The 5 things you need to know now about Ubuntu on phones

The 5 things you need to know now about Ubuntu on phones

Summary: There's a lot of confusion out there about what's what with Ubuntu Linux on phones. Here's some answers for you.

Here's what you need to know about Ubuntu on phones today.

So, Canonical is bringing Ubuntu Linux to smartphones, but what does that really mean? I've seen a lot of confusion about this new offering, even from other Linux and device pros, so, here's my quick guide to what's what with Ubuntu on phones. 

1) It's Ubuntu, not Ubuntu for phones.

Yes, Canonical will be releasing Ubuntu for smartphones, but, unlike Microsoft with Windows RT for ARM-powered devices and Windows Windows Phone 8 for smartphones, there will be no separate version for each device. If all goes as planned when Ubuntu 14.04 rolls out in April 2014 one Ubuntu image will support smartphones, smart TVs, and computers. 

2) You won't be buying an Ubuntu phone anytime soon.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said yesterday in the news conference announcing Ubuntu Linux on phones that the soonest it would arrive in late 2013 or 2014. I'm voting for 2014.

Don't get me wrong. The technology will be there. The problem is getting the carriers on board.

Canonical's Ubuntu smartphone OS, in pictures

True, Shuttleworth said that Ubuntu can give carriers "their own content and we've essentially put their content on an equal footing with content from the ecosystem. The handset manufacturer or operator that has music, films, or other types of content can promote their content to their users or other users directly in a way that doesn't feel like a bolt-on or a sideshow." And, that sounds great, but, Canonical has talked about hardware partners before who have never shown up

When I need a big-name carrier or smartrphone vendor announce they're on board with Ubuntu on phones I'll feel a lot better at Ubuntu's chances. 

3) But, you will be able to run Ubuntu on smartphones soon.

Hang in there. You will be able to load the beta of Ubuntu on a smartphone within the next few weeks. To run the low-end version of Ubuntu you're going to need a phone with a 1GHz Cortex A9 or better processor with at least 512MBs of RAM and 4 to 8 GBs of storage plus an SD card and a multi-touch screen. Lots of phones have the horsepower to do this.

If you want to run the high-end of Ubuntu on a phone, which can support a desktop from the phone, it won't be so easy. The high-end Ubuntu phone will require either a quad-core A9 or Intel Atom processor, at least a GB of RAM, and 32, count 'em 32, GBs of storage and an SD card and multi-touch screen.

If that sounds like you could run this beta version of Ubuntu on a tablet as well, I agree with you. Yes, yes you could. That's not Canonical's immediate goal.

4) Ubuntu on phones is Not the same thing as Ubuntu for Android.

A lot of people have gotten tripped up by this one. Ubuntu for Android is designed to put Ubuntu on Android phones so that two can co-exist. With Ubuntu for Android, you use Android for your phone operating system as usual but you also have Ubuntu on-board so you can use your phone, with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, as a PC.

Ubuntu for phones, however, is a complete replacement for Android. High-end Ubuntu phones will also give you the power to use your smartphone as a PC replacement, but there won't be any Android involved at all.

5) Ubuntu will support both native and HTML 5 applications but not Dalvik programs.

Because Ubuntu is an alternative operating system for Android phones and similar hardware, it does not support, Dalvik, Android's Java Virtual Machine (JVM). So developers will not be able to simply port applications from Android to Ubuntu.

Indeed, Shuttleworth sees this as an advantage. He believes native apps will run faster on Ubuntu," whereas Android has the overhead of Java."

Instead of Dalvik, as Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager pointed out, the Ubuntu "phone platform supports applications written in QML, HTML5, and OpenGL." In addition, "We have been working on an SDK [software development kit] with a special set of phone components (think widgets and other UI [user interface] elements) that run on top of QML and Qt, and the applications look and feel as beautiful as the rest of the phone platform."

Want to know more about developing for Ubuntu on phones? Visit the Ubuntu Go Mobile App Developer site.

The real question, of course, is whether Ubuntu on smartphones will take off. For the answer to that one, we're going to have to wait and see.

Related Stories:

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Google, Linux, Mobile OS, Open Source, Operating Systems, Ubuntu

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  • A more important question:

    Who cares? Why does the world need another phone OS?
    • Tangentially

      Why does ZDNet need another poster?
    • Why?

      does ZDNet need another poster with attitude? What harm does it do to you if there is another mobile OS?
    • Clearly...

