back to article Hands-on with Ubuntu's rudimentary phone and tablet OS

Canonical says that Ubuntu 13.10 will include "a complete entry-level smartphone experience" when it ships in October. Anyone brave enough to try out the Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview, however, will quickly discover that the current incarnation of Ubuntu for phones and tablets offers considerably less than that. When it …


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  1. ricegf

    A diamond in the rough

    Ok, VERY rough. Lots to do in 8 months, but I'm looking forward to the first release!

  2. Lars Silver badge

    Re: A diamond in the rough

    "For now, the Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview is best seen as an experiment." just accept that. Of course they could have waited for a year with this experiment, but that is not, perhaps, how marketing works. I quite like the amount of activity going on regarding smartphones and I would very much like a situation when you bye the hardware you like and then decide what software you want to use on it. Wonder if I am thinking of something that has happened sometime earlier.

  3. FatGerman
    Thumb Down

    Re: A diamond in the rough

    It's a Canonical product, therefore it will *always* be of alpha quality. It's nice to see new concepts and new people doing stuff, but Canonical don't appear to understand the notion of testing or quality control so even if it did make it into a phone I'd predict a 90% returns rate.

  4. Robert E A Harvey

    but puzzling nonetheless

    Puzzling me, at any rate.

    I thought the whole point of using Linux was to re-purpose existing code, but this reads as though that is not happening. A Browser with only rendering & navigation sounds like it is being written from the ground up. Why? There are dozens of browsers for Linux. The TV image was announced last year. Has nothing liftable emerged from that.

    I can sort of see the idea of using dead icons as placeholders, but there are all those desktop widgets that could be under them for now.

    This sounds like something announced off the fag packet, not off a running prototype. I really, really, want it to be fantastic, but in 6 months? Scared now.

  5. Paul Shirley

    Re: but puzzling nonetheless

    It's seriously bizarre shipping even a demo/early preview with so few apps compiled for it.

    If Canonical couldn't tweak a few of its own desktop apps enough to throw in, it raises serious questions about the whole desktop/tablet/phone OS compatibility message. At the very least it hints they've dumped the current desktop API and expect everyone to start again, with something so immature they can't use it themselves. Or if we're lucky they just shipped a preview as soon as it could boot a slideshow and many months before it's ready for anything.

    Either way, this looks like a fscking stupid idea if they're trying to get app devs to jump aboard. I'd love to say Mozilla will do better but FF mobile has a bare addon store with bugger all compatibility with the desktop, so the same mistake being made there.

  6. keithpeter

    Re: but puzzling nonetheless

    "It's seriously bizarre shipping even a demo/early preview with so few apps compiled for it."

    Development out in public with archived mailing lists and stuff in the bug tracker sounds OK to me.

    Dummy content -> Canonical getting feedback on the UI as it evolves and reactions steering the design, again sounds fine to me, and consistent with the user testing driven development process that Canonical claim to follow.

    The test will be in the rate at which issues e.g. the on-screen keyboard get fixed. Onboard (see full-fat Unity) looks totally different.

    Interesting (and I say that as one who uses CentOS on the laptop, Ubuntu on the desktop, and has a blackberry).

  7. Admiral Grace Hopper

    Re: but puzzling nonetheless

    @Paul Shirley "It's seriously bizarre shipping even a demo/early preview with so few apps compiled for it.:

    Not at all, that's precisely how Microsoft used to operate in the 80s. Every bug-ridden partially-implemented application was a warning shot across the bows of everyone else that while they might be developing something, Microsoft have plans to do just that. All developers knew that somehow (gosh! how do they do that?) MS always got more performance out of DOS and/or WIndows than anyone else then the competition would be fierce and not necessarily fair.

    Not quite sure why Shuttleworth is doing this, that is odd, but there is precedent for the actual practice.

  8. Jason Hall

    Re: but puzzling nonetheless

    "Canonical getting feedback on the UI as it evolves and reactions steering the design"

    Ahahahahahahahahahhahaha that's funny.

    As if Canonical would listen to it's user base and make appropriate changes... ahahahahahahahaha!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Not how marketing works?

    Some, apparently expert at marketing, do a very good job by keeping everything pretty-much secret until the all-singing all-dancing product is ready to to go in all it's [alleged] glory. First impressions count.

    Anyway, this is an experiment, and I'm sure that anybody trying it will try it on that spirit. I doubt if it is for me ... I'll wait for for the Mint phone :). By the way, does the current Ubuntu phone work as ...a phone? Or doesn't that matter any longer?

