Android vs. Ubuntu – An open letter to Mark Shuttleworth

Posted on August 19, 2011

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Dear Mr. Shuttleworth,

The news of Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s mobile business is a potential game changer for the mobile computing market.  The reasons Google made this purchase were obvious; they needed an arsenal of patents to fight the illegitimate battles of the patent wars to protect Android.  As I have described in my previous post, these wars are an unfair and obtrusive burden on the entire tech industry, preventing innovation and bogging down our legal system.  It’s too bad Google had to do this.  I must admit I feel bad for their position.  There may also have been the incentive to prevent fragmentation of the Android landscape by gaining more control of Android implementation.  This incentive would have been secondary at best given the threat of the current law suits.

The speculation has already begun that Google’s ownership of Motorola will push other phone and tablet manufacturers away from Android.  There was a reason that Microsoft never entered the retail computer market with its own desktop PC.  Just as Pepsi’s ownership of fast food companies Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC caused many companies like Wendy’s to reconsider promoting the business of another fast food competitor, Samsung, HTC and LG are now going to re-look at their commitments to the Android platform.  With options like MeeGo, webOS and GridOS immediately available, there will not be much investment needed to port another operating system to many of their current phones.

It already runs on a tablet. When can I see it on my Smartphone?

What many Linux fans would love to see is an actual Linux desktop ported to a Smartphone.  We can already buy a tablet with Ubuntu.  I’ve heard they aren’t too bad.  But, personally, I still see the tablet as the worst of both worlds.  It is basically as bulky as my netbook and has the ability to run the same programs that my phone can run.  With the exception of an actual Ubuntu tablet I suppose.  (Although I would still like to see a demonstration of how well Matlab runs on an Ubuntu tablet.  I always thought I was so cool to be able to run Matlab on my Linux netbook.  Such are geeks.)

It seems Canonical’s mobile strategy has been to enter through the back door, i.e. tablets.  Many mobile computing users are not going to use a true Linux mobile device if it can only be found on a tablet.  Mark, you must know that we are waiting for it.  The Ubuntu Smartphone.  You have obviously been preparing for it.  The iconified Unity desktop has obviously been custom made for mobile.  We have already seen that many Android Smartphones can be rooted and then forced to run Ubuntu.  Not that it works great.  But it is possible.

Many Android users are accustom to rooting their phone and flashing it with another ROM.  The vendor supplied versions of Android are made to be defective by design with restrictions and removal of features.  So we are almost always looking for alternatives.  You could promote Ubuntu directly to Android phone users.  “How would you like to try a better operating system on your Android phone?”  That would get the Smartphone manufacturers’ attention.

Of course there is work to be done.  You will probably need to run it on an altered kernel.  You will need to develop the appropriate interface changes and … oh yes, I almost forgot … it needs to be able to make a phone call.

But if there ever was a time to invest that extra amount of capital into Canonical and the Ubuntu platform it is now!  The mobile computing field suddenly looks more fluid than ever.  Canonical is well positioned to jump in and offer another alternative.  But there needs to be a bit of a push.  I hope you see the same opportunity that I do.  If you can make it happen, we might actually have some real freedom in the mobile software platform.

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