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Ubuntu for phones (ubuntu.com)
513 points by llambda on Jan 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 156 comments

This is probably what Android should have been. I'm not a big fan of the Dalvik virtual machine layer on Android. It does drain device resources, especially RAM. I also think this type of architecture would have allowed convergence with Chrome OS more easily and cleanly.

I wonder if there is space left in the market for another open source OS though. Most people seem to think Android is open enough.

What gives me hope this could succeed is that the Ubuntu desktop is currently the desktop OS that is most user friendly and has the best user experience (IMO). Bringing Ubuntu's design team's superior skills to the mobile platform might give them the edge they need to become relevant in that space. I love my Ubuntu desktop. I really hope this takes off.

When Nokia started working on Meego, and Microsoft had plans for WP7, I was hoping Nokia would be smart enough to hurry up and form alliances with other manufacturers to become the defacto alternative to Android for all companies who either didn't want to use Android (RIM, HP, themselves) and companies who wanted a second OS for leverage against Google (Samsung, LG, HTC, etc).

I think they could've done it if they didn't slack off so much with Meego, and were serious about it, but in the same time I also knew Nokia was way too arrogant for their own good back then, and even if they made Meego on time, they probably wouldn't have shared it with others. But that would've been a mistake, because as we can see no OS that depends on one company alone can succeed anymore. Heck, even the ones that depend on several companies are having a very hard time already (WP7/8).

And the reason I would've preferred Meego to become the Android alternative, was because it was also an open source OS, and I would've liked more competition between open source OS's, rather than have just an open source one fight against multiple proprietary ones (iOS, WP, WebOS - at the time).

So I think there may still be time left for Ubuntu to become that alternative to Android, especially if manufacturers stop relying on WP8 and even Windows 8, and start to focus more on Ubuntu phones and Ubuntu laptops instead. But it's very hard to see if it will actually happen, right now, and if it does happen, we won't see it until 2014-2015.

iOS is successful, is anyone making iOS devices other than Apple?

Yes, my point was anyone else but Apple can't do it. And Apple was successful because it was the first mover in such a market. If you try to be like Apple with the 10th OS in the market, you won't succeed, unless you completely change the rules of the game again, and disrupt (not just compete with) both iOS and Android (and the others).

Exactly. That's because the large majority of customers just want a good phone, that works well and does everything it needs to do. My mom, for instance, doesn't care if it's Android, Ubuntu, iOS, whatever. She doesn't care about tech-politics either, or who makes it, how they make it and what partners they have. She only cares that it works, that has a good ecosystem of apps, and that she's happy to have bought it. Meego, WP8, WebOS would have been mainstream if they had achieved this somehow.

Users want a phone that works well and does everything they need it to do as well as being heavily and creatively marketed and praised by the technical elite. There have been several platforms come and go that succeed at the first two parts and fail at the second two. Marketing is in control of the company, approval from the would-be first adopters is much harder. Apple didn't need to work hard to impress people like us with the iPhone; we bought it because it was made by Apple in a time when they could do no wrong in our eyes. Windows Phone, for example, has massively impressed the tech press as a truly different experience compared to Android and iOS but failed to make an impact on the technical elite for one reason or another. WebOS was another "should have been bigger than Android" but we snubbed it due to what we deemed to be inferior hardware (exclusive carriers doesn't mean much when so many switched to AT&T just to get the iPhone even on EDGE).

I use "we" and "our" metaphorically, but I think the point still remains. The iPhone didn't become the defacto standard for the average customer without the approval of people like you and I. Bear in mind, the iPhone didn't have an app store to rely on until mid-2008.

> Apple didn't need to work hard to impress people like us with the iPhone; > we bought it because it was made by Apple in a time when they could do no wrong in our eyes.

Can you really argue that there were no significant technical advantages to the iPhone over phone OSes of the time? The iPhone was first true smartphone, with a workstation grade OS core and top of the line application development framework. By comparison Windows Mobile, Sybmian and Blackberry OS were hopelessly crippled, designed for an older resource-starved generation of hardware, and just couldn't scale. That's aside from the radical touch interface.

> WebOS was another "should have been bigger than Android"

Another myth. WebOS was a cobbled together compromise. Writing all your apps in javascript, running inside a browser session was never going to work efficiently. It was a desperation move to leverage web technologies when their attempt to develop a true native OS framework failed. The constraints of running everything in a browser rendering engine make the constraints of the Dalvik VM look like the freedom of open blue skies in comparison. Forget efficient memory or power management no matter what hardware you throw at it, just look at the battery life stats despite the modest hardware. And before anyone mentions it, no, it was nothing remotely like Firefox OS, which has a radically different architecture.

> The iPhone didn't become the defacto standard for the average customer without the approval of people like you and I. > Bear in mind, the iPhone didn't have an app store to rely on until mid-2008.

The iPhone was successful because it was a pleasure to use, in fact the first phone I ever used I didn't absolutely hate, and because developers flocked to it. By mid-2008 when the app store launched Apple had only sold about 5 million phones. Since then they've sold over 200 million.

