What to expect from Ubuntu in 2014

Ubuntu 2014: One Linux codebase to rule them all: smartphone, tablet, and desktop.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You won't see an Ubuntu Edge at CES this week. Ubuntu's parent company, Canonical, raised $12.8-million on Indiegogo to develop and build this Ubuntu Linux/Android-powered Ubuntu Edge combination smartphone and PC, but it still fell far short of its $32 million goal. So what?

Ubuntu Unity Design Vision
Ubuntu's Unity design vision.

To gadget hounds, what Canonical has planned for 2014 may not be as tasty as the all-in-one Ubuntu Edge, but if its plans come to fruition they'll be more important than just another sexy device.

After, finally, shipping Ubuntu Touch in October 2013, Canonical's version of Ubuntu for smartphones, the company's partners will start shipping smartphones in major markets. In the United States, T-Mobile and Verizon are expected to ship Ubuntu smartphones.

Ubuntu Touch: The next hot smartphone operating system (Slideshow)

Canonical hopes to become the number three mobile operating system, after Android and iOS. To make this happen, the company is depending on Ubuntu’s good looks, the Ubuntu Touch's eye-candy interface. The business is also betting on an improved software delivery system that gives developers a fast way to deliver updates while preserving user security.

Rather than using a permission at installation mechanism, such as that used by Android, noted Marc Deslauriers, Canonical's security tech lead, "users get to make decisions on sensitive actions at the moment they are needed, instead of at application installation time. This is performed by system components called "Trusted Helpers.'"

Ubuntu Touch applications can only access their own directories, and their own data. Instead of granting permissions to access generic user data, Ubuntu grants access to request user data using Trusted Helpers. This allows applications to access specific data as approved by the user instead of granting permissions to access all of it.

"For example," Deslauriers explained, "instead of granting permission to directly access a user’s complete contact list, an application can request access to a contact. The system address book will display a list of contacts and only the specific contact selected by the user will be sent to the application. The application only has access to the contact which was specifically authorized by the user."

Once given, a user can either grant an app the right to use Trusted Helpers to always pull data from that one resource in the future or to continue to ask permission each time. Thus, "Trusted Helpers allows users to specify which private information can be accessed by applications. The decision to grant these permissions is done at the moment the access is needed, giving the user the appropriate context for making an informed decision."

The end result: Users get more control and developers get their app updates pushed to users very quickly. This should make Ubuntu Touch popular to both.

Ubuntu 13.10: A desktop tour (Slideshow)

On the software side, Jono Bacon, Ubuntu Community Manager, wrote recently on Google+ that by "This time next year we will have a single platform code-base for phone, tablet, and deskto that adapts to harness the form-factor and power of each device it runs on. This is not just the aesthetics of convergence, it is real convergence at the code level. This will be complemented by an Ubuntu SDK (software developer kit) in which you can write an app once and deliver it to any of these devices, and an eco-system in which you can freely publish or sell apps, content, and more with a powerful set of payment tools."

Bacon continued: "These pieces will appear one phase at a time throughout 2014. We are focusing on finishing the convergent pieces on phone first, then bringing them to tablet, and then finally bringing our desktop over to the new convergent platform."

The end result will be one Linux-based operating system for smartphones, tablets, and desktops and single applications that will work on all three platforms.

And that, friends, is more exciting to me than the hottest new hardware to makes its appearance at CES this week.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards