Ubuntu 13.10 final beta: Ubuntu for smartphones is almost here

Ubuntu 13.10 final beta: Ubuntu for smartphones is almost here

Summary: There are lots of interesting things ahead for Ubuntu desktop users in the next release, but what's really going to be important is how well Ubuntu does on the smartphone.

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Ubuntu 13.10, aka Saucy Salamander, is almost here. The popular Linux desktop just when into final beta and it's on schedule to go final on October 17. While Ubuntu desktop users will be happy to see the latest and greatest from Canonical, the important news for Ubuntu's corporate backer will be the release of its smartphone brother, Ubuntu Touch.

ubuntu-1310-saucy-salamander
We're weeks away from the next release of Ubuntu, Saucy Salamander.

True, we're not going to see the Ubnutu-powered superphone, the Ubuntu Edge. But Canonical, with the help of telecommunication carriers such as Verizon, has every intention of becoming the number three smartphone operating system — after Android and iOS — in the short run, and eventually challenging the big two.

With only weeks to go before launch, Ubuntu Touch is still having some teething problems (Google Docs). On its reference hardware, the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 smartphones, Ubuntu Touch is working well. On tablets, it's also working on the Samsung Nexus 10; but on the Asus Nexus 7, it's having real trouble. The core smartphone functionality, however, is there.

Developer tools are coming along nicely; the GUI Toolkit is making it easier for app developers. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community leader, wrote on September 20: "We are finalizing much of the core infrastructure (SDK, docs, knowledge, support, publishing) I really want to focus more and more on widening the awareness of Ubuntu as a powerful and fun developer platform." To help with this, Ubuntu has recently updated its developers' Web site.

I've had a chance to play some with Ubuntu Touch and I think it has a reasonable chance to be a mobile operating system contender. That said, I'm looking forward to seeing the first real release and trying it out in day to day use.

Moving to the desktop, Ubuntu 13.10 is based on the 3.11 Linux kernel, jokingly known as Linux for Workgroups. It will include the usual Linux desktop programs: Firefox 24 for the Web browser; LibreOffice 4.1 for the office suite; Thunderbird for email; and Rhythmbox will be the default music player.

So much for the basics. Where things get interesting, and controversial, is with Ubuntu's new graphics stack and its built-in search options: Smart Scopes.

To make Ubuntu truly one operating system on tablets, smartphones and PCs, and just to improve graphics performance, Ubuntu has introduced its own display server, Mir, to replace the venerable and slow X Window.

Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical and Ubuntu's founder, is happy with the Mir graphics stack. Others, led by Red Hat, prefer Wayland as an X Window replacement. Even Kubuntu, an Ubuntu spinoff that uses KDE for its desktop, will be using Wayland instead of Mir.

Mir won't be 100-percent ready for Ubuntu 13.10. Instead, it will use Xmir. This is a stack where X and Unity 7, the Ubuntu desktop, will run on top of the Mir system compositor by default, with a fallback of running X if there's no hardware that the Mir drivers can support. Intel, for one, will not be supporting Xmir.

For users, none of this is likely to matter. Regardless of your platform, you'll still be able to watch your LoLCat videos or what have you. For developers, it's a different story. At this point, while Wayland has the momentum, there's still no telling which, if either, will succeed X Window. It's worth noting that Linux game vendor Valve is electing to stick with X in its forthcoming Ubuntu-based SteamOS.

Smart Scopes, formerly known as Lens, will finally ship. When Lens was first introduced, it integrated Amazon search results with local Unity Dash search results. Many users regarded  this as an invasion of their privacy. Shuttleworth defended this commercial search when it was introduced in 2012, but it eventually was pulled as a mandatory feature and it became optional.

Since then, other operating systems, such as Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 8.1, have also integrated Internet search with local search. In this release, Canonical will be extending Ubuntu's Dash searches as well.

In Ubuntu 13.10, when you search with Unity Dash you'll have the option of having your local search not only look into Amazon but in Facebook, Google Drive, Yelp, and dozens of other services as well. Personally, I think this will be a handy feature.

While I'm really looking forward to seeing the next Ubuntu desktop, what's really going to be important this go-around will be Ubuntu Touch. It's this, far more than on the desktop, that Canonical is counting on to bring in the business to finally make it a profitable company.

