Ubuntu's Tablet Ambition: Doomed to Fail: Page 2

Ubuntu's dreams of being a player in the tablet market appear to be destined to fail.
Posted November 14, 2011

Matt Hartley

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Unfortunately, Ubuntu as it stands today is a Linux distribution offering applications best suited for a desktop user experience. Unless Canonical has a massive magic trick up their sleeve that I'm not aware of, their efforts are going to flop hard, especially without access to applications designed for tablet users.

Android on top of Ubuntu

I believe that the people behind Ubuntu aren't fools by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, it stands to reason that the developers behind Ubuntu fully intend to offer a way to run Android applications in Ubuntu itself.

Sound unlikely? It is possible and it has been done before. Using an Android virtual machine called Alien Dalvik, one could actually run Android software on just about anything.

So why is this important? Simple – because without Android apps, Ubuntu on the tablet is dead on arrival. This isn't a reflection of the great desktop applications offered for Linux users, rather how poorly most of these applications translate into use for tablet users.

Android solves this issue by allowing use of existing tablet-ready applications. All the Ubuntu developers need to do is make them accessible on the upcoming Ubuntu powered tablets.

Netbooks aren't dead yet

Setting aside all the interesting potential of seeing Android applications on an Ubuntu-powered tablet, I happen to believe that Ubuntu on the netbook shouldn't be written off completely. Despite the apparent sex appeal of using tablets to replace netbook computers, tablets are horrid for most computing tasks.

I own an iPad and I use it to watch video and play games. For "real work" however, I find myself drawn to my netbook running Linux.

Why the separation of work and play? Outside very specific venues where a tablet might replace pen and paper for note taking, I've yet to find a way to make it feel as natural to use as a netbook.

Another advantage to using my netbook is that I can choose my Linux distribution. Not only that, but if I need to replace a battery or run desktop OS-compatible software, my netbook handles this need very easily.

The iPad and other tablets I've tested don't even come close to this. Even the most "open" tablets out there present what amounts to a walled garden preventing me from having the kind of access I want to the device.

Lastly, there's the issue of trying to tap the screen to interact with a tablet. Even with a keyboard in use, the tablets I've used still need me to "tap" the screen. I find this immensely distracting.

While it might be that my brain is stubbornly wired to using a computer mouse, the larger issue is that tapping a tablet to make something happen is just not effective for someone who is trying to get their work done.

If Ubuntu has a way to solve that problem in the near future, then that Linux distribution may find its edge over Android.

Enjoying both worlds

Despite finding myself in the minority with my affinity for netbooks over tablet computers, it is entirely possible that Canonical has a few tricks up their sleeve to make sure that the tablet-ready apps are ready to go when Ubuntu 14.04 rolls out down the road. Whether this is done with Android applications or instead by competing with Android, isn't all that clear yet.

Looking back at Ubuntu history as a whole, though, I believe that the Ubuntu developers realize that in order for Ubuntu to succeed, apps are the single biggest focus that must be tackled. Looking at the competitors to Android and iOS, they all share one big issue – a lack of compelling applications to attract users.

Worse yet, because of the lack of users, there are not enough developers interested in creating new and exciting apps for these platforms.

If one thing is ultimately clear, it's that Ubuntu will indeed have to embrace Android applications. Even more critical than that, Ubuntu developers will also need to find a way to clearly show what the advantages to using an Ubuntu tablet OS will be over using Android proper.

While examples like the Kindle Fire have shown us that an Android tablet can indeed be a smashing success, I am willing to bet that by the time Ubuntu makes its way into the tablet space, it may already be too late.

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Tags: Linux, iPad, Ubuntu, tablet PC

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