>top of the line application development framework

Was this really a big seller of the first iPhones? The ones that came out a year before Apple started allowing native apps? Because before that it was just Javascript and HTML5, similar to WebOS.

>By mid-2008 when the app store launched Apple had only sold about 5 million phones. Since then they've sold over 200 million.

The point is that without the blessing of the metaphorical us, Apple wouldn't have sold 5 million in one year in 2007, and they surely would not have kept selling in even greater numbers. There are many systems just as good or better that have failed because they didn't capture developer mindshare.

>The iPhone was successful because... developers flocked to it

Glad to see we agree.

> There are many systems just as good or better that have failed because they didn't capture developer mindshare.

Ok, I'll bite. What were were these just as good or better systems available at or before the launch of the iPhone?

I'm speaking in generalities, and not just specific to phones. The whole point of my post was that being the best isn't enough, a product also needs great marketing and approval from the technical community. What was just as good or better means nothing now, because hindsight can come up with any number of reasons why the status quo was better than the change required for Product X to take over.

> I'm not a big fan of the Dalvik virtual machine layer on Android.

It provides a processor independent application format. It is obvious now that ARM has won, but not so several years ago. There are many technical benefits to an abstract format including bytecode verification, and the consequent ability to run multiple applications in the same address space because you can't create pointers. JIT/hotspot style execution can also provide better performance than C.

In any event providing a CPU neutral application format isn't a bad decision - others have done it too.

> It does drain device resources, especially RAM.

That claim needs to be substantiated. Is native code significantly denser than bytecode? The mobile vendors have all gone with GC. Mark and sweep style GC has more RAM in play by design than something like reference counting, but there is no requirement that mark/sweep is used - Dalvik could use reference counting. Again there are tradeoffs but calling them a drain seems a large stretch.

> The mobile vendors have all gone with GC.

It's a minor point, but Apple created ARC specifically as a streamlined reference counting alternative to GC, which was never used in iOS and is now deprecated in Mountain Lion.

I do count ARC as a form of GC. The test is if the developer has to manually litter their code with calls to release/free memory.

You do not need to do so in Android (Java), iOS (ObjC), Windows Phone (C#) etc.

You're right. But on iOS, we still have to think about it a little bit. Maybe not with malloc and free (or retain/release, actually), but in terms of object graph (we can't have "retain cycles", or "strong reference cycles", as they are called in ARC).

It's a minor point and I agree with what you said, but I wanted it addressed in case someone who've not familiar with ARC gets the wrong impression :)

These terms have basic meanings that are independent of what you seem to wish they meant. GC is not reference counting, and it would benefit you to put he difference in your memory.

I've always seen "garbage collector" used as a generic term for an automatic memory management system, not a reference to the specific algorithm used to do it. It could be a tracing garbage collector or it could be using reference counting. Where are you getting the definitions that parent would benefit so from committing to his memory?

While some people might say reference counting is just a form of garbage collection, this blurs the useful distinction when discussing the overhead involved. Automatic memory management schemes that impose a variable runtime cost to analyze the object graph are simply totally unlike schemes that have no analysis step and thus no performance headaches. When people talk about GC being unacceptable for real time systems, they are not saying reference counting is unacceptable as well, they are simply saying that any system with a garbage collection phase are unacceptable. So that seems like a pretty clear split.

Reference-counting schemes don't have the same performance headaches as GC's with an analysis step, they have different ones:

* their own form of pause (when the last reference to a large tree of object disappears) -- this can rule out RC for real-time systems, while there are real-time GCs (though rare)

* a non-local memory access per reference creation (whereas in other types of GC, the cost of allocation can be reduced to a single increment and compare of a value probably stored in a register)

* none of the locality advantages of copying/compacting collectors

Personally I tend to see it as down to whether or not the developer is involved (which dovetails nicely with your reference to automatic memory management).

GC can be implemented via reference counting. But in my opinion, if the developer has to explicitly manage reference counting (e.g. by using "smart pointers" explicitly in C++) I tend to see it as distinct from GC.

Garbage collection seems to be a synonym for automatic memory management for many people. Some even see RAII in C++ as GC. I guess GC is so meaningful for many programmers as it is really convenient, that it has become the main word for AMM; as Google is to searching the web.

I am aware of the Wikipedia link. It also has no references, and is marked as being original content.

What term should we use to discuss garbage collection schemes that impose a real time overhead (those systems virtually everyone means when they say they dislike GC) and memory management schemes that involve no runtime overhead?

I agree: within the Android ecosystem and even within the ARM family, bytecode provides portability: you don't have to compile and distribute apps for different versions of the ARM architecture.

It's paradoxical however that to increase the portability of certain types of apps across mobile ecosystems, eg. iOS and Android, and now Ubuntu, your best bet can be to write the portable part in native C or C++, bypassing the Dalvik layer using JNI/NDK. This is apparently the common way to make cross-platform mobile games.

On memory consumption: I haven't made any measurements, but the Android .dex bytecode format has been designed with low space requirements in mind. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptjedOZEXPM . However, all apps run in their own VM process, with lots of common structures shared with them using an initial shared VM process and clever forking.