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Topics: Mobility, Linux, Mobile OS, Smartphones, Ubuntu

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  • One OS on PCs, Tablets, and Phones...

    Ubuntu Touch's one big value proposition is to be "..make Ubuntu truly one operating system on tablets, smartphones and PCs" (gee - where have I heard THAT before?), yet even before it is out of the gate, there is fragmentation within the different versions of the OS with regard to UI. As usual, Ubuntu is hoping to succeed by going down the "everything to everyone" path and not making the hard design decisions that have to be made (like settling on ONE graphics stack, even if the UI is different between versions) in order to succeed where Apple and Google have already done so.

    Canonical need to get themselves a little bit of focus, otherwise the pipe dream of becoming an OS contender of any kind is going to continue being just that.
    daftkey
    • "make Ubuntu truly one operating system on tablets, smartphones and PCs"

      The difference between Ubuntu's attempt to make one OS for all, and that other sad attempt, is that Ubuntu means it, i.e. the 'EXACT' same code will be used on everything, regardless of the hardware used to make the device.
      The other sad 'one for all' project just used a similar UI in an attempt to fool people into thinking is was the same OS. Unfortunately for the other company, people aren't as stupid as that other company thinks they are.
      anothercanuck
      • SJVN's article suggests something else...

        "Ubuntu means it, i.e. the 'EXACT' same code will be used on everything, regardless of the hardware used to make the device."

        Except for the graphics stack, at least in Kubuntu's case, and I suspect in the case of other versions of Ubuntu that are supposedly "specialized" versions of the same animal. I suspect that looking closer at the desktop and mobile versions of Ubuntu, there are plenty of "yes..but" answers to the question of "is mobile component (A) the same as desktop component (B)."

        In both cases you have pretty much the same kernel compiled for two different platforms (one for ARM, one for x86), each offering similar but somehow different experiences depending on the platform on which it is used. The strategies and execution are much more similar than they are different here. Canonical had better not be kidding themselves as much as you are kidding yourself here - it could be a very expensive lesson.
        daftkey
        • I don't think so.

          The "different experience" you are referring to are user mode applications. If the same application is compiled for either platform, it will run. The only experience differences would be those directed by the user (via configuration choices), or hardware limitations - mostly screen size, but could include the availability of touch pad, audio, keyboard hardware.

          It is possible that recompilation may take specific configuration options for a base target, which might not fit the other target, thus providing a "different experience", but it would remain the same code.

          In the "other" system... it is not even the same code - it is a subset code that happens to work on the target. There is nothing that prevents the same application from being compiled for both... other than the software not being portable in the first place.

          As old hands know, "there is no such thing as portable software, only software that has been ported". And the GNU/Linux environment has been ported to more varied environments than any other system - from Power/ARM/Intel/Motorola/SPARC/... and from the smallest to the largest.
          jessepollard
          • Semantics and doublespeak do not make real differences...

            "In the "other" system... it is not even the same code - it is a subset code that happens to work on the target."

            Maybe I'm mistaken, but previously it was reported that the kernel underlying Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Windows RT is the same NT kernel, is it not? The only difference is the architecture for which any of these have been compiled. Or are you saying that a kernel itself is only "subset code"?

            The Win32 foundation, among other things, is separate from the kernel, so its removal in RT/WP8 is even less "subset code" than those options removed from the Linux kernel using "recompilation configuration options". Where, exactly, does the differences in the three consumer Windows products differ Linux distributions that have various different modules included or excluded from their kernel?

            "As old hands know, "there is no such thing as portable software, only software that has been ported"."

            Funny - I thought that was the reason the C programming language was invented - to provide a portable programming environment. I must not be an old hand. I'm okay with that though - last I saw, old hands don't get paid all that well.

            Of course, using that logic, an x86 assembler program *could* be ported to ARM - it would just require a complete rewrite. Piece of cake, right?

            "Power/ARM/Intel/Motorola/SPARC/... and from the smallest to the largest."

