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.”
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.
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.