LINUX VENDOR Canonical will show off a Motorola Atrix 2 running its Ubuntu for Android Linux operating system to mobile phone vendors at Mobile World Congress (MWC).
Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution is arguably one of the most popular consumer friendly versions of Linux available, and the firm will tip up at MWC with a Motorola Atrix 2 smartphone that when placed in a dock can run a full-blown desktop Ubuntu Linux installation. According to the firm, smartphones will be able to ship with Ubuntu for Android this year.
Ubuntu for Android is a version of the Linux distribution that remains idle on an Android smartphone until it is plugged into a dock. Once it is plugged in, Ubuntu starts up, taking input from a keyboard and mouse and sending display output to a monitor.
Richard Collins, product manager at Canonical told The INQUIRER that the firm's choice of prototype device was simply to start a conversation with other handset makers. Collins said, "We don't have any relationship with Motorola with respect to this particular product, so we have independently selected that particular hardware because of its capabilities, particularly in terms of power and performance, and developed our own prototype for MWC to engage a number of handset manufacturers."
However Collins poured some cold-water over thoughts that Canonical has already got a fully working version of Ubuntu running on smartphones just yet. He said, "We haven't got an Ubuntu operating system running as a smartphone platform just yet, at the moment in terms of this particular prototype we are focused on what the hardware manufacturers current position is with the various silicon vendors they are working with on ARM."
According to Collins, "A number of Android OEMs have already been engaged and we have have discussions ongoing right now." However he wasn't able to give us specifics or a launch date, other than to say Canonical could meet a 2012 launch date.
Canonical's choice of Motorola's Atrix 2 is not that surprising. Motorola's device already has open-sourced Webtop, which is a cut-down version of Ubuntu. However Canonical's latest effort is meant to show a "full desktop operating system on a smartphone", said Collins, and one that isn't restricted to a Motorola device that few outside of the US can acquire.
Even though Collins said Canonical has worked with ARM for a long time, Ubuntu on ARM is something of an unknown. Intel's Medfield is aiming to bring the x86 architecture to smartphones, an architecture where Canonical's Linux distribution has a proven history, and Intel and its mobile phone OEMs could well take advantage of it.
Asked whether this familiarity will help Canonical, Collins said, "Our legacy in terms of the laptop environment is very much around hardware using Intel, and that can be leveraged to work with particular handset manufacturers that might have a strategy focused on x86 platforms." He continued, "Industry is evolving to potentially work with both ARM and Intel architectures and that is something from our point of view that is an advantage to us."
As for why Canonical chose to wait until now to launch its Ubuntu on Android effort, Collins pointed to the expected explosion of quad-core system-on-chip (SoC) processors from Nvidia and Qualcomm during 2012. Interestingly, processing power might not be the biggest issue, as handsets with Ubuntu for Android will have to store a full, albeit tightly packaged, version of Ubuntu along with Android itself, which Collins said will require 2GB of storage.
Most importantly, Collins claimed that while the smartphone was undocked and running Android, Ubuntu for Android will not use any power at all. It is expected that docks will have external power connectors, however in order for this concept to become popular a standard dock interface used by all mobile phone vendors will be required.
Although Canonical won't show a full-fledged installation of Ubuntu running on a smartphone at MWC, if the mobile phone OEMs do a good job of building Android Ubuntu devices, those could be useful for those who don't want to lug around desktop replacement laptops. µ