            As far as currently relevant OS's go, Linux is in fact one of the *last* to support a RISC architecture. Besides, we're not talking about SPARC or Power or Motorola, we're talking about ARM. While you're patting yourself on the back about Linux's "portability", though, I will remind you that Windows NT (the same kernel used in all modern Windows OS's) was running on Motorola/Power long before Linux. There just wasn't much of a market for it at the time, so it was shelved.

            There is a difference between "technically can't do it" and "makes no sense to do it". Microsoft knows the difference, Canonical and apparently yourself don't.
            daftkey
          • yes.

            The kernel itself doesn't work unless you also include the DLLs that handle all the "integrated" work such as IE, font handling... Remove the libraries and the kernel won't even run.

            As for NT running on Power... The manufacturers of the CPU did the work, MS just dropped it on the floor.

            Linux was first on the Itanium, on MIPS (of course following the vendors BSD at the time. Never heard of any version of NT on any Motorola processor.

            As for "makes no sense", the RT doesn't make sense. If it did, they would have made a complete port of Office (oops can't do it huh), AND the runtime. All that third party applications SHOULD need is a recompile.

            NT on arm is currently a farce.
            jessepollard
          • So Windows Embedded doesn't exist then?

            "The kernel itself doesn't work unless you also include the DLLs that handle all the "integrated" work such as IE, font handling... Remove the libraries and the kernel won't even run."

            You mean like they do and have done for years with Windows Embedded? Many of those libraries are excluded in embedded systems, yet those systems are still the same NT core. It's pretty ridiculous to say that the kernel wouldn't run without those libraries if you think about it - that completely negates the idea of a kernel in the first place.

            "As for NT running on Power... The manufacturers of the CPU did the work, MS just dropped it on the floor."

            And what does that prove, exactly? You'd think that if an operating system were as poorly written and unable to be ported as you purport Windows to be, that it wouldn't be that easily ported by any third party other than Microsoft. If anything, a port by a third party only proves my point.

            "Linux was first on the Itanium, on MIPS (of course following the vendors BSD at the time. Never heard of any version of NT on any Motorola processor."

            From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_NT

            "Windows NT 3.1 was released for Intel x86 PC compatible, DEC Alpha, and ARC-compliant MIPS platforms. Windows NT 3.51 added support for the PowerPC processor in 1995, specifically PReP-compliant systems such as the IBM Power Series desktops/laptops and Motorola PowerStack series; but despite meetings between Michael Spindler and Bill Gates, not on the Power Macintosh as the PReP compliant Power Macintosh project failed to ship."

            Sure it's Wikipedia, but it is still more citations than you've provided so far.

            "the RT doesn't make sense. If it did, they would have made a complete port of Office (oops can't do it huh), AND the runtime. All that third party applications SHOULD need is a recompile."

            The same could be said for plenty of software - like maybe why a full-blown version of Final Cut Pro isn`t available for the iPad. I thought we were talking about operating systems, not software. Office is a pretty large product with a very large codebase. I'm sure most of the components would actually *compile* for ARM (which, I guess for open-source advocates like yourself, compiling is good enough), but the bigger challenge is making the final version work well and suit its purpose.

            We've already seen how theory and reality of "All that third party applications SHOULD need is a recompile" differ when Apple decided to move from 68k to PowerPC and then again to x86. Any software with more than a couple of thousand lines of code took years to be native. Most people whose programming experience goes beyond college textbooks know that software evolution doesn't work that way.
            daftkey
          • As I said. Linux works on more systems and architectures than Windows

            And as been there first or the same year.

            The problem is that porting by third party developers is possible... but MS doesn't accept or keep the updates required. This effectively makes each port a fork of the code.

            Windows CE use is disappearing. That is why more and more embedded systems are using Linux.

            As for embedded Windows... Look at the problems MS is having now getting XP retired - use of XP embedded is causing a good bit of heartburn for it. You think redoing the work is going to fly to embed yet another expensive system? or the multi-hundred thousand dollar equipment will be replaced? Not a chance. Cheaper alternatives exist.

            NT on power occurred the same year Linux appeared on power. Linux can still run on Power - can NT? Not without redoing the port.

            And your last point simply reinforces what I said - there is no portable software, only software that has been ported.

            Entire Linux systems have been ported - including the applications, and with the necessary updates merged into the various projects. And that makes it easier for the next port.

