As promised, Canonical released
installable versions of its upcoming "Ubuntu Touch" distribution for a small set
of devices on February 21. Your editor, being in possession of a
Galaxy Nexus phone just
waiting for an obscure firmware load, decided to give it a try. Running
Ubuntu on a telephone is an interesting and refreshing experience, but Canonical has quite
a bit of ground to cover before Ubuntu Touch will be competitive with the
other offerings on the market now.
Installing the firmware image is a relatively easy thing to do, especially
if one happens to have an Ubuntu desktop system sitting around. One simply
adds the "phablet-team/tools" repository, installs a few packages, plugs in
an (unlocked) device, then runs "phablet-flash". The operation failed with
a mysterious message on the first attempt, but the second worked fine. The
biggest negative effect (other than wiping all the data on the phone, which
was expected) is the lingering distaste that the term "phablet" leaves in
one's mouth. One can only hope that word will soon fade into well-deserved
The device boots fairly quickly into an Ubuntu-themed lock screen, shown on
the left. The "social" focus of the distribution is made clear by the
claim on the lock screen that 14 tweets have been received — interesting
news to your editor who had not yet informed the device about his Twitter
account. Indeed, he has yet to get around to creating a Twitter
account to tell the phone about. The lock screen, like much of this
release, is a mock-up, doomed to proclaim those 14 tweets forevermore. The
installed system also comes complete with fake messages, contacts, appointments, and
more; your editor initially thought that some data had leaked from a
developer's device, but that data's inclusion is deliberate. The hope is
to give a feel for what working with the device will be like when all the
expected functionality is present.
Getting out of the lock screen is not as obvious an operation as one might
expect the first time around. Ubuntu Touch is heavily based on "swipe"
gestures; a swipe from each edge of the screen yields a different result.
In the lock screen, swiping from the left produces a variant of the
familiar Unity icon bar; swiping from the right drops the phone into
whatever application was running when the lock screen took over. Swipes
from the right will switch applications when the lock screen is not
present; a swipe from the bottom will usually produce some sort of
application-specific screen (sometimes nothing happens at all), often with
a search bar in
it. The left-edge swipe gesture will normally cause the Unity bar to make a
brief, useless, and confusing appearance while the home screen array shows up.
Your editor says "array" because the home screen is actually five screens:
from left to right they are devoted to music, people (messages and
appointments), a "home home" screen with a mix of everything from "favorite
apps" to "videos popular online" (shown on the right), applications, and
videos. Yes, "music"
and "videos" are as far apart as possible, and, yes, those screens will
happily sell you stuff to listen to or watch. Or, at least, the video
screen will; the music screen is blank. How does one move between these
screens? By dragging them to the left or right, of course. One just has
to be careful to drag from somewhere other than the edge, or the phone
interprets the gesture as one of the above-described swipe operations
instead. Suffice to say it is easy to end up with the wrong operation.
At the top is a typical status/notification bar; swiping down from the top
edge provides access to the controls found underneath. There are several
sets of controls to be obtained this way, each behind one of the small
icons in the top bar. It is easy for a fat-fingered user to get the wrong
one, making the interface a little frustrating. Most of the controls are
relatively self-explanatory. The screen brightness control lives behind
the battery icon, which may be surprising to some.
On the subject of the battery: the device's battery life when running
Ubuntu is horrendous, on the order of a few hours. In a way, that is
surprising; Ubuntu is using the Android kernel for this device (actually,
amusingly, it's the CyanogenMod 3.0.31 kernel) so there should not be
significant power management problems at that level. The obvious
conclusion is that Ubuntu's user space is running the battery down.
Perhaps that user space is not well integrated with Android's wakelock
mechanism at this point; it is hard to say. Power consumption should be a
solvable problem, in any case.
In general, the Ubuntu Touch experience is rather unpolished at this point; there
are enough rough edges that one would be well advised to wear gloves while
working with the interface. The keyboard goes into an immortal mode where
only rebooting the device will make it go away; the fact that the keycaps
are always shown in upper case despite the keyboard's mode also makes it
harder to use. There is no word completion or spelling correction in this
release. The photo gallery has no "pinch zoom" feature. There appears to be
no provision for using the screen in the landscape orientation at all. A
number of the applications are false fronts; the weather application looks
nice, but only if one is interested in what was happening in Las Vegas on
January 8. The device is often sluggish in its response and gets
worse the longer it runs. And so on. But this is a preview image, it's
expected to be that way.
Does it function as a phone?
There is no signal strength indicator or any other sign that the phone is
on a cellular network. But, surprisingly enough, the phone function works,
in that the device can make and receive calls and send SMS messages. The
dialer is rudimentary but functional; it has some quirks, though, like the
decision that the dial pad and the mute button will not be accessible at
the same time. Mobile data does not work, though, but WiFi does.
There is no working Bluetooth functionality.
The camera application is also rudimentary, but it is able to take pictures.
The flash works, and the application can use the sensors on both the front and back of
the phone. There is a video-recording mode, but it does not work. There is no
provision for panoramic photos, "scene" modes, or any of the other fancy
features that have found their way into the Android camera in recent
times. There is a basic WebKit-based browser that works, along with a
GMail application; there is no provision for reading email hosted anywhere
else. There is no way to install third-party applications in this
preview; one assumes that capability will be well supported by the
time Ubuntu Touch becomes a real product.
