs full Windows desktop or OSX apps? No you cannot do anything remotely touching that.
  • Yep, that's about par for the course.

    If you want to see where Linux will be next year, look at where Microsoft and Apple are today.
    • Really?

      Next year, that would mean tens of millions are buying it and using it now. Ok, ok - maybe you didn't mean literally. But ... have you met people who don't program for a living, actually seen how they approach technology? Linux has been "about to take over" for years. It doesn't happen because people don't know what it is (worst marketing, distribution, awareness in the world), it's less user friendly than even Windows, requires tons of customization (boy, if I had a dime for all the "how do I get my printer to work on Linux" posts...), and it doesn't have a viably robust solution for serious work (MS Office, sad though it is).

      "Par for the course" - Really?
  • Never

    Just another in a long line of UNIX's. Really, Why? Linux is a micro blip and it's free! Who's gonna buy this stuff?
    • I might

      I might well be interested in a Linux-based alternative to Android.
      John L. Ries
  • Microsoft is struggling...

    ... I doubt any flavor of Linux can find its way in tablets.... but I like the idea.
    I believe the market is consolidate for smart-phones and it will be for tablets soon. Android will take the largest piece of the pie (a bit smaller and later with tablets) with Apple the solid 2nd place.
    I agree on one thing, the problem is the hardware; Apple success is based more on the desirable hardware they can make than anything else.
    • Android is Linux based

      It has its own UI (replacing X), but it's still Linux and GNU under the hood.
      John L. Ries
    • "... I doubt any flavor of Linux can find its way in tablets...."

      Isn't Android just Linux anyway?
      Kevin Newton
  • No chance

    Ubuntu will stay as it is... and the crappy android apps are only good for small screen like phones or 5inch tablets and why would anyone want to run apps on Ubuntu.
    • Um...

      Ubuntu running on a smartphone... that is what this article is about. That is why people would want Android apps running on Ubuntu.
  • No touch for laptop/desktop

    Touch interfaces aren't ready for Laptops and desktops. Currently reaching away from a physical keyboard/mouse/trackpad to touch the screen breaks the flow much in the way that reaching for a mouse/trackpad breaks the flow of typing except more severe. The software base needs to mature a lot more and the hardware base needs to come up with a solution for the less intuitive nature of a touch screen on a desktop or laptop.
    • Voice recognition domain expertise for PC and laptop tasks is available now

      Touch screens add nothing that a better scratch pad and a modicum of concern that human/machine interfaces. Favoring the human over the computer will make desktops and laptops less irritating to people who have been lead to expect subservience to their wishes by their iThings.