Ubuntu for Android: Canonical brings Ubuntu desktop to docked smartphones

Ubuntu logoCanonical has announced a new product called Ubuntu for Android that will bring the popular Linux distribution to high-end Android smartphones. The product consists of a complete Ubuntu desktop experience that is intended to be installed on the device alongside the standard Android environment.

Users will be able to run Ubuntu from their phone when they plug the device into a dock that connects to a keyboard and monitor. The underlying concept is similar to that of the WebTop environment that Motorola ships on the Atrix handset and other devices.

The new Ubuntu variant runs on top of the Android kernel and is designed to work well on devices with dual-core ARM CPUs. Unlike Motorola's Ubuntu-based WebTop environment, Ubuntu for Android brings a much more complete desktop stack with a number of popular applications. It also provides more comprehensive integration with the Android environment on the user's phone.

The default application stack includes the Chromium Web browser, the Thunderbird e-mail client, the Gwibber social networking program, the VLC video player, and a selection of other software. The environment includes a unified contact system that will make the user's Android address book fully accessible in the Ubuntu environment. It can also detect the social network accounts that the user has configured in Android and automatically enable them in Gwibber.

Ubuntu for Android is capable of using the Android phone's connectivity, including 3G and 4G network access. Canonical touts Ubuntu for Android as a potential way for network carriers to drive adoption of 4G handsets. The company also says that Ubuntu for Android is easy for hardware manufacturers to integrate into Android devices. Much like Motorola's docking solution, Ubuntu for Android requires devices with HDMI and microUSB outputs.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth discussed the new product in a blog entry on Tuesday morning, noting that the company will be demonstrating it at the Mobile World Congress event next week. He also said that the Ubuntu TV environment is part of Ubuntu for Android, which presumably means that it will provide a full media center experience when it is plugged into a television.

"Carry just the phone, and connect it to any monitor to get a full Ubuntu desktop with all the native apps you want, running on the same device at the same time as Android. Magic. Everything important is shared across the desktop and the phone in real time," Shuttleworth wrote. "It just works, the way Ubuntu should. Lots of work behind the scenes to make both systems share what they need to share, but the desktop is a no-compromise desktop."

It's important to note that this product is distinct from the Ubuntu mobile operating system that Canonical plans to deliver in 2014. The company is still working to create its own complete mobile platform that will compete with Android.

When we reviewed the Motorola Atrix WebTop experience last year, we were impressed with the concept but felt that the significant limitations of the desktop software environment undermined its value to consumers. Canonical's approach, which will bring a more complete and flexible software stack, might work much better in practice.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Android, Linux, Ubuntu

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