            The linux kernel will even run on systems without a memory management unit. NT will not. CE might though, but that isn't the same kernel.
            jessepollard
          • And none of this really matters, does it?

            "As I said. Linux works on more systems and architectures than Windows And as been there first or the same year."

            It's a waste of time to argue that fact either way, so I'll ask you a simple question - what does that have to do with Ubuntu on ARM vs. Windows on ARM? That Linux was running on PPC or other architectures since the days of yore isn't really a compelling argument as to why Ubuntu's strategy is any different from Microsoft's.

            "The problem is that porting by third party developers is possible... but MS doesn't accept or keep the updates required."

            I'm sure that the boxed copy of Red Hat Linux for DEC Alpha that was on the shelf at my local Compusmart back in 1998 isn't really being supported either. So what? I wasn't arguing whether any of those ports were currently being supported, only that it is technically possible, has been done before, and could very well be done again. This is all trivial banter anyway and does nothing to further your argument that MS's strategy with regard to Windows Phone or Windows RT is much different than Canonical's strategy with Ubuntu.

            "Windows CE use is disappearing. That is why more and more embedded systems are using Linux."

            No, more and more embedded systems are using Linux because Linux is more flexible for development firms who aren't starting with a legacy codebase. Many if not most embedded systems that started on Windows have continued on Windows.

            "As for embedded Windows... Look at the problems MS is having now getting XP retired - use of XP embedded is causing a good bit of heartburn for it. You think redoing the work is going to fly to embed yet another expensive system? or the multi-hundred thousand dollar equipment will be replaced? Not a chance. Cheaper alternatives exist."

            Depends what the state of the embedded code is in to begin with. You may be surprised, but there hasn't been the mass exodus from Windows Embedded to Linux that you may think there was. Windows Embedded is a very healthy product. Those developers who have adhered to Microsoft's recommended development practices haven't had the huge problems with upgrading these systems. Plenty of embedded systems have been upgraded to the current Windows Embedded platform with far less rework than would have been required to use Linux or BSD or some other variant, so the choice to keep Windows Embedded is the least expensive for these systems.

            Those that haven't, I will agree that they may save some cash moving to a Linux Embedded system now in some instances because they have a lot of recoding to do regardless. The cost of Windows Embedded licenses vs. Linux isn't enough to make most people even factor it into the decision, though. The ability to work with the source code and more deeply customize the OS more than is available with Windows is Linux's real advantage.

            "NT on power occurred the same year Linux appeared on power. Linux can still run on Power - can NT? Not without redoing the port."

            We don't really know what it would take to port Windows to Power, do we? We do know that it has been done before and quite successfully. The only question is whether Microsoft still develops it internally, which we wouldn't know. I for one wouldn't be surprised if they do, just as I wasn't surprised that Apple had been developing Mac OS X for Intel since the Rhapsody days.

            "And your last point simply reinforces what I said - there is no portable software, only software that has been ported."

            And that statement simply reinforces what I said - there is no real difference in strategy between that already being executed by Microsoft and that being promised by Canonical. Each has had key parts of the software ported to another platform. Not sure what part of your argument you are trying to support here, but it isn't working in your favour.

            "The linux kernel will even run on systems without a memory management unit. NT will not."

            And that positions Linux as better for what application, exactly? Tablets? Phones? PCs? Last I heard, all of these things ran software and required memory management. So without a memory management unit, how exactly does the Linux kernel run then, anyway? By managing memory all on its own? By requiring the software running under it to do the same? Sounds a lot like saying "my lawnmower engine runs without a throttle, because it has a governor". In other words, you're just using different words to describe pretty much the same object.
            daftkey
        • Except for the graphics stack, at least in Kubuntu's case

          Kubuntu isn't Ubuntu.
          guzz46
          • Then what is it?

            ..is it Ubuntu with KDE? Or is it some other distro completely different from Ubuntu?

            If it is anything other than some variant of Ubuntu, then my argument stands - Canonical has a focus problem because they're trying to be everything to everyone.

            If Kubuntu *IS* a variant of Ubuntu, then my argument STILL stands - Canonical has a focus problem because they're trying to be everything to everyone.
            daftkey
          • Then what is it?