I always thought one of the main original motivations to use Java was because it's so well spread among developers. Since in the early days before the JIT compiler, there must have been a really obvious overhead even with the interpreter hand-coded in assembly. But they must have wanted to use a well known higher level language with good IDE support etc.

Ubuntu mobile apparently uses Qt: "It uses QML to give you a really slick, easy development experience for native apps with engines in C or C++, and JavaScript for UI glue that isn’t performance critical. We also give you full native OpenGL, which the top games companies are using to make incredible games." It seems actually pretty nice for developers: http://developer.ubuntu.com/get-started/gomobile/

ARM is currently dominating, but Intel has not given up yet. A high-level representation is still a good idea in my opinion.

MIPS is still around on Android, too.

  Ubuntu desktop is currently the desktop OS that is most user friendly and has the best user experience (IMO). Bringing Ubuntu's design team's superior skills
This is debatable.

Since this is just Ubuntu, I'm assuming I can ssh into it and have all of the unix utilities I'm used to without installing something like Busybox, and have full root control.

I'm assuming this has a lot of the normal unix layers we are used to. X.org? Wayland?

If so, this is a significant step up in terms of hackability than iOS or Android.

Assuming the lens works the same way as on the desktop, there have to be some command-line utilities installed, because the search lenses are using some very large python and whatever scripts to fetch and parse the data.

They also said that you could plug your phone into a TV and would get a full Ubuntu desktop with all the stuff you're used to.

So it seems to be basically a pretty standard Ubuntu with just a phone-interface.

It sounds like it is the standard Ubuntu userland, but I am not sure if that is a guarantee for root access. If most of Ubuntu is still under GPLv2 (or other non DRM restricting licenses), then there is nothing stopping the manufactoring from locking down the phone. If enough of Ubuntu is under GPLv3, then I think that the manufacturer would need to replace those pieces in order to lock down the phone.

It is debatable whether you can use DRM with GPLv2. It might still be banned. GPLv3 includes the anti-DRM stuff to be more explicit and unambiguous.

Android phones use the linux kernel, which is GPLv2, and they do not seem to have an issue locking them down.

Just because you use software doesn't mean that the restrictions on the software apply to software it runs. It's only when you re-distribute or modify GPL software that the GPL licences kicks in.

And the manufacturer re-distributes the software when they sell me a phone with it pre-loaded.

Emacs. And Emacs.

Emacs may be great on desktops, but it probably isn't on hands or smartphones.

"If so, this is a significant step up in terms of hackability than iOS or Android."

You can ssh into iOS and have all the Unix utilities and full root control for quite some time.

...after jailbreaking and modifying. His point was off the bat, legally, or both.

Not to be an über-pedant, but are you implying that it's somehow illegal to take ownership of your own device?

In what crazy world do you live?

A rapidly-evolving one where the legal status of jailbreaking an iPhone has changed over the last several years and jailbreaking an iPad remains illegal. AKA: The United States.

The official hangout about the announcement is still going on btw:


One latest thing they just said, is that "ubuntu for phones" and "ubuntu for android" are 2 separate projects going on in parallel. So they're not abandoning ubuntu for android. Instead, they view that as a gateway to the ubuntu world, which would hopefully get more people into ubuntu for phones. As you can see, the official website still have tabs for both ubuntu for android and for phones:


What's the difference? I assume "ubuntu for phones" is where you physically install ubuntu on your phone (ie. it boots into the linux kernel with an ubuntu userland), but what's "ubuntu for android"? Is that (purely guessing here) an Ubuntu VM sold as an app, so phones would be running ubuntu inside a virtual machine under the Android OS's control?

From the link above describing Ubuntu for Android: "Ubuntu and Android share the same kernel. When docked, the Ubuntu OS boots and runs concurrently with Android. This allows both mobile and desktop functionality to co-exist in different runtimes."

For an OSS project, I've been quite disappointed in how difficult it is to find any info on the "ubuntu for android" project. It was announced almost a year ago and I can't find any forum or list for discussion/updates.

Isn't this the best time for Nokia to make Ubuntu Phones? I think so.

Ubuntu and Nokia can make a good fit, under the current circumstances. Nokia maybe can now come back strongly, instead of believing in a closed ecosystem like windows, which is not going anywhere.

That ship has sailed for Nokia, and it looks like it will disband next year.

I could see Samsung, HTC, Huawei and others using it Ubuntu as an alternative to Android, though, instead of WP8 and Tizen, especially since Canonical says that if their devices work with Android, it's trivial to make them work with Ubuntu OS.

I assume that whatever contract they have with Microsoft would make that very difficult.

There's not really any evidence that this will sell more than Windows Phone does anyway, I kind of suspect that canonical would be thrilled if this got the same sort of sales that Windows Phone does.

They are already tainted with Windows. They probably gone through a good round of scapegoating blaming Qt and its previous Linux based phone for its failure and Canonical / Ubuntu probably wouldn't want to be associated with Nokia at this point as it will leave a bad taste in developer's mouths.

Very cool. I'm looking forward to this phone, and it's (hopefully) hacking potential. I'd love to write my own scripts in $LANGUAGE to interact with the phone sensors. If it's built on Ubuntu, it should all be open to us, right?

