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Ubuntu for Galaxy Nexus phones to arrive in February

Dev version for now, but first phones will ship in October

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Ubuntu main man Mark Shuttleworth says plans are on track to produce smartphones running a mobile variant of the Ubuntu Linux OS by October 2013, but developers should be able to start working with the platform even sooner.

A version of Ubuntu for smartphones that runs on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset is expected to be available for download in late February, Shuttleworth told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Why that 16-month-old device and not something else was not immediately clear, although the fact that the Galaxy Nexus was distributed as one of Google's unlocked "pure Android" flagship phones may have something to do with it.

There are also plenty of Galaxy Nexus handsets out there. By comparison, its successor, the Nexus 4, has been plagued by supply problems since it launched in November.

In January, Jane Silber of Canonical, the company that produces Ubuntu, explained that Ubuntu for phones would use the same device drivers as Android, which would eventually allow it to run on a wide range of Android devices.

Creating a version of the OS that can be loaded onto existing devices will only be the first step, however. Shuttleworth told the WSJ that Canonical definitely plans to partner with handset makers and carriers to deliver phones with Ubuntu pre-installed, though he declined to mention any names.

He also wouldn't say where Canonical might launch Ubuntu phones, but he did confirm that the company plans to have the devices available in "two large geographic markets" in October.

Chances are, however, that neither North America nor Europe will be among them – at least, not at first. Both of those markets are already heavily saturated with smartphones, with titans Apple and Samsung dominating the field with iOS and Android devices, respectively.

The real opportunity for alternative smartphone platforms lies in providing low-cost devices for the developing world. If Canonical knows what it's doing, it will likely follow the lead of the Mozilla Foundation, which plans to launch its open source Firefox OS mobile platform in Brazil later this year.

India is another booming potential market for smartphones, as is China, though entrenched local vendors could make it difficult to gain a foothold in the People's Republic.

But wherever Canonical chooses to launch its new OS, it won't be alone. Ubuntu and Firefox OS aren't even the only open source mobile platforms due to debut this year. Samsung says it plans to introduce "more than one" device running the Linux-based Tizen OS in 2013, and a group of former Nokia engineers are working on another alternative, called Sailfish.

What separates Ubuntu for phones from either of those efforts, however, is that Ubuntu phones will be able to dock with keyboards and monitors to become desktop workstations, allowing users to carry a single device that acts as both a PC and a phone.

On Tuesday, Shuttleworth said that the devices would even be able to stream Windows applications from corporate servers – but although such a thing certainly isn't unheard-of, he gave no details as to what technology would be used to achieve it on Ubuntu phones.

No further details were forthcoming, including whether the version of Ubuntu for phones that will arrive in February will ship with accompanying developer tools, or whether it will require special tools to install.

If you're interested in finding out more about Ubuntu for phones, however, you can register on Canonical's website to receive updates as more news emerges. ®

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