LINUX DISTRIBUTOR Canonical has signed a deal with a chip vendor to work on optimising its Ubuntu Linux operating system for specific smartphone silicon.
Canonical, which is busy adapting its popular Ubuntu Linux distribution for smartphones and tablets, is in talks with mobile operators to carry devices installed with its operating system. However Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said that a chip vendor approached Canonical and the two firms will be optimising silicon and software.
Shuttleworth said, "A very large supplier of silicon to the mobile industry has said they will commit to Ubuntu and optimise Ubuntu on their silicon. So that will become a very deep relationship that will both accelerate both specific areas of the platform in location, in telephony areas where we don't bring a great deal of historical expertise and it has also catalysed the manufacturing sector, OEMs and ODMs, and given them the confidence to say they stand ready to make Ubuntu devices."
Although Shuttleworth wouldn't disclose which chip vendor has signed up he said an announcement will be made after Mobile World Congress (MWC). He said that Canonical isn't courting chip vendors, but instead it is focusing on getting support from carriers. He said of the chip vendor relationship, "It has been a very significant step forward and somewhat unexpected."
Shuttleworth later said that the firm won't focus on the support of a single chip vendor, a strategy that Microsoft has adopted with its Windows Phone operating system. Instead he said that silicon diversity will eventually occur but did admit that the firm to be announced after MWC will have a head start.
He said, "Over time you can expect the story to generalise, other manufacturers will be able to step up and optimise the platform for their own silicon and we will have a broader footprint in the industry as we build out that story."
Shuttleworth also outlined Canonical's short term deployment plans, suggesting that the firm will try to iterate both software and hardware quickly. He said, "What we're very focused on is the pathway to a successful launch and I think it would be a distraction for us to have too much diversity at the silicon level for our first two devices."
He indicated that diversity will come in time, saying, "Clearly, once we have launched and we are able to get rapid iterations and feedback from devices in the field in particular markets, we can broaden our engagement both in terms of carriers and silicon and manufacturers and so on."
For now, however, Canonical plans to bracket the market with two initial devices. Shuttleworth said, "But our current plan is to work on a low-end and high-end device and to have those devices essentially manufactured by one or two manufacturing partner and under their own brand or carrier brand, and then take those into market."
Although the Linux kernel has no problem running on ARMv7 chips, as shown by Google's Android operating system, Canonical's ability to work with a chip vendor to optimise Ubuntu smartphones could be a boon for both the software vendor and carriers. Apple has shown the advantages of heavily optimising chip designs to make use of the operating system and if done well Ubuntu for smartphones and tablets could get away with cheaper, lower specification hardware.
Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution is initially slated to work on existing Samsung Galaxy Nexus and LG Nexus 4 handsets, however more devices with the operating system are expected early next year as devices go through carrier testing and achieve regulatory certifications. µ
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