A few days ago, Canonical Ltd. revealed that they had been working to create a version of Ubuntu that runs on Android phones. As a Linux user myself, I found this hugely interesting. So how would it work, and what would it enable you to do?
What Is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is a variant of the Linux Operating System, popular due to the huge community which provides constant development to make a user-friendly Linux build. It can do everything Windows can, but is completely free, hence its rising popularity.
The current Ubuntu release takes no more than 30 minutes to install, and has every generic configuration possible. This means it automatically works with pretty much any hardware, be it a Display, WiFi card, Wireless Mouse, etc. It also has an entire Office package included from the start. LibreOffice, Thunderbird, and Firefox are ready to go.
How Would the Android Version Work?
I’ve done a little research, and it seems that Ubuntu would be installed alongside Android in some way. When your phone is placed in a docking cradle with a display attached and a wireless keyboard and mouse nearby, it runs a mobile-processor optimized version of Ubuntu, which uses these peripherals just as a normal computer would. Apparently it runs almost like a Virtual Machine; Canonical claim that Ubuntu and Android share the same kernel, running at the same time.
According to their website:
Thanks to tight integration with the Android service layer, the transition between the two environments is seamless, making it easy to access the phone’s services from the desktop when docked.
This is how the whole thing is supposed to work. Presumably yanking the phone would just shut down the monitor, and keep everything running on the phone.
Why It’s Brilliant
Smartphones are already computers, but this would mean you’d be carrying a desktop operating system and Android phone wherever you go.
It is especially good for businesses! Instead of distributing a smartphone and laptop to each employee, they only need to give out an Android phone and two docks – one for home and one for work. Everything is unified: email, contacts, browsing history, bookmarks, everything you do at work travels with you in your pocket, ready to be picked up at home.
The Ubuntu developers also claim their smartphone version will help motivate manufacturers to redouble their efforts to cram in additional power. They hope that the ability to run Ubuntu on an Android Smartphone becomes a selling point, leaving manufacturers climbing over themselves to start releasing supercharged devices, with the aim of running Ubuntu as slickly as possible. The developers hope it encourages 4G handsets too, since “Office Apps shine with low latency and higher bandwidth”.
Take Phone Calls and Respond to Messages
Ubuntu would either take control of these systems on Android, or substitute its own while you work. I know that companies have been releasing software for years that lets you send and receive messages or calls on your desktop computer over USB or Bluetooth to your phone. As far as I know this would be the first time it has ever been done with such deep integration. An incoming call wouldn’t be coming over Bluetooth; in a sense, people would be calling your computer. Like calling a Skype number to reach you, except people dial your normal mobile number. No Skype fees either!
Is Ubuntu handling this incoming call, or is it Android, or both?
Full Desktop Environment
The images I have seen show what is clearly the Unity/Gnome3.0 interface which comes shipped with new Ubuntu distributions at present. I want to know how it performs on Smartphone hardware. I also want to know how people can install additional Linux packages. The regular Desktop version of Ubuntu uses a massive package repository to manage package builds, downloads, and upgrades. Would this mobile edition use the same system, or would the programs be fixed and unchangeable?
Great Default Applications
Amongst the list of applications this build of Ubuntu is set to receive is Google Chrome, Calendar, and Docs. Then Thunderbird, Gwibber instant messenger, VLC Media Player, PiTiVi, Ubuntu Music Player (possibly Rhythmbox), a photo gallery, and the Android Dialler.
At the moment Ubuntu for Android is in some kind of private Alpha or Beta testing, but I can’t wait to see it formally showcased in videos. It will also be interesting to see the uptake rate too. I doubt it will be very popular at first, certainly not in the mainstream world. I hope that over time it does expand outwards though; it’s a great idea and I hope it takes off.