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Ubuntu Linux shop reveals 'TV for human beings'

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CES 2012 Canonical is pitching a TV-of-the-future concept maximising its touch-based Linux distro and Ubuntu cloud.

The Ubuntu shop used the spotlight of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Monday to preview Ubuntu TV, a project percolating inside Canonical that received a shot of publicity late last year from Mark Shuttleworth.

The idea behind Ubuntu TV, Canonical says, is to deliver TV as it was intended: no cables, boxes or hassles.

Canonical director of communications Gerry Car blogged here: "The goal is to uncomplicate television for the average viewer while delivering to him or her all the services and options that they are becoming used to."

Ubuntu had been closely associated with PCs and servers – although Canonical last year moved into cloud services with the launch of its Ubuntu One service.

Canonical's old rallying cry had been "Linux for human beings". The motto for Ubuntu TV is "TV for human beings".

The Ubuntu TV idea shadows and extends developments in the fusion of TV, computing and web. It also creates the Ubuntu media cloud – with Ubuntu One as the "web hub" of everything.

We're told Ubuntu TV will give users the ability to pause and watch programmes on different TVs and other devices, like smartphones.

The enabler for this appears to be Ubuntu One, Canonical's cloud storage and data-synching service, which currently allows you to stream music and access content on different devices. You can currently stream tunes in Ubuntu One to iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Following in Apple and Google's footsteps

The goal is to go beyond music, and to woo TV and film content providers to the Canonical stable, as Microsoft has achieved with the Xbox 360 and as Apple has done with iTunes and Apple TV. Google, too, is pushing into TVs – running Android on sets that merge film and TV with web-based content and online surfing.

Through Ubuntu One, you'll be able to view photos and other files stored online and will be able to download apps for your TV via the Ubuntu Software Center.

Everything - TV, Blu-ray or web - will be controlled via a single, Ubuntu-powered handset or device, according to Canonical. We are promised the device will also have the ability to search, record and play programmes from different cable and satellite providers, too.

Everything will be played and displayed using the Ubuntu Unity interface, while Ubuntu TV will support ARM and x86 chip sets.

Concept is one thing, but there’s plenty of hard work ahead before the dream can be delivered. While Ubuntu talks of making TV better for humans, the TV site that it has thrown up with Monday's news firmly reaches out to hardware and content partners and invites people to contact Canonical.

Canonical needs TV- and device-makers to build TVs with Ubuntu embedded; on the content side, it must attract broadcasters, satellite, cable and studio partners who can stuff their programming down Ubuntu's tubes.

On hardware, Canonical has a foot in the door with Dell. The software and hardware companies worked closely together to put Ubuntu on Dell's PCs and servers. Dell also happens to make media centres and flat-screen HDTVs.

Such partners won't get Ubuntu TV for free, however, even though the Ubuntu source code is licensed for free, without charge under the GPL. Companies licensing an Ubuntu-branded commercial device will have to pay a per-unit price covering engineering, maintenance, quality assurance, third-party licensing and consulting costs, Canonical said.

"Canonical shares post-purchase services revenue from the sale of content, applications and subscriptions through Ubuntu TV products with OEMs and distribution/channel partners," the company said.

On media, meanwhile, Canonical's only partner right now is 7Digital, which provides the warehouse and shop that underpins the Ubuntu One music store. 7Digial, in turn, boasts relationships with the major music studios with download stores in 37 countries and a licensed catalogue of more than 17 million MP3 tracks.

Mark Shuttleworth has long sought to beat Steve Jobs’ Apple on the look and features of the desktop with his Linux distro; at times, with his cropped hair and stubble, Shuttleworth has even passed for Jobs in person. Now, to go beyond music on Ubuntu One, he’ll have to actually emulate Jobs by getting film and TV companies to buy into his company's TV platform. ®

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