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Ubuntu to Offer Smartphone Operating Software

The software looks cool, but will need handset maker support to succeed.
January 3, 2013

Canonical, the company behind Linux-based open-source operating system Ubuntu, will offer a smartphone version of Ubuntu that allows a handset to function as a PC when docked, it said Wednesday.

The new software appears to make even broader use of swipes and gestures than Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems do. A video posted by Ubuntu on YouTube shows a user sliding a finger slightly to the right on the screen of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone running Ubuntu to pull up an applicaton launcher. Sliding a finger slightly down from the top of the screen summons a universal search function and indicators about battery life, date and time, new messages and more. Switching between apps is achieved by swiping from right to left on the screen, and the home screen can be accessed from within an app by swiping hard from left to right.

In order to use the device as a PC (a feature only planned for high-end smartphones running the operating system), users will have to dock it with a keyboard, screen, and mouse.

The announcement isn’t Ubuntu’s first in the smartphone space. Last year, Canonical announced Ubuntu for Android, which, in a similar vein, is intended to allow users to run a full Ubuntu desktop on high-end Android smartphones when connected to a computer screen, mouse, and keyboard.

Canonical said in a statement that it expects enterprise customers will be drawn to its upcoming Ubuntu phone software, but if it’s as good-looking and easy-to-use as it appears in demo videos, consumers weary of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android could be clamoring for it, too.

However, you’ll have to wait a while to stroll into a store and buy a phone with Ubuntu installed. While devices will be shown off at CES in Las Vegas this month, Engadget was told by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth (video) that the phones will be available late this year or early next year, and no mention has been made of which smartphone makers–if any–have agreed to install the software onto their phones. Those willing to experiment could get a taste earlier, though. Engadget also reports that a version of Ubuntu for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone will be available to download “with the next few weeks.”

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