I see that this page (http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/phone/app-ecosystem) states that the apps are created with HTML5 or QML, but I'm hoping other languages are just an apt-get away. If so, they can have my money now.

Read in some other HN comment that its just android underneath, so this would suggest that the normal apt-get route might not be an option?

To clarify: Ubuntu for phones can run using the android kernel (which is a modified linux kernel). This means that most of the drivers should work out of the box (graphics, wireless, etc) if you use this route. You can also use a normal linux kernel but the driver support could be more problematic in that case.

The difference is that Ubuntu phone has the ubuntu userland (which includes apt) where as a normal android phone has the android userland (dalvik, etc).

The nice thing about the ubuntu userland is that it will most likely allow you to use any compiler that targets ARM. This is interesting because it allows you to make native phone application using python, ruby, haskell, lisp, etc.

Another nice thing about the ubuntu userland is that it includes the gnu programs so it will be much easier to compile and use things like openssh than it is in android.

How different is the Android kernel from mainline? If it is just a case of drivers shouldn't they be able to easily merge them back to mainline as modules?

All the drivers (for recent hardware) are either binary or so ugly that mainline will probably refuse to merge them.

There are two different projects. What you're talking about is the Ubuntu for Android.

iubuntu for android is just android underneath, this new announcement is a stamd alone os

They mention writing crucial core functionality for apps in languages like C.

This is exciting, but... I wish they hadn't gone the route of hiding app controls behind a swipe menu. The menu button on Android was one of the reasons apps for so long seemed unintuitive on the platform, and the Windows 8 charms menu has been panned by critics for the same reason. If your users can't see the controls, they won't know they're there — and even though they could open the menu, it won't feel immediately intuitive in the way that just seeing the controls onscreen does. Even a little breadcrumb like the now-common triple-dash icon on iOS or the triple-dot icon on Android helps people find their way around unfamiliar apps.

Android finally dropped the hidden menu after the 2.x series, but it looks like Canonical just walked into making the same mistake.

That said this is very, very cool. Using non-mainstream programming languages on phones will be interesting.

You'll be happy with Ubuntu on your phone until the first update where they'll randomly replace the audio subsystem and break everything.

Not that I'm a bitter ex-Ubuntu user or anything.

I would rather have that than shitty 100ms+ audio latency that Android OS has and still hasn't practically fixed (they did theoretically in 4.1+)


Not that I am a bitter Android VOIP developer or anything ;-)

Or when the upgrade breaks the ability to go into a low power state. Or when it breaks some of the hardware keys. Or.....

I won't believe it until they give me a ROM. It's my phone and I don't need the manufacturer's blessing. Put up or shut up, Canonical.

Yeah, yeah, let's bitch. But who's going to vouch for all the mandated stuff that has to work? Oops some requisite form/filing/testing was skipped? Who's going to stand up with a target on their back to be sued when someone dies after 911 doesn't work? Who's going to be responsible when some bug in your phone floods/knocks out your cell and denies 911 service to others? Does the law allow you to waive compliance with all of that stuff on equipment you don't own (towers)? I honestly don't know but good luck getting an answer other than "no" or "not sure" and a general default punting of liability/ability to waive policies to the next guy.

Of course, magic hurdle number one is either getting a cell stack (GSM/CDMA) that you have rights to distribute, by either licensing (as Google does) or writing one yourself (as seems to be impossible given "open" standards). AFAIK there are no FOSS stacks.

Nobody, because A)the cellular radio is on a separate chip and has nothing to do with the OS, and B)people already install ROMs on their phones today, without having to be regulatory compliant. All I'm asking for is an Ubuntu ROM, because while CyanogenMod is cool, GNU>Android.

I agree completely about FOSS. But, based on my experience porting CyanogenMod to my old phone, things are not as compartmentalized as you would hope. For example, the user initiating a call to 911 and control of audio is not managed by the radio chip.

The radio is not completely isolated. I have broken ROMs such that dialing 911 does not work. The phone I spent time hacking on had the radio attached over USB, and there were all sorts of magic AT chats that were managed by some proprietary library. Also, firmware on the radio was loaded into the radio by the OS. Anyway, my point is these things are not obviously separable, particularly at the holistic level of what's required by laws and regulations.

Phones aren't required to make 911 calls. Consider the case of your MiFi access point. The Ubuntu phone could just be a smart access point.

We shouldn't let artificial restrictions get in the way of Free Software. The pre-alpha-Github version does not need to be perfect. It just needs to lay the foundation for perfection to be added later.

> artificial restrictions

I assume it's nice to be flippant about laws and FCC regulations when you're not legally holding the bag. To be clear I don't know what sorts of things are required of "phones". I do know it was an issue when IP-based phones from cable companies were initially advertised as phones but lacked 911 services. My point is that from the standpoint of near complete ignorance of rules and regulations it's quite easy to bitch about heavily regulated items.

You're wrong. There are at least three full-featured FOSS GSM stacks: Qtopia (discontinued by Nokia, but forked by Openmoko community as QtMoko), freesmartphone.org (with two iterations - first one written in Python, and second one written in Vala; I'm using it on my phone) and oFono.

