Mark Shuttleworth: Serious people are saying Ubuntu is better than Windows 8 on tablets

Mark Shuttleworth: Serious people are saying Ubuntu is better than Windows 8 on tablets

Summary: The Ubuntu OS on smartphones and tablets has been grabbing headlines and gaining support quickly since the plans were formally unveiled at the beginning of 2013. ZDNet met the man behind Ubuntu to see what he had to say about the project.

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TOPICS: Ubuntu, Open Source
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Mark Shuttlework
Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth shows off Ubuntu on a Nexus 10 tablet

ZDNet met with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, at Mobile World Congress to talk about Ubuntu across tablets, smartphones and more.

Ubuntu OS on the desktop is becoming an increasingly recognisable brand and has a long heritage in the open source community, but rather than confine itself to the one platform, Canonical set out on the path to use the same core kernel and deliver the same platform across smartphones, tablets, the desktop and TVs.

Clearly not one to turn down a challenge, Shuttleworth was one of the first space tourists, 2013 has gotten off to a flying start for the ambitious South African entrepreneur and has already seen the unveiling of the platform on smartphones and tablets.

Q: There's been a lot of buzz around Ubuntu and its device strategy ahead of Mobile World Congress, are there more announcements on the horizon?

A: This is a big one for us. We have a silicon partner that we'll announce after the show, but they are a very significant force in the mobile ecosystem and they are optimising prototypes.

It feels like it has been quite a long road, with hints of what was to come with launch of Ubuntu for Android.

Around four years ago we mapped out the vision — phone, tablet, PC, TV — and we built a design team and took that on as the challenge. The result you see is really elegant. This [the tablet version] is the missing link, the bridge, between what we showed you six weeks ago and the PC stuff. In a sense we've been hiding in plain sight. You can go back to 2009 and look at things that landed in the distro and see now why those pieces came together.

It seems like each form factor for Ubuntu could essentially act as a companion device for another, for example, with tablets and smartphones. Given that, do you foresee retailers bundling Ubuntu tablets with Ubuntu smartphones?

In one version of the vision, you just get a smartphone and then you dock it to a bigger piece of glass and you get a tablet and you undock it and you have a smartphone. It's just one device.

What's the enterprise angle?

We have some unique stories for the enterprise, full disk encryption for the enterprise and separately encryption of each user session, and this is Ubuntu so all of that can be tied into LDAP or Active Directory, so from an enterprise perspective this becomes the first truly secure tablet that can be used for military purposes, finance, medical — sensitive, compliance-intensive uses.

Do you see Ubuntu OS tablets creeping into the enterprise through the BYOD route, or do you envisage companies rolling out a fleet of them?

Either/or: there are some good reasons why enterprises would choose this. For security, malware on Android is a real problem and this is a much cleaner environment. I can [also] see why consumers might choose it too, what we've done is really quite beautiful from the consumer point of view.

What did you have to drop, that you really didn't want to, or plan to re-introduce?

That's an interesting question. We had to drop lots of good ideas, and that's the thing with design — you're constantly having good ideas. We had to say, okay, of each idea, where does it stack on the priority list, how useful is it, is it important enough an idea that might land only on the PC interface, like a delta between them. Is it an idea we can find an expression of in the different form factors?

So when will I be able to get my hands on an Ubuntu phone or tablet?

I think phones in January, tablets in April [2014]. This is the developer version right now, you can't really use it as your every day driver, but in a couple of weeks you'll be able to.

You only released it a few days ago, though.

We released it for the four Nexus devices and now we have 20 work-in-progress ports from the community already, and some of them are to older devices.

Do you know how many people downloaded it?

I know that in the first six hours we have 75,000 hits on the download, which is pretty cool.

We've got a lot of work to do but we've got some great partners kicking in and the team is really motivated. We have a chance to profoundly change the historical balance of Linux as a follower of PCs. This is better than Windows 8 as an experience, that's not a crazy thing to say, serious people in industry are saying 'that's better than Windows 8' [on tablets].

