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.
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.