You can't use non-certified firmware for modems, like OsmocomBB for TI Calypso, on public networks (yes, there is even free software GSM modem firmware!), but GSM stacks in user space are possible and legal.

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Nexus7/Installation already exists for the Nexus7 - as that's the hardware I have, I haven't looked around for others.

To be clear, "Ubuntu" and "Ubuntu for Phones" are actually (very) different OSes. That link is for regular Ubuntu.

> Put up or shut up, Canonical

Oh, how spoiled of you.


He's saying ubuntu should quit waiting for a manufacturer to knock their door down, and allow developers /end users to put this on their own device. As someone waiting for ubuntu4android since 'forever', i agree.

E: Mark S suggests that ROMs would be available for existing devices and not just through OEMs on the interview w/ engadget-- but isn't 100% explicit, and mentioned nothing about when to expect any builds.

I agree. I've been all over Firefox OS, even though I can't get a legit device for another few months. The lack of an ability for me to test drive this now is kind of an announcement killer.

Seconding this. I'm very much for what Mozilla is trying to do with Firefox OS. I want to give it a spin. Heck, maybe even contribute. It's, after all, for a very good cause.

But the fact that my Galaxy nexus is a "tier 3" phone which has no guarantees of even working, and that the "tier 1" phones are phones you cannot buy, my ability and willingness to wipe my working OS from my phone (which I need) for something unproven is very close to zero.

Had they provided some good and working images for phones available today, chances that they would get more attention and recognition would be much, much higher. Not providing that has (IMO) been a mistake which has cost them, both publicity and potential contributors.

And now Ubuntu seems to be making the same mistake for their phone-OS. It's a strategic mistake and it will cost them the chance to impact the market.

"...there are no immediate plans for actual Ubuntu phones, and no carriers have been signed up yet ... although we're told that the OS will run on any new phone built for Android, should the manufacturer see merit in installing Ubuntu instead." from here:


Looks like they updated the text, but still. The manufacturer doesn't install things on my phone, I do. Looks like they also mention a Nexus build in the coming weeks. When that happens I'll consider my challenge met. I'm just hoping something actually comes of this, unlike Ubuntu for Android which went nowhere.

I'm also extremely annoyed by mentions of manufacturers here. I don't need Dell's blessing to install Ubuntu on my laptop, and I don't need HTC's blessing to install an alternate OS on my phone. So give me the software, already.

>The manufacturer doesn't install things on my phone, I do.

And you expect for the operating system you install to have working drivers. Which are written by the hardware manufacturer, unless you want to wait for the open source community to reverse engineer them (which takes many months or years).

Nobody is saying that you can't hack whatever OS you want onto whatever device you own. But playing nice with the people who are in the best position to make it easy for you to do that is clearly something that Canonical has an interest in doing, and I don't think we should fault them with that.

You'll certainly be able to install it on your phone, but Ubuntu can't reasonably count on that only to get adoption. If manufacturers don't ship Ubuntu phones, the OS is doomed.

Linux has almost no manufacturer support, and seems fine. If the installer is easy enough, then I don't see a problem.

Well to quote Torvalds himself, "most people don't want to install an operating system on their computer of cellphone".

This is probably the #1 reason for lack of uptake of Linux on the desktop.

The problem is extra hard with phones because manufacturers seem to have more measures in place to prevent people from easily installing third party operating systems.

Yup, most people don't buy Apple products. Still doesn't quite spell dooooom.

If you have a locked bootloader sometimes you do , or at least a way to work around it.

I don't get the "put up or shut up" part.

>f you have a locked bootloader sometimes you do , or at least a way to work around it.

You still don't need their blessing, you just need to unlock it. It's your phone, not theirs. Period.

>I don't get the "put up or shut up" part.

It means I can go to their website, click "Get Ubuntu", and download it for my phone. Until it shows up here:


It's vaporware.

That's assuming you have a method to unlock it, you can't always necessarily count on that.

I can kind of understand why they don't want to release it until there is a reference implementation and the software is somewhere near done.

They don't want to suffer the same problem they have done on the desktop where there are a load of device out there which are "kind of" supported and they get a bad rep because somebodies sound , wireless or whatever doesn't quite work as they expect and they have to field a load of support requests and people proclaiming that their OS is "too hard" or whatever.

> That's assuming you have a method to unlock it, you can't always necessarily count on that.

For a long time, we couldn't count on video cards or sound cards being compatible with Linux either. The Linux community just shared information about which computers were most compatible, with the most open hardware, and we bought those devices.

The same thing could happen with phones. Even without being installable on EVERY device, surely some of the manufacturers will stick to fairly standard hardware and the Ubuntu community will see to it that the drivers and unlocking tools are there. Not everyone will be able to get Ubuntu on their phone, but the community can still thrive.

The problem though as canonical seems to have discovered on the desktop is that there isn't much of a business model for catering only to a geeky community of enthusiasts.