Topics: Ubuntu, Open Source

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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155 comments
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  • Ubuntu is better than Windows 8 on tablets

    Everyone should have the freedom to choose the devices they use.
    RickLively
    • Indeed

      So I've chosen the Surface.
      NeoBoot
      • Indeed

        I've chosen to avoid The Surface
        Alan Smithie
        • Android...

          good choice!
          timspublic1@...
        • Kudos Alan

          I've chosen to avoid Linux.
          toddbottom3
          • I've chosen to avoid Ubuntu

            Tried to get Ubuntu operational maybe six times; each time there was one hang up or glitch or bug with the program, with Ubuntu One, with the Software center, and S L O W ? ? Unbelievable. Only the 'experience' with Debian was worse.

            Finally settled on Mint 13 (not 14, it's tyrannical), and Fedora 17 (not 18, it's tyrannical).

            But here in this article we see that MS' rollout of Win8 was designed really to compete with Canonical, not Apple. The thought hit me back when viewing the Ubuntu phone video, but here in the article Shuttleworth says they started the idea four years ago. So, that explains everything. MS wants to become like Ubuntu Linux.

            So I'll stay on XP, with other Linux wraparound when needed.
            brainout
          • Finally, someone else sees why Windblow 8 was invented

            I agree Windows 8 has been very quickly mashed together to get ahead of the open source crowd. We Linux forums being as open as they are anyone can sign up take a look in and nab some of the peoples ideas, take them away close the door and work on that idea.

            4 years ago Ubuntu had the ability to hook up to the cloud for storage, 'Ubuntu One', then along came Google Drive, iCloud and Sky Drive. Of course drop box is still best of them all albeit only 2GB storage.

            Microsoft knew of the convergence plan from Canonical when it was talked about in the UDS in 2010, one device/OS to fit all form factors. Only problem is with windows having a small team of closed behind door devs the ideas as it shows doesn't flow so well. Mashing a touch experience to tablets and desktops. Least with Ubuntu it knows what device its on and adapts to the environment so when its on the phone its a phone OS, tablet a tablet OS and desktop, well a clean looking desktop OS, that functions the same across all form factors.

            If anyone like Apple or Microsoft copy this idea now people will see right though these companies and notice that they ideas have been stolen from the peoples developers the open source community. This is where the real innivators, thinkers and true developers reside.

            I am an Ubuntu Fanboi and I am proud to be a part of a growing community that apprieciates the hard work that has gone in to making Linux stand for what its worth in the world. Microsofts cracks are a forming and Apple has started to rot, not bring fresh ideas to the table, only just reinventing their iOS in to a watch, one that will be so expensive Rolex will look cheap.

            With Steam on Ubuntu now, lots of Game manufactures are turning their gaze in Linux's direction, there is already 100 games in Steam and its just been launched for Ubuntu.

            I can see over the next couple of years a big shift. Android has stolen the phone market, I think Ubuntu has a very good chance at taking the 3rd position. Althought not many people have heard of Ubuntu, once they see the phone and tablet, they will be hooked.

            The devs chat channels for Ubuntu Touch are full everyday, there are hundreds of developers working on their apps for the Ubuntu Ecosystem, its gonna be great.

            With Linux Mint based off Ubuntu, they too will benefit from the fruits.
            Shaneo123
          • Yes and before that

            (Long before that) there was the bulletin board, where you could hook up to a mainframe, store your data and share it OH that's right, they call it the "CLOUD" now-a-days. lol
            Everything old is new again!
            martin_js
          • Errr?

            You thunk Unbuntu invented "cloud" storage 4 years ago? I've had SkyDrive since nearly the beginning [to the point where I don't have the standard 7 GB but 27GB of storage].
            "Only problem is with windows having a small team of closed behind door devs" - So you've met the small team of developers? I doubt it.
            And you're accusing Apple and Microsoft of "stealing" ideas from others? Any lawyers here? :-)
            "Android has stolen the phone market" - You must love the word "stolen". :-) So how did Android "steal" the market anyways?
            How come you didn't complain years ago when Steam was on Windows and not on Linux? Oh ya. The makers of steam weren't in a rush to support an OS that STILL has 1.2% OS market share.
            "there are hundreds of developers working" - I'd like to see some proof of this. Links?
            Gisabun
          • You think you have

            But it will be in your router, TV, favourite website or some other place.
            Alan Smithie
          • I'm not using Linux

            I have no idea if my router or my TV uses a Linux kernel because I don't use Linux, I use the device. I don't seek out Linux programs, I don't marvel at the Linux UI, I don't go on comment boards and talk about how great the Linux kernel is on my router and that everyone should check out Linux on the desktop. If I see that a program is "Linux" compatible, I can't install it on my router. I don't use Linux on my router any more than you use Windows when you go to a bank machine or go to a website that runs on IIS.