            It's an official derivative of Ubuntu, so it doesn't matter if Kubuntu has some different code from Ubuntu, because it's not Ubuntu, it's Kubuntu, it's not even sponsored by Canonical anymore.
            guzz46
          • I stand corrected then....

            "It's an official derivative of Ubuntu..it's not even sponsored by Canonical anymore."

            That does make a difference. Last work I did with Ubuntu, they were supporting about a zillion different "official" derivatives of Ubuntu. If they're cutting the ties with these "other" versions and focusing their attention on Ubuntu Touch / Desktop, that is a good first step.
            daftkey
          • RE: I stand corrected then....

            We all make mistakes and it is good to see that you can admit it. Some here seem not to posses that virtue.

            Ehm.... William.Farrel
            InformationRetrieval
      • Wait, let me understand this

        Apple and Google have a large mobile share, but little desktop share.

        MS has lots of desktop share but little mobile share.

        All of the above also have lots of cash. Yet you call all of their attempts sad.

        Ubuntu has none of the above, yet you expect them to succeed...whatever.
        otaddy
        • The fact MS has lots of cash

          Is what makes their effort so sad. With as money as they have, there is no reason they can't do better.

          You're right, Canonical does not have deep pockets, yet they are still making a better effort than MS, and while I don't 'expect' them to succeed, I sure hope they do.
          anothercanuck
          • Microsoft has a shipping product and a definite sense of direction...

            ...on top of all that cash which, as I see it, allows them to take more risk with their Windows' strategy (if anything, I'm sure you'd agree that the current direction they've been taking Windows is certainly risky).

            Oh yeah, and they also now have a mobile phone manufacturing division as well as other divisions that are both very successful and focused on supporting MS's mobile division.

            Canonical has a promise, a tentative partnership with a couple of mobile carriers and an unnamed hardware manufacturer. And no deliverables outside of beta vapourware. I wouldn't be too quick with the "sad" comments if I were you.
            daftkey
          • no they arent

            MS at least is selling devices. Ubuntu has nothing except Shutty's endless list of big announcements that amount to nothing.

            Heck, they couldn't even raise enough money from investors to fund their project.
            otaddy
          • So, to you lot...

            ...success is measured by someone - certainly not YOUR! - money.

            THAT is sad.

            You no-hopers have no chance of understanding the community spirit that drives Ubuntu or GNU or Linux. You applaud corporate greed and ridiculously performing software (try and run Lightworks in Windows, then Linux and report back) in a rubbish OS - look, I've used MS products since 1987... wrote in FoxPro before it was absorbed and extinguished by the MS machine: I see what's happening to MS today as opposed to what the community of free thinking programmers and developers are doing. FOSS is here to stay and will constantly continue to grow. Why do you think Ballmer referred to it as a cancer? or why was Bill Gates concerned about it?

            http://techrights.org/2009/06/23/bill-gates-afraid-of-gnu-linux/

            because it undermines his greedy money-grubbing business model.

            http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/how-corporations-are-crippling-us-prosperity/2633?tag=nl.e660

            I can see why you're all referred to as shills: why else would you be promoting a corporation that has this sort of DoJ history:

            http://searchjustice.usdoj.gov/search?q=Microsoft&btnG.x=30&btnG.y=6&sort=date%3AD%3AL%3Ad1&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=iso-8859-1&oe=UTF-8&q=site%3Awww.justice.gov%2Fatr&client=default_frontend&proxystylesheet=default_frontend&site=default_collection
            RobinHahn
        • Microsoft's cash was part of its problem

          It had money to rewrite and rewrite its mobile OS like no other company could do.

          It rewrote Windows Mobile and came out with Windows Phone 7, which was based on the CE kernel. Then it rewrote it a third time to Windows Phone 8, based on the NT kernel. Then it came out with RT, which was something different again. Oh, I forgot to mention other attempts such as Sidekick and Kin.

          In the end, it had so many versions of its mobile OS that none of them worked, and the flops and duds eroded confidence. MS also approached it from the wrong direction, trying to use its desktop monopoly as a wedge into mobile, which was never going to work.
          Vbitrate