I think there's a difference between catering to a geeky/technical audience and leaving an entry-level developer feature available. We want these devices (tablets, smartphones, etc) to be little computers, but they aren't and they won't be without basics like a usable bootloader. With such basics available, the geeky/foss/linux/etc community can at least tinker and adapt existing software. At the moment most of the effort is proof-of-concept chroots and just figuring out how to boot a custom kernel, never getting as far as hardware support. Device manufacturers are laughing, happy that none of them can be used as computers. It means a new sale for a slightly different UI feature (wasn't the point of computers changing the software - including the OS?). IBM didn't intend to make a general purpose PC - they just wanted to be in the game, so they sacrificed controlling the integration. Thank goodness for that, because it led to the PC as we know it. Tablets and smartphones are convenient, but they are still not computers. All the parts are there though... All they have to do is leave uboot on. It doesn't mean the UI has to be made for a geek; it's negligible effort, and I hope Ubuntu ushers in that change.

I wonder if the limitations of the HTML5+JavaScript framework for developping apps on Ubuntu will be removed when Firefox OS is released. Why wouldn't Canonical implement the JS APIs that are built for Firefox OS and make Firefox OS apps runs natively on Ubuntu?

I really love how the Nexus phones have become a fixture in concept shots for alternative OSes. They showed up in Mozilla's OS announcements as well.

The thing is like Mozilla, they piggy-back on Android for Linux kernel and drivers on hardware.

A Mozilla engineer told me that without Android (and consequently Linux kernel and drivers availability) they could never have pulled it.

It helps that they don't have carrier or manufacturer branding plastered on the front.

yeah saw that too, but then I got exited and was looking for a ROM download for the Nexus S or 4, but their doesn't seem to be any.

Swiping from the edge of the screen is not always easy with a protective case on your phone, as it impedes your ability to do so. Pretty annoying problem that I haven't seen that considered in many places.

The ideal phone wouldn't need a protective case. This is a standard perpetuated by the sleek and thin aspect to flagship phones, and I personally think it's obnoxious. What's the point in having the world's thinnest smartphone if you're going to keep it in the world's thickest case all the time?

I'd prefer a phone that is built from the ground up to be secure without a case. My current phone is a Nokia Lumia 920, which can withstand some pretty substantial forces [1] without breaking and without needing a case. And sure it's thick compared to a naked iPhone or SIII, but it's thinner than those phones with a case that would allow them to withstand the same kind of impact. Why do people put up with buying a phone and needing to immediately wrap it in protective rubber and plastic to keep it from shattering? Don't put up with it anymore! Demand reliable hardware! How well it works with a case shouldn't be a determining factor.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3c8il_Q6SU

If the battery is removable, like most android phones, you don't need the protective case. If dropped, the battery will come out and take a large force of the fall. iPhones do not do this and need the case. Then it became either trendy, needed for resale, or people don't know that their phone 'exploding' when dropped is a feature. For example, I have dropped my EVO V at least 20 times, onto concrete or tile, without issue.

If the Google Nexus 4 is meant to show the direction Google wants to take Android phones in, "most" android phones will not be robust for long. While the newest iPhone has done away with the glass back, the newest flagship phone from Google has a glass front and back and a non-removable battery.

What if the phone falls on its face instead of its back?

A case that provides enough of a rim so that the impact doesn't hit the glass front directly is useful.

While I agree with what you're saying, I think that a good argument in favor of cases is that when the phone finally DOES break, you're replacing the phone. But when your case gets all scratched up and broken, you just replace the case.

-Naked Nexus User.

Nokia always was great at build quality, it's just a shame it took them so long to figure out that the processor speed and OS is important too.

Here's a link to the YouTube video presentation that jumps directly to the section about the new smartphone


He is pitching the same things and similar UI gestures and concepts as Windows 8. I don't know if it will ever be a competitor to iOS, or Android. But its surely gonna hurt Blackberry.

The phone looks like Win8 Metro, and the presenter is trying to be Steve Jobs. With the cpu's in phones already being phenomenally fast I see little to no value in removing the java layer. Currently this is vaporware, but should it appear on a phone sometime soon, I just don't see it gaining any marketshare beyond some of the hardcore OSS fans. Real people like an app ecosystem with their latest Angry Birds games and don't much care about any of the technical details.

The "lock screen" is just weird, and the hyperbole spouted by the presenter was downright embarrassing.

It all comes down to the apps. If Google Maps/Gmail/Chrome/Youtube etc all run on it then it might stand a chance, but I don't see further phone market fragmentation as being in anyone's interest.

I do, however, use Ubuntu as my main desktop (2.6.38)

Middlebrow dismissal.

Believe that all of us working in video games want program execution on mobile devices to be as fast as possible. My brand-new desktop PC is not fast enough for what I want to do, so an Android phone running a bytecode interpreter is that much further.

I also don't think you know what "vaporware" means. If it is actually running on physical hardware it's not vaporware; it is just not in consumer hands yet. (Since Engadget has played with it on a physical phone... it is known to be real.)

Don't all mobile OSes now allow C/C++ for games? I know Android 2.3+ does.

The difference appears to be that Android encourages Java for non-games while Ubuntu will use C++/Qt.

Yes, and QML (declarative syntax + Javascript logic) for UI-heavy parts or even complete apps. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QML

Android doesn't use a bytecode interpreter in any modern version.

