Canonical unveils Ubuntu for Tablets

February 20, 2013 | 10:52

Tags: #mark-shuttleworth #nexus-7

Companies: #canonical #ubuntu

Canonical has confirmed its plans to make the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system a true multi-device platform, announcing the launch of Ubuntu for Tablets alongside Ubuntu for Phones.

The latter was announced early last month, but has yet to materialise in the form of developer preview builds - something Canonical has promised to rectify by the end of the month. The first preview builds of Ubuntu for Tablets, meanwhile, will be released tomorrow for owners of Google's Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets who fancy trying something other than the stock Android software with which they ship.

Like Ubuntu for Phones, Ubuntu for Tablets is part of Canonical's grand vision of turning mobile devices into fully-fledged computers. Based on the same Linux kernel as its desktop and server Ubuntu operating system, the mobile-centric editions include a tweaked version of the company's already touch-centric Unity user interface. While it retains the iconic dock to the left-hand side of the screen, the tablet version of Unity also includes a feature dubbed Side Stage which allows two apps to run side-by-side - a web browser and an email client, for example - by positioning a larger tablet-centric application next to a smaller application designed for smartphone displays.

As with the desktop version of Ubuntu, Ubuntu for Tablets supports multiple user accounts and can use encryption to keep each user's files and settings separate from the other users - something Google's Android has only just introduced in Android 4.2 'Jelly Bean,' and at that only for tablets thanks to a patent on using the system with smartphone devices.

As with Ubuntu for Phones, Ubuntu for Tablets is part of Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth's vision to do away with the desktop altogether: connecting a keyboard, mouse and monitor to an Ubuntu-based portable device turns it into a fully-fledged ARM-based desktop machine capable of running at high output resolutions and doing anything a 'real' Ubuntu desktop can - albeit somewhat more slowly, thanks to the typical difference in performance between a battery-powered ARM processor and a high-power x86 desktop chip.

With Canonical's other projects taken into consideration, the company's plans are clear: to turn its spin-off of Debian Linux, created in response to user disatisfaction with the slow release rate of that project, into a one-size-fits all operating system running on smartphones, tablets, PCs, servers, embedded devices and even smart TVs. If that sound familiar, it should: Apple has done much the same, sharing the core kernel of its operating system between its OS X desktop and iOS laptop OS, while Microsoft is busy attempting to consolidate all its various platforms - desktop, server, tablet, phone and games console - with a unified user experience.

If you're curious as to what Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth had to say about Ubuntu for Tablets, check out the announcement video below. If you're keen to get your hands on a unit, better think about buying a Nexus device to hack yourself: while Shuttleworth has confirmed a partnership with a major manufacturer, he has not yet provided a launch date for phones or tablets with Ubuntu pre-loaded.

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