Tag Archives: ubuntu

Fossils don’t fit in the new mobile world

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Blackberry and Windows are the bedrock of the mobile world.

A year from now, this past week will be looked upon as the point when we shifted from one mobile operating system epoch to another. Two dinosaurs – Blackberry and Windows – appear irrecoverably stuck in a tar pit of tumbling market share and industry confidence, while two warm-blooded open source upstarts – Ubuntu Linux and Firefox – are walking tall.

Blackberry’s latest results show widening financial and subscriber losses. After CEO Thorsten Heins proclaimed “we are confident in the ongoing success of our transformation in the coming years,” the share price plummeted. The only question remaining for Wall Street analysts is exactly which hallucinogen he favors and where can they get some.

With Microsoft reduced to promising that the next version of Windows, due out this fall, will suck a lot less, Samsung unveiled a tablet that can run both it and Android. Just in case Steve Balmer nibbles a bad shroom the next time he trips through the Washington woods.

Mozilla and Canonical, on the other hand, talked this week about deals with major mobile carriers as, respectively, Firefox Mobile and Ubuntu Touch, move from development to implementation. The breakout for Firefox phones looks likely to happen in the spanish speaking world as Telefonica prepares to launch devices in its markets. Ubuntu isn’t nearly as far along, but several big European and all three major Korean carriers have joined an advisory group to prepare for its introduction in coming months.

Firefox, a light client that relies almost completely on server-side support, and Ubuntu Linux, which aims to be the single, unifying operating system for phones, tablets, computers, televisions and other consumer devices, are targeting the thick and thin ends of the spectrum. Android and iOS sit comfortably in the middle, leaving no room for twentieth century thunder lizards.

Based on Linux and orphaned by Nokia, Sailfish OS debuting on Jolla handset

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The first mobile phone based on the Sailfish operating system has been unveiled by Jolla, a company that splintered off of Nokia when it gave up on the MeeGo OS. It’s feature packed and is trying to differentiate itself by offering customizable backs for the fashion conscious.

So far, it fails to impress. I don’t see a killer sales proposition for the Jolla phone. Swappable backs are fine, but I doubt many people will cough up $500 because a phone is easy to accessorize. At this point, it looks like Jolla is promoting a software developers kit, not a ready for prime time consumer product.

If I’m reading the specs correctly, they’re not putting all their money on Sailfish – it’s Android compatible, at least up to a point. It’s probably possible for them to switch OSes if that looks like a good idea.

But I don’t know what the point would be without Sailfish. Jolla can’t expect to be anything other than a niche player, and creating a niche based on a novel operating system isn’t completely crazy. Just ask Blackberry.

The problem is that of the four alternative operating systems gaining traction this year, Sailfish has the weakest backing. Firefox has Mozilla and a huge ecosystem of developers, plus it’s heading in a new direction: maxmizing server side funtions and minimizing what happens on the device.

Like Sailfish, Tizen and Ubuntu are Linux implementations. But Samsung and Intel are behind Tizen, which means it’ll have enough resources to even out any bumps in the business plan. Ubuntu is a core Linux player, and there’s every reason to think it can maintain its default distro position as mobile processing power grows to the point where Linux “just works.”

Jolla and Sailfish are long shots. Not quite dead on arrival, but they’ll need to put something truly amazing on the table to survive.

Facebook is first brand into the mobile skin game

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Sometimes innovation only needs to be skin deep.

Facebook Home is a new kind of threat to Android and a new kind of opportunity for mobile entrepreneurs. It’s middleware that’s downloaded onto select – for now – smartphones and acts as the top skin of the user interface. Instead, for example, of seeing the standard lock screen, users see their Facebook feed, constantly updated.

Android apps are still there, if you dig down. But if you just go with the flow all you see is what Facebook pushes to you. Which doesn’t necessarily have to be your feed. It could be any digital service or app that Facebook – or you, presumably – wants to inject.

Facebook Home might push Google’s suite of apps and services to the back of the smartphone bus. Long term, though, it could make Android itself unnecessary.

A raft of alternative mobile phone operating systems has floated onto the market this year. Tizen, Firefox and Ubuntu are the chase group. There’s no high level technical reason Facebook Home couldn’t overlay those operating systems too, making the underlying OS irrelevant to end users.

To be fair, web browsers offer a contrary example. Twenty years ago the hope was Java applications would run inside browsers, rendering Microsoft and others irrelevant. Didn’t happen, but it did add a subtle seasoning of fear to the competitive stew.

Facebook is walking point on smartphone middleware, but there’s no particular reason it has a lock on the market. The Facebook brand is a friendly, mass market way to introduce the idea. Once consumers are over that conceptual hurdle – I don’t think it’ll take long – there’s no barrier to carriers, other social networks or, indeed, pretty much any other brand doing the same thing. (I’m assuming Facebook can’t patent the fundamental idea of skinning a mobile OS, but that might be a tall assumption in our litigious world.)