Minor point, but technically a JIT compiler doesn't replace an interpreter. The latter is still there (written in assembly nowadays), and the VM has to trace hotspots and balance the cost of run time compiling vs. the cost of normal interpretation. Of course a JIT code cache helps to avoid the compilation overhead.

To be even more nitpicky about it, a JIT compiler can replace an interpreter. There are compile-only JIT's, like Jikes RVM. But good point in this case, especially since Dalvik is a tracing JIT and relies on the interpreter more than a method JIT usually would.

How is it vaporware? There was a prototype on a phone already. There is code that Canonical said they would release soon (image for the Galaxy Nexus).

What is missing is a (smart) carrier picking it up and running with it. I for one hope someone like Samsung release a phone with it. I'd buy this in a heartbeat.

Is it significant that the "apps" you list are either a browser or 3 Google properties that are better known as web apps, and primarily ad supported?

I would have thought games would be the more difficult step since most people seem to use their "smart"phones as fashionable gameboys and you need a complicated system of in-app-purchases for getting kids to accidentally buy $100 dollars worth of "smurfberries" with their parents credit cards to finance the production of these games.

And games has, traditionally, been something that Ubuntu and Desktop Linux hasn't had much success with.

> Real people like an app ecosystem with their latest Angry Birds games

Since Dalvik is open-source, perhaps they could tweak a few things to make Android apps run on Ubuntu, albeit a little slower? Out of the box compatibility with existing Android apps would be a huge gain for a mobile OS that is just trying to enter the market.

If you're going to run Android apps, why not just use Android with a custom launcher and skin? Any sort of app compatibility layer is just an admission of defeat.

It might be an admission of defeat that leads to victory.

"DOS was popular because it had software from day one. And it had software because Tim Paterson had thought to include a CP/M compatibility feature in it . . ." (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000054.html)

Edit: And, as someone else said in this discussion, "developers, developers, developers".

I was thinking the other day, how Ubuntu and the movement of free friendly desktop became less relevant with the triumphant march of iOS and Android. Considering that Mark Shuttleworth is a smart leader. He will definitely make a proper move in the near future.

And here we go...

i moved on from ubuntu a while back but, watching the promo video, i couldn't help but thinking mark shuttleworth is, pardon the cliche, something like the new steve jobs. he's got charisma, big ideas, and he's savvy enough to market them.

my other major thought, while watching this: where is the keyboard? (ie, will it run emacs?)

Does this make it substantially easier to get Python on the phone?

Yes, maybe we can finally reach 2005!

/disgruntled Nokia fan

Nokia N900?

apt-get install python

Here it talks about what you can use for apps:


Mark Shuttleworth reminds me of Douglas Reynholm from the IT Crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oye9AmOdsZc is uncanny.

I hope with their "HTML5 Apps" there will be strong integration with local storage and that the phone will be able to cache all of the assets and JS files etc locally if they are going for "Web apps should be just like native apps".

The problem with "cloud apps" on phones is that you run into the real problems of carrier imposed bandwidth limits and slow connectivity in places.

Apps that have a horrendously slow UI if you are anywhere outside of a major city will not be much fun to use.

Do you really need stronger integration with local storage when you've got HTML5 localstorage?

I don't believe there is anything stopping us from caching all the JS in localstorage already, though I haven't done it yet.

Apparently, you can even store images in localstorage http://robnyman.github.com/html5demos/localstorage/

Ideally it would be nice to have something that caches stuff in local storage and can make offline copies of HTML pages and JS by default.

I've been contemplating the idea of a full fledged Linux as a mobile operating system for a while now. It's great to see that people have already been working on this. I like how it finally offers development in native languages that aren't Objective-C. The UI is looking good and from the presentation it looks usable. If that is really a proper Linux I'll definitely give it a try once I get my hands on it.

I actually bought a Nokia N900 running Maemo. It sucked. Getting a desktop GNOME/Linux stack to work right on phones is a huge amount of work — maybe almost as much as writing Android from scratch (it's hard to tell due to the budget disparity).

Unpolished sure but I have to disagree that it sucks. I've solely used an N900 for the last 3 years now. The power of maemo for me overrules the occasional frustrations - I'm just kind of worried about what I'll do if I break it.

Their plans look surprisingly like a Motorola Atrix! It runs Android normally but also has an old Ubuntu ARM system on it which it runs when docked. Having said this, it needed a severe amount of hacking around and rooting to get it to a usable state and to fix the repositories and broken dependencies and horrible window manager. I have one and its dock plugged into the TV. I also have the Lapdock. It isn't a massively powerful phone but alright for compiling this and that, word processing and SSHing to more powerful machines. Sadly, Motorola have announced that they will make no more of this type of phone as it wasn't overly popular (and the Lapdock and accessories were stupidly expensive)

So, with the Ubuntu phone I can see this being popular with a few geeks but not with the mass market. If they stop making Unity behave like it is on a tablet when it is really on a PC, that'd be great. That is one good thing that could come from this, right?

