Today, Canonical introduced a concept it’s calling Ubuntu for Android, though that’s not necessarily the name that’ll be adopted by manufacturers who pick up on it. The company envisions a single, ARM-based smartphone that will run both Android and Ubuntu Linux.
Devices using Ubuntu for Android would work just like any other Android smartphones when a user is on the go. But when they’re back at home or in the office, users would connect the phone to an external monitor via a docking accessory, or to a TV set via an HDMI port. Once they do, they’d gain access to a complete Ubuntu desktop, presumably with heavyweight applications (LibreOffice, GIMP, you name it) for content creation.
As the video embedded below suggests, Android and Ubuntu share a common file system: There’s no need for syncing software or data via the cloud. Therefore, you, not some corporation, can keep sole custody of whatever you create, should that be your desire.
According to Canonical, Ubuntu for Android will make it a cinch to work with a common set of photos, contact information, and documents using either the Unity desktop interface or the standard Android UI. And you’re not limited to desktop apps while you’re sitting at your desk; Android software may still be run within a window.
I especially like the way configuration — such as settings for Wi-Fi networks — can be done via either Android control panels or desktop dialogs.
Desktop Linux advocate Steven Vaughan-Nichols seems unenthusiastic about the idea. In a Feb. 21 blog posting, he wrote:
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.
In an earlier blog post, Vaughan-Nichols raised doubt that Canonical can actually deliver on its many recently announced plans for Linux. That’s as may be — but personally, I believe that Ubuntu for Android could be the best thing to happen to desktop Linux ever. It could free us all from having to carry, or at least manage, multiple devices, and would mean that at long last a smartphone really is a PC replacement.
Of course, observers believe that Microsoft is in the process of migrating Windows Phone from its present-day Windows CE core to the same codebase as the upcoming ARM version of Windows 8. If that’s true, Windows phones could eventually be able to convert into PCs the same way Ubuntu for Android devices would.
But, while a Microsoft’s Feb. 8 blog posting regarding Windows on ARM promised “File Explorer, Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop, and most other intrinsic Windows desktop features,” there’s no guarantee these would be included in a future phone-specific version. Redmond prefers to emphasize “Metro-style” applications, because they’re inherently cross-platform (x68 and ARM, that is), and because they’re trendy.
Dumbed-down, millennial-friendly apps are great: I love them on my iPad. But for those who do real work (think Photoshop, not Instagram) a full-featured, desktop-oriented operating environment remains a must.