Google's Android might need to look over its shoulder in 2013 as yet another Linux-based open source mobile operating system is coming to market. Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system, today announced Ubuntu for Phones.
The new effort will put Ubuntu into direct competition with Android, Firefox OS, Blackberry, iOS and other smartphone operating system vendors. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux, recognizes that with Ubuntu for Phones his company is entering perhaps its most audacious technology battle ever.
"This is a hotly contested segment and we're very mindful of the caliber, scale and capacity of some of the incumbents in the phone market," Shuttleworth said in a press briefing. "But we think our vision is somewhat unique and we think we have some real advantages in reaching developers who are a key audience and a source of allies for us."
The plan with Ubuntu for Phones is to extend the same operating system used on desktop, servers and TVs to the bare metal of a smartphone.
This isn't the first time that Shuttleworth has announced a mobile effort for Ubuntu. Last year, Ubuntu for Android was announced. With Ubuntu for Android, the Ubuntu OS and its applications can run in tandem with an Android smartphone. In contrast, Ubuntu for Phones is a bare metal operating system that will not require Android or its underlying Java architecture. To date, however, no device has shipped with Ubuntu for Android enabled.
Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical, remarked that Canonical does have partners for Ubuntu for Android. She added that she expected that technology to come to market at some point in 2013.
Shuttleworth noted that he expects that his company will continue to invest in Ubuntu for Android, even as it pushes forward on Ubuntu for Phones.
While Shuttleworth is not abandoning Android entirely, he isn't praising it either. When asked how Ubuntu for Phones will differentiate against Android, Shuttleworth did not lack a response. At the top of his list is openness.
"Ubuntu for Phones is more open than Android," Shuttleworth said.
Shuttleworth added that while the code for Android is open, the actual development roadmap is closed. In contrast, he noted that Ubuntu actively engages with developers through its development process.
The upcoming Ubuntu 13.04 operating system release, which is set for general availability in April of this year, will begin to include some of the same code from Ubuntu for Phones. The full availability of the Ubuntu for Phones platform, however, likely will not ship until the end of 2013 or early 2014.
The fact that Ubuntu has one core operating system for desktop, cloud and now phones is seen by Shuttleworth as being a key differentiator for his company.
"Ubuntu running on your phone is bit for bit, Ubuntu," Shuttleworth said. "If you dock your phone to a bigger piece of glass you get a tablet and if you connect it up to a mouse and a keyboard you can have a desktop."
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