HTML5 was supposed to be the grand unifier of the smartphone OS universe, and it still could be. Branded middleware can do it today.

Mobile OS buzz for some, deafening silence for others

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Firefox hasn’t quite landed yet.

Firefox has sharpened the debate over prospects for HTML5. The open source, connectivity-centric mobile operating system developed by the Mozilla Foundation gained a lot of attention at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sceptical attention, mostly.

When the OS landscape is so thoroughly dominated by two superpowers – Apple and Google – it’s risky to bet on a challenger. Several mobile carriers expressed support, but manufacturers lagged behind. Geeksphone, a small Spanish company, had demo units to show at Barcelona, but missed its February ship date for SDKs. Nice words from LG and Sony amounted to taking out an option.

It’s a lightweight operating system that, like Google Chrome, is little more than a browser and depends on a live Internet connection for most of its functionality. The power is supposed to come from HTML5-based web services. The idea is to write an OS-agnostic app once in HTML5 and serve it to high end browsers running on any kind of mobile phone. So far though, practice has lagged behind promise. Firefox barely rose above novelty status last week.

Samsung was more forthcoming about its plans for Tizen, a Linux-derived open source OS. As predicted, it’ll replace the in-house Bada OS on future lower end smartphones. Ubuntu was on hand promoting its one OS to rule them all concept, essentially a repeat of its pitch at CES earlier this year.

Blackberry and Windows didn’t get much love at all, though. Microsoft put marketing money into the event but, viewed from outside anyway, didn’t rise above the background noise. Despite its loud and awkward relaunch in January, Blackberry was all but ignored.

It’ll be a while before we know if any of these alternatives have genuine traction. Significant consumer market product launches aren’t expected until the fall, which allows plenty of time for manufacturers and carriers to reverse course or accelerate ahead. For now, it’s still an Android and iOS world.

Dell’s consumer business plummets

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Apple delivers the buzz in Dell’s zone.

Dell’s fourth quarter 2012 financial results show a rapidly deteriorating presence in the consumer sector specifically and personal devices generally. Released this afternoon after Wall Street trading had closed for the day, the figures show a 24% decline in Dell’s consumer business and an overall decline of 20% in desktop and mobile device sales.

On the plus side, Dell says its networking sales are up 42%, its enterprise services business grew 6% and it’s seeing better PC results from large accounts – those numbers only dropped 7%.

Even though it’s still considered to be the one of three biggest PC makers in the world, founder Michael Dell saw the writing on the wall earlier this month. He announced his intention to buy back the company and take it private, eliminating the need for embarrassing quarterly reports and escaping immediate pressure from shareholders as he tries to figure out what to do.

It’s a tough spot to be in. Dell doesn’t have a sexy tablet or hot smart phones to offer consumers like Apple does, and that’s what they’re buying now. Its fading fortunes track with the troubles Microsoft is having with Windows, Dell’s operating system of choice.

Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth claims that 10% of the PCs sold worldwide last year came with Linux onboard, albeit as a installable option rather than the primary operating system. That’s the sea change that Michael Dell has to navigate. The PC market is shifting toward generic products, based on open source operating systems and applications. If Dell has a future, that’s where he’ll have to find it.

ubu

One OS to rule them all

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Built for ARM and x86 processors.

Ubuntu will be the next major player in mobile and desktop operating systems, if it delivers on its promise of releasing a fully integrated platform by April 2014.

Founder Mark Shuttleworth put the mobile version of the company's Linux distribution through its paces at the Pepcom event at CES 2013 tonight. Running on a Samsung Galaxy – for no particular reason except it's a convenient development platform, he said – Ubuntu did all the things you'd expect from Android or iOS.

His goal is to release a version of Ubuntu that works on literally any kind of platform: server, personal computer, tablet, mobile phone or television, on any kind of processor. One side benefit of adapting it to run on power and processing constrained mobile devices is that the big iron implementations become more efficient too. They're “totally cleaning” it, he said.

What Shuttleworth was really showing tonight was the smart phone interface they've developed. It looks as slick and user friendly as any Android implementation – in other words, the average user won't have a clue what operating system is installed. And doesn't need to care.

That's the key. Ubuntu, like other Linux variants, is open source and free to use. Making it the one OS that runs on any sort of device means it's an attractive platform for developers who want as broad a reach as possible and for manufacturers, who want to make devices in every category.

Ubuntu is the most popular version of Linux, according to Shuttleworth, who said that this year it will be installed on 10% of the computers shipped worldwide. That's a tall claim, but even so it might not be too far north of the truth by year's end. If Shuttleworth can stick to his deadline fifteen months from now, it'll just be the start.