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Mobile Linux OSs line up for 2013

Canonical unveils smartphone version of Ubuntu, while Samsung expected to debut first Tizen handsets soon


Published: 3 January, 2013


The new year will see a new generation of mobile operating systems emerging from the labs, all Linux-based but sporting clearer open source and cloud-based credentials than Android. Desktop Linux major Canonical kicked off the trend with the launch of the mobile version of Ubuntu, while the first handsets running Tizen - the heir to the doomed Nokia/Intel project MeeGo - and Mozilla's Firefox Mobile are on the horizon.

Canonical announced the smartphone version of Ubuntu, with two releases, one targeted at superphones and the other at entry level models - the latter a sector where it will meet Mozilla, which is aiming to build a base around deals with carriers, notably Telefonica, for emerging markets and new smartphone users.

Ubuntu OS is compatible across phone, PC and connected TV devices, all sporting the same user interface and full PC capabilities for mobile gadgets when docked - a concept which has created significant interest recently, though it has struggled to enter the mainstream through experiments likes Motorola's Lapdock and Webtop.

Canonical will target its OS at handset vendors, operators and chipmakers and claims it eases the task of building phones by providing engineering services to offload the complexity of maintaining multiple code bases. For silicon vendors, Ubuntu is compatible with a typical Android Board Support Package (BSP).

It also promises a rich, immersive experience, even on low end smartphones, via its UI. Features include 'edge magic' - thumb gestures from all four edges of the screen can be used to find content and switch apps; global search; and voice commands.

However, although Ubuntu naturally belongs to the trend towards cloud services, it supports native apps as well as HTML5, and is initially focused heavily on its traditional corporate strongholds.

"We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions. Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability" said CEO Jane Silber in a statement.

Like Mozilla, it also sees opportunities at the low end, where iOS has limited reach and there is still room, among first-time smartphone buyers, to score over Android and Nokia. Silber added: "We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation."

Meanwhile, Samsung and NTT Docomo are the big names backing Tizen, an open source project created from the merger of two largely failed mobile Linux platforms - Nokia/Intel's MeeGo, and the operator driven LiMO. Both these foundered on lack of really hefty support from major players, but Tizen may fare better if it fits into Samsung's supposed ambitions of creating its own ecosystem to act as a counterweight to Android's power. The Korean giant is widely expected to merge its own OS, bada, into Tizen, creating a common developer base which would also bring the existing installed base of the bada Wave range.

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