Mark Shuttleworth on how the Ubuntu Edge dream lives on in the iPhone

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu leader Canonical talks about mobile-desktop convergence and how Apple's A7 processor in the iPhone 5s shows where the smartphone industry is going.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

The Ubuntu Edge was designed to be the only computing device you'd need: to serve as a phone in the hand and a PC when docked with a monitor.

Ultimately the Edge failed to win enough funding to get made, but the man behind the device, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, claims the vision of having a single device serve as a PC and mobile lives on in Apple's iPhone 5s.

Upon launching the iPhone 5s Apple described the 64-bit Arm-based A7 processor at the heart of the system as "desktop class".

For Shuttleworth, Apple's decision to draw parallels between the phone and a desktop PC echoes Canonical plans to give the Edge PC-level performance.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth shows off Ubuntu on a Nexus 10 tablet. Photo: Ben Woods / ZDNet

"I think it [the Edge] may have accelerated the idea of convergence," he said: "You saw Apple's description of their new mobile CPU as 'desktop class' and I don't think that's accidental."

What's next for Ubuntu on phones?

The first release of the Ubuntu operating system for phones, Ubuntu Touch 1.0, will be available on October 17, following on from the developer's preview released earlier this year.

Version 1.0 of Ubuntu Touch supports simple phone functions: basic phone and messaging capabilities, web browsing and support for data being swapped between apps.

No handset manufacturer has announced plans to ship phones with the Ubuntu Touch OS, but Canonical is aiming for Ubuntu to be available on two "mid-range" and two "high-end" phones in 2014.

Shuttleworth believes that a phone running Ubuntu will be available to buy in the first half of 2014, and a "tablet will take us another six months or so"

"A number of carriers have expressed interest. The handset manufacturers are putting time and effort into understanding Ubuntu and evaluating its performance on their hardware," said Shuttleworth.

"In due course we'll pick partners for a launch."

One Ubuntu to rule them all

Ultimately, in line with Canonical's vision of a having a single computing device to serve as a phone and desktop PC, Canonical plans to merge the code base for every version of the Ubuntu OS, across desktops, phones, tablets and servers.

The desire for a converged OS has led Canonical to shift Ubuntu to a new display server software stack called Mir. Display server software plays a key role in supporting an OS's graphical user interface, and Shuttleworth contends the move is necessary to provide a "fast, clean" graphics software stack that works well on a broad range of devices.

That move towards a single code base suffered a setback this month when Canoncial decided not to go ahead with plans to use Mir as the default display server for Ubuntu 13.10 on the desktop, citing reliability issues with the X server compatibility layer XMir.

At present Shuttleworth estimates that a converged OS code base will be in place after Ubuntu 14.04 is released around April next year, but not later than the release of Ubuntu 15.10.

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