  10. Ommerson

    Re: but puzzling nonetheless

    If canonical listened to its user-base, the default UI would be a console window. And apparently that's precisely the number one feature request when they did user-testing. I believe they added it too.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: A diamond in the rough


    How do we know it'll be a diamond?

    Glad I resisted the urge to try it.

    The most alarming part of this review:

    "Navigating the OS took some getting used to. Unlike Android, Ubuntu offers no dedicated buttons for things such as Settings or the Home screen."

    If Canonical decide to follow the same 'la la la la la we can't hear you' methods they deployed with Unity, this puppy will be DOA.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IT'S = IT IS


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Why Ubuntu on a phone? I just cannot see any benefits unless it can be like Android but without the slavishness to the Google God.

  14. Alfred

    Re: Why?

    From what I gather (or hope), the intent is that you will be able, should you choose, to hook it up to a proper sized monitor (and hopefully keyboard) and use it as you currently use a desktop PC. Android is essentially unworkable as a proper desktop get-something-done OS, but Ubuntu can still be used in such a way once you fight your way through the UI.

  15. Bush_rat

    High Hopes

    I have high hopes for this endeavour, I really do. This preview is most definitely nowhere near finished as a preview, let alone a phone! But if and when an Ubuntu phone/tablet makes its way to Oz, I'll happily buy it. Why? Because, as I'm sure many people have noticed, iOS adds about $5 to anything you could do for free on Linux, and I mean everything, for example there is no way to program in C locally on iOS, I know that very few people may ever want to do that, but its nice to be able to pick up any old device and just say "Gosh darned it, how do I use C#?" And get right into it.

    Perhaps my hopes are misplaced and my dreams folly, but gosh darned if I'm going to let Apple makes it 30% on something that should be free.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Re: High Hopes

    >"I have high hopes for this endeavour, I really do."

    I don't. I've found that Mozilla always carries out projects better than Canonical, so I would imagine that Firefox OS is the one that will make real inroads. And, hopefully, Mozilla will finally be emboldened to create their own desktop Linux distro - something I think they could have done better than anyone else over the past decade.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Re: High Hopes

    I would love to see Firefox mobile OS being pushed hard. It could be the only mobile OS that is commercial free in the future.

    I hope Ubuntu dies, and dies all together. However, Mozilla with a Linux distro? The world doesn't need another one, it could do without some it has. Of course anymore, having your own Linux distro is like having your own garden, cheaply sown.

    Stick with vanilla Debian!

  18. Bush_rat
    Thumb Up

    Re: High Hopes

    I also hope, and believe, that mozilla's OS will go well. I know I mentioned C, but my mother tounge is HTML. And I would love to have an OS that is as tinker friendly as Mozilla is suggesting.

    P.S Have an up vote for not being a dick and replying with a real argument, not the usual commentard crap.

  19. Robert E A Harvey

    Re: High Hopes

    I was right with you till

    > going to let Apple makes it 30% on something that should be free.

    If you'd said 'could be free', I'd have agreed 100%, but I have no objection to apple profiting from proprietary code they have written.

  20. Fibbles

    Re: High Hopes

    "I hope Ubuntu dies, and dies all together."


    I don't like it, therefore nobody else should be allowed to use it.

  21. localzuk
    Thumb Down

    Re: High Hopes

    @MyBackDoor - oh my, what a short memory you have. Remember back to the Linux world before Ubuntu. There was no Android. The idea of a user friendly experience was somewhat scoffed at by Linux devs - people should just edit the config files, its easy - was a common refrain. Remember things like wireless cards? How often was it people had to use ndiswrapper to get them to work? Ubuntu brought around the idea of "lets make things just work". Sure, the project itself didn't do all these things, but their drive to make their OS stable and useable encouraged other products to improve too. X11 is amazing now compared to what it used to be, for example.

    Debian, before Ubuntu? Great. Nearly unusable for the average computer user. Redhat/CentOS/Fedora? All entirely aimed at business users.

    So, Ubuntu, even though it has become somewhat odd in its 'maturity', has done a hell of a lot for the Linux community.

    Stick with vanilla Debian? Great. Go get your gran to use it. She'll have problems as soon as she tries to use BBC iPlayer. Or play a DVD.

    So, no, don't 'stick with vanilla Debian', use whatever distro suits your computer use and your way of doing things.

  22. Chemist

    Re: High Hopes

    "Remember back to the Linux world before Ubuntu."

    Certainly do - Installed my first Linux ~1995. I DON'T remember any particular need for editing config files after I moved to Suse and then OpenSUSE.

