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Summary:

Canonical has shown off the tablet UI for the touch-friendly Ubuntu, with many of the features pitched squarely at the corporate market. Whether it succeeds there depends on how Windows 8 fares in the enterprise.

Ubuntu tablet

Ubuntu for tablets is almost here. Canonical has just revealed details of the slate piece of its phone-tablet-PC-TV puzzle, and it’s largely about the enterprise.

Yes, Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux has run on tablets before, but the upcoming version is the first to be engineered specifically with touch in mind. The idea is to have one code base running across all screens (more on that later), and a developer preview will come out on Thursday that can be installed not only on Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, but also on the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus handsets.

We’ve already seen what the mobile version will look like, and now we know how it will look on tablets. In that form factor, it’s got several features worth mentioning, including voice-control for the heads-up display (HUD), multiple user accounts with full encryption, and the ability to multitask tablet and phone apps at the same time and on the same screen. The tablet can also be used as a thin client in the same way as an Ubuntu desktop can.

Here’s what Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth had to say in a statement, and a video too:

“Multi-tasking productivity meets elegance and rigorous security in our tablet experience… Our family of interfaces now scales across all screens, so your phone can provide tablet, PC and TV experiences when you dock it. That’s unique to Ubuntu and it’s the future of personal computing.”

Unified code

Now, about that single code base. Over the weekend, KDE developer Aaron Seigo launched what was by open-source standards a broadside against Canonical, accusing the London-based firm of “duping” developers by claiming to be using the same code for all versions, but not doing so in practice.

Canonical responded yesterday by insisting the code really would be one-size-fits-all when it’s complete. It went on to say this would hopefully happen by the end of this year, and that the first public release of “the full unified code base” would be in Ubuntu 14.04, in April 2014.

In other words, what you can install on your Nexus this week is far away from being being the finished product.

Enterprise focus

This is partly a consumer play, hence the TV iteration. However, the features Canonical mentioned today should appeal to enterprises, some of which are running Ubuntu on the server and, in the case of a few, on the desktop too.

In general, businesses currently use Microsoft on the desktop, with Apple’s iPad serving as the tablet of choice. If — and it’s a big if — Canonical can find manufacturers to actually make Ubuntu phones and tablets, the idea of developing once across all these form factors will be extremely attractive, particularly with a big question mark hanging over Windows 8’s place in the enterprise.

Of course, by spring 2014 there’s a good chance that Microsoft will have released an obligatory service pack (or ‘Blue’ release, or whatever it will be called) that clears up the OS’s various quirks, effectively giving corporate customers the all-clear to dive in. And it’s quite possible that Windows 8 will also prove to be the consumer success that Microsoft hopes it will be.

But if Windows 8’s enterprise appeal turns out to be more Vista than XP, business customers won’t have many familiar options to fall back on, leaving Canonical in a good position.

A lot can happen in a year.

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  1. I’ve been running Ubuntu Linux for about 6 years now. Most of time is spent on this desktop running 10.04LTS just because I like the UI better than Unity. I have a few updated machines running Unity, and it’s OK, but I just prefer the older UI. Many people feel the same way.

    I loaded Ubuntu tablet edition on a Nexus 7 just to try it out, and there’s a lot of things that make it not ready for prime time. The biggest problem is that, even though they compiled most of the packages available for X86 (I was really very surprised to see FLDIGI, a ham radio program, for example), most if not all of them were just straight recompilations, so very small fonts and UI more suited to a mouse than a touch screen. That will continue to be the biggest problem, and was the same problem Microsoft had when they released the tablet editions over the years. Apple’s genius was figuring out they had to forget the desktop and start over.

    1. Why don’t you just use Gmome3, with the “Classic” mode? it’s easy… Sudo apt-get install gnome-shell , install it, then on login, select “Gnome Classic”

      Anyway, the Ubuntu you can install on the Nexus 7 is NOT the same thing this post is about. The current one is the Ubuntu 12.04… the one this post is about, Ubuntu Touch, is completely redesigned, and is MADE for touch.

      Also, Canonical is asking app developers to write their apps in QT, that way it will look seamless across Ubuntu Phone, Ubuntu Tablet, Ubuntu Desktop, and possibly even Ubuntu TV.

  2. Ubuntu on tablet or phone … looks so good and with full Windows thin client support as well as enterprise account options and guest access for interfaces and data, account protection. Apple iOS looks so dated when compared to this and has no real multi-tasking or sandboxing of personal from work data.

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