            But let's explore this forced usage of Linux a little further, shall we? I choose not to use Linux. That is my choice. So why am I forced to? Why is the Linux community FORCING me to use Linux in my router, in my TV, on my favorite website, or some other place? Shouldn't I be free to choose to avoid Linux? You guys freak out about being free to not use Windows, why can't I be free to not use Linux? In an ideal world, I'd be able to avoid all things Linux if that were my choice, correct?
            toddbottom3
          • They are not forcing you

            manufacturers find it flexible, a good solution and cost effective.
            Alan Smithie
          • Good, I'm not forced to use Linux

            So if I buy a router with Linux in it, I can swap it out with something better?
            toddbottom3
          • Why you don't use Linux, You use the device

            “I have no idea if my router or my TV uses a Linux kernel because I don't use Linux, I use the device."
            RickLively
          • This argument is a sign for the future...

            Nobody in the real world really cares what kernel is running under the user interface. Also, an OS is far more than the kernel. Just because the kernel is from Linux, doesn't mean the OS is Linux. The desperate Linux fans are quick to latch onto anything which has even a tiny part of Linux running in it somewhere. If everything else is custom written, these companies are basically just reusing free code for the kernel, rather than reinventing that basic functionality. Android is a prime example, where they took the kernel and threw everything else away.

            The lack of caring which kernel is attached to the hardware shows that people are becoming less and less attached to a single way of doing things. This means that the dominance of Microsoft is coming to an end. People are looking elsewhere for the first time in decades. They don't care what OS they're using, as long as it is easy, flexible, and lets them do what they want to do. This is why iOS has become so popular. It's cannibalizing both Windows and Mac OS X desktops because it is simple, flexible, portable, cordless, and offers an incredible number of options for expansion. The vast majority of Apple's revenue is generated by iOS devices, not OS X. Most of the iOS users are using Windows currently, but using it less and less often.

            The world is changing drastically, and for the first time, there are lots of huge opportunities for alternatives to Windows.
            BillDem
          • Kernel

            Basically kernel IS the OS, you can operate on it without a desktop GUI, eventhough most prefer not to.

            Certainly a desktop UI and programs' user friendly UI operations help a lot for common Joe's everyday PC life, but all software and hardware is ON that OS kernel (also built in security)
            UbuntuCircle
          • wrong about linux

            "Just because the kernel is from Linux, doesn't mean the OS is Linux. The desperate Linux fans are quick to latch onto anything which has even a tiny part of Linux running in it somewhere."

            Who is *desparate*. I customize and build linux (kernel) to make devices do things and make a living at that. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about it. What bothers me is the ignorance. Its extremely ideal for embedded devices. "linux" was always just a kernel. Of course you need other support software to enable a user to instruct it to do things, but that part is typically "gnu" software, not 'linux'. Who puts out a linux distribution and calls it "linux"? We have ubuntu, fedora, mint, debian, etc. Some typically linux-based OS distributions can also use the FreeBSD unix kernel. You would basically not know the difference if for example you used Debian running on top of the BSD kernel instead of linux. The kernel itself is normally just a couple megabytes of a typical 2GB base installation of a distribution such as Debian. So these full OS distributions are not "linux". They are OSs based on the linux kernel. Android is therefore just as much "linux" as "ubuntu".
            drwong
          • But Linux is just a kernel.

            But Linux is just a kernel.
            Beast Of Bodmin
          • I don't know. Can YOU swap it out?

            Linux gets ported into a lot of things. Calculators. Phones. Cameras. Windows. . .not so much and only with their very express permission. Ask Microsoft about a router compatible version and see what they have to say.

            I know I'm not forced to use Microsoft because Linux runs on everything I need it to.
            DancesWithRobots
          • I don't know, can I?

            If I can't, then my choice has been removed and I'm being forced to use an OS that I don't want to. That isn't right. I don't own the hardware if I can't change the OS.

            This is actually a very relevant topic because of all the complaints about Secure Boot and the FUD that is being spread about not being able to install Linux. Now I find out that Linux has been doing this for years and is FAR more onerous because I can't even change a setting in the BIOS in order to install an OS I would prefer.
            toddbottom3