Given that the system is running on an Android base, an obvious question
comes to mind: why not install the Dalvik runtime and support Android
applications? That would immediately bring a wide range of applications to
the device. No such feature exists now, though, and your editor would
guess that no such thing is forthcoming. Ubuntu may hope to make money
directly with its distribution for mobile devices, but, one suspects, it is
control over the application ecosystem that really brings the dollar signs
to Mark Shuttleworth's eyes. So, naturally, Canonical will want to remain
in control of media and application purchases so that it can get its cut.
The company's motivation is straightforward, but the result is a system
that cannot take advantage of all the mobile applications that already
One nice feature of running an Ubuntu-based distribution is
that there is a full Ubuntu command-line user space available. There is no
terminal emulator application on the device, but the Android adb
utility can be used to obtain a shell; after that, it is possible to
install and run an SSH server. The full Ubuntu repository is available;
the phone appeared to be happy to install Eclipse when asked, for example
(your editor, not being a total fool, canceled the operation). The X
Window System is included in the image, but, since the display is not
running X (it runs Android's SurfaceFlinger), X applications cannot be
run. In the end, though, having a full Linux system on the device is
refreshing; it feels more like home.
As of this writing, images for the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 phones are
available; there are also images for the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10
tablets. Canonical would clearly like to support a much wider range of
hardware, though, especially if it can get the community to help out with
the porting work. Developers interested in hacking on Ubuntu Touch on
other devices can consult the detailed porting guide. A quick
look at the work in
progress list suggests that a number of developers have already taken
up this challenge.
Ubuntu Touch is an ambitious move by Canonical. The mobile world is
already dominated by two established systems with other contenders (Tizen and Firefox OS,
for example) about to enter the fray. But it is also where a lot of the
interesting action is. If Ubuntu can be successful here, it may well bring
Linux to the "desktop" in a way that has proved elusive with traditional
computers. Getting there will require a lot of work, though. Patience
with half-finished products is not high in the consumer electronics world;
all of those rough edges and missing applications will need to be taken
care of before Ubuntu Touch can be presented as a real product. Only then
can the difficult task of convincing vendors to build hardware around this
distribution begin. But, if all that can be made to happen, Canonical
might just earn itself a place in this market.
Comments (6 posted)
In an alternative universe there is a version of Canonical using kickstarter to crowdsource funding for new concepts. The actor Jerry O'Connell has taken me there, and its an eerie sort of place, with Ubuntu branded electronics everywhere.
Oh, and other distros, with lots of lawyers, are distributing these
firmware images as a single package, so this needs to be resolved either
by realizing that our interpretation is incorrect, or that everyone is
-- Greg KH
Comments (none posted)
Wookey has announced the availability of the first version of the Debian
operating system that works on the 64-bit ARM architecture. "Enough
packages were built for arm64 to debootstrap an image which booted to a
prompt! After a bit of fettling (and switching to multistrap) I got an
image with all the packages configured which boots with upstart to a login
prompt (I admit, I did get quite excited about this, as it represents the
coming together of nearly 3 years work on multiarch, crossbuilding,
bootstrapping, cyclic dependencies and arm64).
" Most of us will have
to wait a while to try this image, though, since arm64 hardware is not yet
Full Story (comments: 14)
Debian has released the seventh update of its stable distribution
(6.0/squeeze). "This update mainly
adds corrections for security problems to the stable release, along with
a few adjustments for serious problems. Security advisories were already
published separately and are referenced where available.
Full Story (comments: none)
Mandriva SA has released
Business Server. "Mandriva Business Server is the new enterprise platform of Mandriva and has thus been developed with enhanced security and modularity “by design”. As a platform Mandriva Business Server ships with the Mandriva ServicePlace, an integrated app store allowing third party professional solutions to be tested and deployed on Mandriva Business Server.
Comments (none posted)
MINIX 3.2.1 has been released. See the release notes
details. "3.2.1 boasts significantly more polish again in terms of base-system expansion and cleanup, in areas such as userland utilities, libraries, the build system, but also drivers and kernel improvements, various performance improvements, and more.
Comments (54 posted)
Red Hat has announced
of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4. New features include
scale-out data access through pNFS, identity management tools, enhanced
interoperability, and more. See the release
Comments (none posted)
As promised, Canonical has released
binary images of its distribution for phones (Galaxy Nexus and
Nexus 4) and tablets (Nexus 7/10). "The Ubuntu Touch
Developer Preview is intended to be used for development and evaluation
purposes only. It does not provide all of the features and services of a
retail phone and cannot replace your current handset. This preview is the
first release of a very new and unfinished version of Ubuntu and it will
Comments (15 posted)
Newsletters and articles of interest
Comments (none posted)
Linux Insider has a favorable
. "Fuduntu gives you a frustration-free user experience on desktop computers, as well as laptops and netbooks, with up-to-date applications. This latest release even includes an installer for the beta of the Steam For Linux software distribution service.
Comments (1 posted)
at Manjaro Linux
user-friendly Arch Linux derivative. "For those on the more
experienced end, however, Manjaro offers extensive customizability to suit
personal taste and preference. In addition, there's also a minimalist
NET-Edition stripped of any preinstalled software that can be used as a
base installation on which to build your own system.
0.8.4 was released
Comments (none posted)
Page editor: Rebecca Sobol
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