Ubuntu for Android: Linux desktop on a smartphone

In Canonical's latest move, the company purposes bringing its Ubuntu Linux desktop to high-end Android phones.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You may soon be seeing Ubuntu Linux on your Android smartphone.

You may soon be seeing Ubuntu Linux on your Android smartphone.

You have to give Canonical, Ubuntu Linux's parent company credit for thinking big. Today Canonical is unveiling Ubuntu for Android. What is in the world is that? It's bringing the Ubuntu Linux desktop to to multi-core Android smartphones docked with a keyboard and monitor. With it, Canonical claims you'll be able to use Android on the phone and Ubuntu as your desktop, both running simultaneously on the same device, with seamless sharing of contacts, messages and other common services.

The company states that the phone experience will be pure Android--it’s a normal Android phone. When the device is connected to a computer screen, however, it launches a full Ubuntu desktop on the computer display. It’s exactly the same Ubuntu Unity desktop many of you are already using and it will include all of Ubuntu's current applications, from office productivity to photography, video and music.

These hybrid Android/Ubuntu smartphones and tablets will share all data and services between the environments. Both Android and Ubuntu run simultaneously on the device. So Android applications such as contacts, telephony and texting are accessible from the Ubuntu interface.

The idea is that Ubuntu for Android will gives mobile workers a company phone that is also their enterprise desktop. Canonical contends that “The first PC for the next billion knowledge workers could be a phone - but they won’t just want to use it as a handset. They will want all the flexibility and productivity of a full desktop, as well as the convenience of a smartphone on the move. Ubuntu for Android represents the first opportunity for handset makers and network operators to address this growth opportunity in emerging markets.” In a statement, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical and Ubuntu's founder said, “The desktop is the killer-app for quad-core phones in 2012. Ubuntu for Android transforms your high-end phone into your productive desktop, whenever you need it”

Just don't plan on downloading it any time soon. Ubuntu for Android is directed at “manufacturers targeting the corporate phone. The customized version of Ubuntu drops in cleanly alongside the rest of Android, and the necessary Android modifications are designed for easy integration. Hardware requirements include support for HDMI and USB, standard features in high-end handsets planned for late 2012.”

In an attempt to persuade OEMs and carriers that Ubuntu for Android is a good deal, Canonical also states that “Ubuntu for Android justifies the cost to enterprise customers of upgrading to higher bandwidth 4G connections and contracts. Cloud apps like Google Docs work best with a full desktop, and shine with the lower latency of LTE. Network operators can deliver their own branded applications and services as part of the Ubuntu desktop, in partnership with Canonical.”

At the same time, Canonical still has its own plans for purely Ubuntu-powered smartphones, tablets, and TVs. This new effort seems to fit in nicely with Canonical's recently announced plans for a more aggressive push towards the business desktop.

Other companies are already  exploring the use of smartphones and tablets with the desktop. This is, after all, Windows 8 Metro's plan, Apple will be bringing Mac OS X and iOS even closer together in Mountain Lion, and Google is integrating Chrome and Android. Canonical, though, as I recently worried, is trying do to much with too little.

Can Ubuntu work with Android on high-end phones and tablets? Technically, sure. No problem. But commercially.... I can't see it. I hope I'm wrong, but as either a standalone mobile operating system or in partnership with Android, I don't see a lot of room for Ubuntu on smartphones or tablets.

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