Ubuntu smartphone OS: Does it have viable business use?

Reviews 3 Jan, 2013

We take a look at the Ubuntu smartphone OS, which will be available for Nexus handsets, and ask if it has the potential to be used in the business environment.

Verdict: 
Although visually appealing, the Ubuntu OS will not gain any significant traction in the market until it has strong backing from an OEM and a vast ecosystem. Even with these in place, it will be hard to catchup to Android and iOS in terms of brand appeal.

Canonical has unveiled plans to launch an Ubuntu smartphone OS. But in a world dominated by Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8, will it be able to offer the functionality that users are accustom to?

We take a look at some of the key features of the operating system, which will be based on the Linux kernel.

Why use Ubuntu on a smartphone?

According to Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical, the firm expects smartphones running Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market. The vision is that businesses will be able to provision employees with a single smartphone that will also be able to dock and be used as a PC. Canonical claims the thin-client capabilities will allow users to access legacy applications on Ubuntu, such as the Microsoft Office suite.

It’s an interesting concept, but with businesses increasingly setting up BYOD policies and many employees opting for Android or iOS devices, Ubuntu is not going to be an overnight sensation.

Installation

Upon launch the OS is only likely to be used by developers and enthusiasts who have multiple devices to hand.

As Canonical is yet to partner up with an OEM to release an official device, the firm will make the Ubuntu OS available to download. Initially, users will require an Android device to run the OS in the form of the Galaxy Nexus.

This may seem ideal for those who want to take the OS for a test run, but there is a major sticking point at this time. The Ubuntu OS will lack dual-booting functionality so installing it will wipe Android from the device, including apps.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and VP of products at Canonical told IT Pro that a dual-booting functionality “was not a priority” and hopes this will be something the developer community will address.

Code for use on other devices is also be expected to be made available. The minimum specifications to use the OS will be as follows:

Apps

There will be just five native applications available at launch - but the Ubuntu OS will also work with web-apps. Shuttleworth told IT Pro that using an emulator to port over Android apps would send the wrong message to developers. He also noted that no operating system would flourish using apps from another source. Although he has a point, the lack of apps still a major weakness.