As of yet, there's no word on what smartphones running the Ubuntu OS will look like, hardware-wise. But Canonical -- the tech startup which drives much of Ubuntu's development and looks for ways to exploit it commercially -- just recently posted its guidelines for the look and feel of Ubuntu on smartphones.
These reveal its plan to make Ubuntu distinct from existing OSes like Android, and to help educate app developers and designers … like the ones Canonical is soliciting to help make 12 core, "community created" apps.
What is Ubuntu?
Once known as "Linux for human beings," Ubuntu is a partly community-developed operating system, which started out as a "distro" of Linux. It's since evolved to become its own thing, however, with a design reminiscent of the Mac OS but a handful of its own touches. The Ubuntu Software Center has thousands of free apps and many paid ones, including games from EA.
Thanks to its Linux roots and large community of volunteers, much of Ubuntu's programming code and many of its most popular apps are open-source. Contributors to its core "Unity" interface have to sign away all rights to their work, however, including the right to keep it open-source in the future should Canonical decide to use more restrictive licensing. Meanwhile, Canonical's version of iCloud, called Ubuntu One, is a proprietary (closed-source) online service.
What will the Ubuntu phones be like?
The recently announced Ubuntu smartphones are being designed so that apps use the entire screen, and rely on gestures to bring up menus and notifications as necessary. The Ubuntu Design website diagrams how a swipe from the top brings down "Settings and system services," much like on Android. But Android's home, menu, and back buttons are replaced by swipes from the other three sides of the screen, keeping it clean and uncluttered until something is needed.
The rest of the site has guidelines on topics from how to use the Ubuntu font, to how to lay out an Ubuntu app. The designs are visually striking, and very different from how Android and iOS apps usually work, but are also meant to be easily learned by Ubuntu phone owners. Canonical is soliciting unpaid community guidance to help it design 12 core apps based on these guidelines, which will ship on the first wave of Ubuntu phones.
When will the Ubuntu phones be available?
They will be on display at Mobile World Conference later in February, and will be available for sale in October according to the Wall Street Journal's Michael Hickins. Whether or not they'll make it to the States by then is still an open question.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
- Technology & Electronics