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Canonical puts Ubuntu on Android smartphones

  • Ubuntu on Android desktop
  • Ubuntu for Android
  • Ubuntu for Android

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 21 Feb 2012 at 17:00

Canonical has revealed Ubuntu for Android, a dual-OS concept that allows a smartphone to be used as a desktop when docked.

Ubuntu for Android features a full version of the open source desktop OS working alongside Google's mobile OS.

When the phone is being used as a smartphone, it runs Android. When it's docked into a laptop or a desktop setup, it automatically switches to Ubuntu, without user input or a restart.

"You've got your phone, you get to work, you just slip it in and you've got an Ubuntu desktop with the same contacts, same photos, same files and same network configurations," Canonical CEO Jane Silber told PC Pro.

It's not an application on Android - it's full Ubuntu, running alongside Android

"It's not an application on Android - it's full Ubuntu, running alongside Android," Silber said. "Which operating system takes over the phone is context sensitive."

Two OSes on one phone

Project manager Richard Collins demonstrated the system to PC Pro using a Motorola Atrix 2 - an Android smartphone that docks into a laptop body.

With Ubuntu for Android, files and applications are shared between the two OSes. For example, calls and text messages can be sent and received via Ubuntu in desktop mode.

When in docked mode, Ubuntu fully syncs email, displays Wi-Fi and other connectivity just as a phone would - including offering 3G access should you want it - and pulls in Android contacts, music and apps.

Android continues to run in the background, with everything kept synchronised. For example, if you're typing up an email in Ubuntu, but have to leave, picking up the phone from the dock will bring the message up in Android, allowing you to continue composing.

Ubuntu for Android

The demo handset was running Android 2.3, but Collins said it works with any subsequent version of Android. Because the OSes are held separately, updating one doesn't negatively affect the other. "We haven't customised Android at all, that's stock Android," Silber explained. "Updates to Android shouldn't affect it at all."

Because both OSes are Linux, integration is relatively easy. "It's a Linux solution for a Linux smartphone platform," said Collins. "Other than Android, we're interested in any smartphone platform that's Linux based as well, it's just that Android is the biggest one by a long-shot right now."

To work, handsets need to be dual-core, offer at least 1GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM, and support HDMI - fairly standard specs for higher-end modern smartphones.

Business focus

While Silber said the system could also support smart TVs - showing off the same phone running Ubuntu TV on a monitor - it's initially targeted at PCs and laptops.

"We think the main use case is for the converged device, of a laptop and smartphone converging, and in the enterprise for the mobile worker," she said.

The system integrates with Ubuntu One, Canonical's cloud storage and syncing tool, and also supports thin client solutions from VMware and Citrix, Collins added.

"In terms of a fully-fledged enterprise solution, if there's a thin-client environment that's something that works very, very well with this solution," Collins said.

However, the move is clearly part of Canonical's plans to move Ubuntu onto smartphones and tablets, following the release of Ubuntu TV earlier this year.

Silber said Ubuntu for Android would be released under an open source license, but that Canonical expects it to mostly be pre-installed on specific hardware.

"We'll want to optimise for certain hardware profiles and chips," she said. "It simply wouldn't be the same experience on a downloaded install."

Silber said the company was already in talks with some manufacturers, and Canonical will be showing off the system at Mobile World Congress in the hope of finding more handset makers to sign on. There's no launch date yet, but the software is ready to go, she said.

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User comments

This... this is genius!

By Mark_Thompson on 21 Feb 2012

This sounds great. Hope to hear more about it on today’s podcast.

By Mark_D on 22 Feb 2012

Sorry, having difficulty understanding why

I could conceive of reasons to change the OS from Android to Ubuntu, but why run it alongside other than to be able to say "It's Ubuntu!"

It doesn't give me any more memory. I assume it is running the same kernel, otherwise you would likely have to reboot every time you took it out of or put it into the dock. Same kernel = same drivers. I already have access to Ubuntu One w/ Android. Android already has access to thin clients from Citrix and Wyse.

What do I gain?

By akpenguin on 22 Feb 2012

@akpenguin

I was wondering the same thing. It appears to be a solution looking for a problem.

By tirons1 on 22 Feb 2012

why not just build an ubuntu phone os to start with instead of an Android OS.Maybe call it 'Mystic Mermaid'

By Jaberwocky on 22 Feb 2012

Free alternative - lets you use any OS not just Ubuntu

There's already a solution called PocketVM for iPhone/iPad and Android that lets you carry Windows, Linux or other full desktop OSes on your phone or tablet with you.

Demo video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXlkCOsuHE8

By dan_fonleap on 22 Feb 2012

Isn't the point of it to replace your desktop machine? Or for the more mobile user their laptop. You don't need another machine to work on or from, utilising thin clients, because your desktop is on your phone, just dock it and get going.

If both OSes use the same data then there is also no need to perform syncs between devices as you only have the one. Obviously this won't suit everyone but office/email/net users it would. Just think of the savings companies could make in only using one device.

As phones get quicker and have more storage space the possibilities are quite something. Interest times if they can do it right.

By richierace on 22 Feb 2012

The point is not to replace your desktop OS. Its just to improve compatibility between the two or three devices, so if you run Ubuntu on your desktop you can also carry around some of your work on your mobile version.
The phone's own screen size (and power to some extent) is what limits it from being used for long and intensive work.

I think its a great step forward and being available dual boot will allow users a chance to play with it in their free time until they feel comfortable to switch permanently.

Well done Canonical.

By nicomo on 22 Feb 2012

High-end smartphones replace laptops for some users

In the right context, this is bound to be a success. There's more at http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android

By blueleaf on 23 Feb 2012

I couldn't agree more

This sounds like the beginning of truly portable computing.
Eventually all we'll need are large monitors (VR goggle/projected screens?) and power supplies, then you'll be able to work wherever.
Probably won't even need a dedicated keyboard & mouse thanks to voice commands and speech to text dictation, and the phone already has a touch screen which can be used as a virtual mouse (and keyboard) – meaning no more international confusion either

It's a promising start. Well done!

By RemyS3 on 23 Feb 2012

Stolen Idea

This has been done by http://alwaysinnovating.com/ The company actually have four OS running on their netbook that could be coverted to Laptop and Desktop. Shame that someone is claiming this as original invention.

God blesses!!!

Best regards,
Sanyaade

By sanyaade on 23 Feb 2012

Why Ubuntu Classic Desktop went

No wonder Ubuntu went Micky Mouse

By Jimmysboy on 23 Feb 2012

How about Android Tablets?

Not withstanding the interesting remarks made by others about alternative products. The oblique reference to its use with tablets is also interesting; the Samsung 10.2 for example

By pjsashley on 23 Feb 2012

Typing slip

Sorry just incremented the Samsung screen by 0.1, should read 10.1

By pjsashley on 23 Feb 2012

I couldn't agree more

This sounds like the beginning of truly portable computing.
Eventually all we'll need are large monitors (VR goggle/projected screens?) and power supplies, then you'll be able to work wherever.
Probably won't even need a dedicated keyboard & mouse thanks to voice commands and speech to text dictation, and the phone already has a touch screen which can be used as a virtual mouse (and keyboard) – meaning no more international confusion either

It's a promising start. Well done!

By RemyS3 on 23 Feb 2012

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