      ...Mark Shuttleworth cares. We'll find out how many other people care in due course.
      John L. Ries
    • Who really needs Android and now Ubuntu?

      We are perfectly happy with the apple products that hv quality, ecosystems, give class and charm to people buying them and goes perfectly with my ferrari... Imagine myself driving my ferrari with a stupid Ubuntu phone or android...!!

      Even Windows 8 Phone is way better than the crappy Ubuntu and Android..!!
      • windows phone? really?!

        You want to choose the most crippled os among all? Good luck!
        • WP 8 OS is the second best

          Far better than Android.
          Stephan Sevenyoln
      • Seriously

        I get the point about Apples products working with each other, If you have a Mac you probably have an iPhone, if you have an iPhone you probably have a Mac, if you don't then the biggest selling point for the Phone is gone, the phone has nothing over Android, and only apps and features that can quickly be added to Ubuntu Touch!

        All I'm saying is that if iPhones didn't connect so well to mac's then alot of people wouldn't have bought an iPhone, and I'd be surprised if after a few years the leaders of the mobile market isn't 1: Android 2/3: Ubuntu Touch and Sailfish

        If Ubuntu Touch gets synchronizing like iPhone and applications, they are clearly the best to go with especially with the ability to plug your phone into a monitor and get a desktop!

        I can see why iPhones where popular in the past, but iPhones are a passing craze and Windows phones are probably as well, I think people only buy windows phone because they are like "My computer runs windows WOW" and people want that synchronization that Apple's products can do, that's the only advantage over Android they have!
    • Why not?

      Right now we have Apple's iOS and Google's Android... with Microsoft's WP7/8 and RIM's Blackberry OSes being a very distant 3rd and 4th. If Ubuntu can spur all of the other companies to imporve their respective OSes then I'm all for it.
      • You've confused

        Your third and fourth positions.
        • Did you miss the media coronation?

          Virtually all of the mainstream media sources have already declared Microsoft the "third OS" even though it continued to lose market share faster than RIM in the last quarter and was a rather distant fourth.

          A (very) distant third might actually happen barring some BB10 magic - certainly Microsoft has thrown enough advertising dollars to make me thoroughly sick of their repetitive and unimaginative commercials over the holiday season - but it would be nice if for once the media would report reality rather than press releases.
    • Is up to developers.

      If this os has no interests from developers, is as good as dead, like windows phones.
      • That's the Key Difference

        Exactly. Ubuntu receives quite a bit of mainstream software support - I run Netflix and Steam, for example - but the Ubuntu store has over 40,000 apps (free and paid) today. Web apps are now supported as first class app citizens (rather than just in a browser) in 12.10 as well. And Qt was first matured into a solid mobile application framework by Nokia over two years ago for Meego (killed with a billion dollar Microsoft check through its heart), so developer tools are excellent and broad-based (on what other smartphone can you write apps in Python, for example?).

        Canonical has an existing, rather mature ecosystem including cloud storage, media sales, social interaction, customer support, and (a bit controversially) solid Amazon integration. With over 20 million users, they also have a customer base with potential interest (me! me!) in a mobile device that runs the same apps and uses the same ecosystem.

        But perhaps more importantly, Ubuntu is fully compatible with Android device drivers on smartphone chipsets (same kernel, don'tcha know). This is a big advantage over other options in engineering costs and time to market - well, options other than Android, of course. :-D

        Android was similarly dismissed as having no chance of success back in 2007. So was webOS. Whether Ubuntu is the next Android or the next webOS, time will tell, but they do have some unique and compelling advantages in the race. Now if I can just dig up a Nexus 4 on which to install the beta...
        • too bad

          theres no expandable storage on nexus 4 :_( , otherwise I would wanna try the same thing
    • Benefits

      It does when you want to run the applications you love, existing on the desktop, plus this new entry will also offer other benefits of integration.
    • The Enterprise....

      ....long story short... since there's no iPhone Pro, no Android for Enterprises and Windows Phone basically forgot Windows Mobile enterprise following... Ubuntu is in the right position to sell company provided phones that are both compatible with company policies and are locked with enterprise accounts....

      That was RIMs job, but we all know the story....
    • Simple answer..

    • Its much better than whats out there now
  • So much competition . . .

    Bada seems to be gaining some traction and now Samsung is also talking about Tizen phones.

    I am curious, what is likely to be the main reason why a person would want a phone with Ubuntu rather than some other OS?
    • Docking

      The dock to desktop mode is probably the killer feature.