Linux enthusiasts have dreamed of a world where Linux is the dominant desktop so much that it’s become a running joke in the community. Canonical’s new mobile Ubuntu (News - Alert) offerings may actually make the dream a reality.
Canonical, the United Kingdom-based company that develops the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution showed off Ubuntu Touch running on smartphones and tablets at Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) in Barcelona, Spain. It’s expected to become available in devices next year, though developers and people who like to live on the “bleeding edge” can download a developer preview now.
The move is indicative of a shift from the traditional GNU and Linux-based infrastructure toward an Android (News - Alert)-based system. Android itself is based on a modified version of the Linux kernel.
Blogger Soltesza wrote that it is “a brilliant idea.”
One obstacle hampering Linux’s adoption on mainstream desktops has been its reliance on the X Window System for graphics. Developed in the 1980s, it was very technically innovative and came complete with network transparency or the ability to run a program on one machine across a network and have its windows appear on another machine.
The lack of a standard user interface has lead to a proliferation of differing window managers, toolkits and desktop environments, a stark contrast to the consistency that users of Windows and the Macintosh operating system have come to expect.
The Linux community has been abuzz for the past several years about the Wayland compositor, which arranges windows on screen and allows for effects such as transparency. An analysis of Ubuntu touch has found that it’s running SurfaceFlinger as the compositor. SurfaceFlinger is the compositor developer by Google (News - Alert) that’s used for Android devices.
The use of the Android infrastructure will make porting applications between Ubuntu and Android easier. Canonical has already shown Android applications running alongside Ubuntu applications side-by-side in Ubuntu Touch.
The ability for current tablets to use keyboards and mice can effectively transform them into full-fledged PCs, and the next version of Android is rumored to contain a desktop environment. This would reduce the appeal of traditional Linux desktops as more people shift from PCs to tablets. Canonical’s move is thus an attempt to secure its survival, Soltesza noted.
“I think this is a good strategy since it brings Linux desktop applications to commodity Android hardware,” Soltesza wrote. “Personally, I don’t care what backend services allow my applications to run as long as they do it efficiently and without (many) bugs.”