Looks like a lot of people are interested in developing apps for Ubuntu Mobile. So much so that the website is already down: http://developer.ubuntu.com/gomobile

Native Android! I love it! As someone who suffered with a laggy HTML5 based WebOS Pre, then loved his silky smooth 3GS, but left the walled garden for a Galaxy S2, I am thrilled about this. My S2’s H/W by all accounts blows my old 3GS out of the water, yet I still find the experience much more laggy than my 3 year old 3GS. I’m sure much of this is the Java VM holding Android back. I can’t wait to have an Linux phone with the native speed of IOS. Great news!

Here are the reasons why I think Mark Shuttleworth is doing this:

Today, Linux is everywhere in the sense that beneath Android – runs Linux. Unfortunately, Ubuntu doesn’t figure in the equation. Tablets, phones are all locked down devices and enthusiast/hobbyist open source doesn’t figure unless drivers are available. To maintain relevance, Ubuntu needs to exist in the mobile space.

Today’s announcement is an early one, and is making the same value proposition as Android did early on, before Google’s acquisition. i.e. an open source system that any phone vendor can use to build their smartphone platforms on.

The Problems

Ubuntu has a remarkably polished desktop product for years but it has remained a fringe product and the PC market has simply stopped growing. Jobs has carefully taken Apple around MS’s hegemony on the desktop by tackling music players first, then a pincer movement through Windows Mobile dominance by producing a very expensive smartphone.

Shuttleworth faces not one but several well established and cashed up competitors – Apple, Google/Samsung, Amazon. I haven’t even mentioned Microsoft, or the Chinese Korean and Taiwanese versions of a smartphone OS. Each of them have an arsenal of patents and services that gives them degrees of freedom to move around the space. Google for example commands the email/contacts/calendar integration, YouTube, Maps and Navigation. Google’s approach is to deny competitors full functionality of these services to cripple their smartphone offerings. e.g. turn by turn in the case of iOS, YouTube search APIs in the case of Windows Phones. Apple and Amazon have offered cloud locker services for those who purchased music and books from their online stores. Microsoft has some cards left in enterprise management and server integration.

Next steps

I believe this is just an initial salvo. Promising compatibility with Android kernel level drivers is a good start. Right now there isn’t enough value proposition for Ubuntu phone in terms of apps or services. Integrating a phone and desktop are novel but it is far from a sure bet. A reference phone design might be good bet if they think it will persuade some of the smaller Chinese manufacturers to jump onboard. However, this will not please Dell. It might make a MIUI-like play, and remain a niche phone OS for several years until the opportunity is right.

What Ubuntu really needs to do now as an organisation is to make a sideways bet into iOS and Android. It needs to kick start development of its own mail app, or acquire a navigation maker like Waze, and get these loaded onto the popular phones today. There is still some geek-cred left in Ubuntu for people to load these apps on, and who knows, they might catch on in the enterprise space.

mini review by the Verge : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXWnMTm7We8

tl;d watch: slow and laggy

Rather an unfair summary - their own conclusion was more like 'Promising, but will face an uphill battle. Some lag that we hope will be cleared up before launch.'

Isn't it a bit early for a phone OS when they still can't get out a version of desktop Ubuntu with battery life equal to Windows/Mac OS X?

Your mileage may vary. I have a laptop that dual boots: 7hrs Ubuntu, 5.5hrs Windows.

Stupid question: Is the source code available yet?

The idea behind a single OS that works across devices is probably the single greatest thing that any company can do. Having said that, it's very difficult to set up an app framework that allows not only the OS maker but even developers to create a single application that works across devices. Kind of like media queries for native applications.

Finally a phone OS (other than iOS) where C is a first class citizen. Will be buying.

Will Canonical be in the firing line of Microsoft's lawyers in the same way as some manufacturers selling android phones are? Microsoft make $10 for every android phone. How will this be different?

I am sure it is not only Microsoft who is trolling them if they get any success on this.

I wonder what would make a non-Ubuntu OS user who does not care much about "open source" to choose this over Android.

It took this long for this to finally happen. This will hopefully spur other developers to follow in their footsteps.

The designers who created the Welcome Screen , kudos to you all , it looks awesome :)

I will be buying this phone. Period!

Why? The very reason why I use linux on my desktop and android just never gives you the same feeling of being differnt from the rest of the world.

If they get this to market, I'm in.

i think ios and android have very big marketing lets see what happen in ubantu os.

too many new OS in the market ... lets hope non/x-ubuntu users will like it.

It's amusing how mocked Apple's marketing is while still getting copied by huge companies.

At long last, a smartphone OS that isn't iOS and doesn't look like shit.

How about Android 4.x?

This does look very nice, much better than any variant of Android I've seen though the top of the 'welcome screen' (time/date) looks identical to iOS - same font, sizing, and arrangement.

The font they are using is called "Ubuntu" ("Ubuntu Light", to be exact, I think), which is fairly distinct from Apple's choice of Helvetica, even in the limited area of clock digits

You can type in some example times here to see:


oh man. do I have to pick up another language for another platform????

"Moai" look nice for game. http://getmoai.com/products/sdk/

HTML5 with canvas+javascript can be an other possibility.

(I do not the limits of these tools)

Mark Shuttleworth. I've seen your balls, and they are big and brassy!

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