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Ubuntu's Shuttleworth embraces tablet terror: Our PC biz will survive, too

Linux man's roadmap munches tab, phone, PC, TV

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Ubuntu spaceman Mark Shuttleworth is embracing the full horror of tablets and smartphones, calculating they’ll do little harm to his Linux distro’s PC business.

Shuttleworth yesterday announced a fondleslab-friendly Ubuntu interface for tabs ahead of next week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). The first tabs running the UI will be the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 - the Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview for the kit will be available from tomorrow, 21 February.

Next up - smartphones. The Ubuntu Phone dev preview is also out tomorrow on Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 smartphones. Both tab and phone previews will be available on developer.ubuntu.com and the company will also be pushing out daily updates for devs. Shuttleworth and co plan to release Ubuntu 13.10 in October along with a "full smartphone experience" - the smartphone UI the South African first announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.

The first actual smartphones are expected in October from early adopters or hackers, but actual retail availability won’t happen until 2014 – once carrier testing on the "smartphone experience" has been completed and phones have been certified as healthy for use on networks.

Shuttleworth claimed Ubuntu is in talks with “top carriers” in North America, Europe and China to run devices installed with Ubuntu.

One code to rule them all

The focus then switches to Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, slated for release next year. This will run exactly the same code and binaries for tablets, smartphones, TVs and PCs, with the machine’s screen re-orienting depending on how you dock or set up.

Hardware players are falling into line, according to Shuttleworth on a Tuesday call with press. During the call, the Ubuntu daddy claimed a “very large” supplier of Silicon in mobile had committed to optimising its hardware to Ubuntu. Details were promised in the wake of MWC.

“That will become a deep relationship that will accelerate adoption in telephony and localization,” Shuttleworth told press. “That has given OEMs and ODMs – given them the confidence to announce Ubuntu devices.”

You can do only so much with hardware, and Shuttleworth is targeting app developers who - it is hoped – can work some Apple and Android magic and make Ubuntu devices actually worth buying for the consumer or business user.

The third smartphone ecosystem

He promised application portability via HTML5 and full support for PhoneGap and “other” cross-platform frameworks. Shuttleworth has two targets: Android and Blackberry devs. But while Shuttleworth says he’s ready to share the love he does want devs to commit to Ubuntu – not take it as some second-best. Android devs will find it “very easy” to push their apps to Ubuntu via the Software Center, but: “We won’t make it by default, we only want devs who will target Ubuntu, but we will make it easy for them to do that.” On Blackberry, the space tourist said: “What we have invested in is closely aligned with core technologies inside BlackBerry.”

In a way, Ubuntu’s making a play to become the third smartphone ecosystem - against Android and Apple. However, Ubuntu must contend with several challengers in the open source smartphone space - not just Android. These include Firefox OS, Tizen and Sailfish – sirens who could tempt open-sourcers who are interested in mobile and fed up with Android.

The Reg asked Shuttleworth what Ubuntu has to offer devs but the spaceman dodged the question on his call. Earlier, though, he’d reckoned on the raw sex appeal of being first to offer write-once-run on your TV, phone, PC and tablet with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS when it ships early next year. “We see strong signs that other companies will head in that direction over time, but we are excited to be ahead of them,” he said.

Which brings us back to "the horror".

Ubuntu’s first success was a Linux distro on the PC, but it’s a matter of record that PC sales are tumbling - hurting the results of PC giants and forcing Dell to go private.

There’s no reliable stats on Ubuntu’s PC market share – Canonical last year had claimed on its website something like one in five PCs run Ubuntu or ship with Ubuntu. That claim since seems to have disappeared from Canonical’s site. Vice president of sales and business development Chris Kenyon late last year reckoned Ubuntu would account for 9 per cent of PC shipments next by next year.

Surely the decline of the PC has to hurt Ubuntu and by extension Canonical?

Shuttleworth dismissed the idea that the PC is dead, preferring to say that the industry is re-adjusting to a world of keyboard and touchy tabs.

“Tablets aren’t killing the PC – it’s a phase change,” Shuttleworth said. “The first tabs running the UI will the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 that’ll feature a developer preview from Thursday.

“We just don’t see a world where nobody uses the keyboard anymore,” Shuttleworth said.

"We are positioning ourselves to take a tablet and connect to it and get value from each of these things – it’s not like a tablet is beating you over the head.

“The growth in terms of IEMs to ship Ubuntu in volume is outstripping the [rate that the] PC industry [is] shrinking,” he said. “PC partners are saying we need to promote this thing – I don’t have to go around the corner to buy a banned copy of Windows to make it work.” ®

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