  23. Graham Dawson

    Re: High Hopes

    localzuk, I would hope, if you're installing an OS for your grandmother, that you'd have the plain good sense and courtesy to set it up so she could actually use it.

    All the things you pointed out will work on Debian if you set it up properly. Would you toss your grandmother into the cockpit of an aeroplane without flying lessons? Would you demand she cook you restaurant quality food without providing the proper ingredients and equipment? So why would you give her a debian install that wasn't configured with her needs in mind?

    Maybe you just hate your grandmother?

  24. Steven Raith

    Re: High Hopes

    Hi Chemist,

    I Tried Debian circa 2001, and had to manually setup my wireless cards, which then broke my network stack because i did it wrong. I gave up and went back to Win2000.

    I then came back to it with Umbongo Dapper Drake, and it all just worked, which gobsmacked me. At which point I stuck with it and have been using it daily since.

    A survey of one is not consistent with everyones experience, in both regards, but to dismiss Canonicals input is to be quite staggeringly idiotic.

    Canonical have, in the last five years, made Ubuntu usable to the degree that the average numpty in the street can use it - such as my brother, who cares not for...well, anything computer related.

    That's a massive leap for Linux, and anyone who denies that is a complete imbecile who has no concept of usability and stability.

    Steven R

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Raith - Re: High Hopes

    So why in this world you came back to Linux, Mr. Usability ? Windows was always better suited for you than Linux.

  26. Obvious Robert

    Re: @Steven Raith - High Hopes

    "So why in this world you came back to Linux, Mr. Usability ? Windows was always better suited for you than Linux."

    And what in this world is wrong with having options and choice? These days the average computer user can cope quite effectively with Windows, Mac OS and a Linux distro like Ubuntu, and that choice of vendors and systems can only be a good thing. Ubuntu existing doesn't preclude any other Linux distro existing, so what's the problem? If you want to put it all together yourself then you still can, but if you're one of the 99% who can't then it's essential to be given an alternative to the Windows/OS X desktop duopoly (I'm not at all sure that Chrome OS is any kind of real alternative, it's just a glorified browser isn't it...?)

  27. Chemist

    Re: High Hopes

    "Hi Chemist"

    I don't know what you are going on about - I didn't criticize or dismiss Ubuntu, I merely pointed out via the illustration of another distro that the problems were being sorted out across Linux. Ubuntu may well have been trivial to install but so was Suse

    I have Ubuntu in VMs and have installed Kubuntu on EEEPCs but I find the process no easier or harder than OpenSUSE.

  28. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: High Hopes

    I was an OS/2 and the eComStation user; when the writing was clearly on the wall for that I decided to try Linux. My first attempt was with Mandrake (or was it Mandriva?) which on install screwed up my HD so badly that I had to do a low level reformat and start from scratch with eCS. Linux did not go back. Then I read about Ubuntu 6.06, and gave it a try. Everything worked perfectly and I didn't reboot until a kernel upgrade three months later. OK, one user, one bad experience - but Ubuntu was what made me swap.

  29. Steve Knox Silver badge


    What's more, Ubuntu isn't the only Linux-based mobile OS on the horizon. The Mozilla Foundation is taking a stab at it with Firefox OS, and Samsung is backing Tizen.

    There's at least one other Linux-based mobile OS out there... If I could just remember its name... Golem? No, not quite right. Homunculus? No, colder... Robot! No, but it's something like that... lemme go Google it...

  30. This post has been deleted by its author

  31. GBL Initialiser

    Re: Also...

    The text you quoted says "on the horizon". I think there are already one or two mobiles running Android. Sherlock indeed.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Also...

    You think Android is "on the horizon"? Are you posting from 2008?

  33. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  34. Fibbles

    Re: God awful UI

    I suppose that depends what you mean by 'taste in GUI design'. As a graphic designer Microsoft and Canonical are near the top of my list in terms of good design whereas Apple still appears to be stuck in 2007, if that. If we're talking about usability however, I'd be inclined to partially agree with you as I don't get on with Metro or Unity in the real world. Saying that, I've also always found OSX to be a bit of a headache as well. Give me an easy to use old-fashioned WIMP any day, although preferably one with a colour scheme and icon set that wasn't chosen by a programmer.

  35. This post has been deleted by its author

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: stuck in 2007?

    Good design does not change or get outdated so fast ...which is why I use a desktop with general design principles for which, much as I hate them, I have to thank Microsoft, 1995.

    A hierarchic menu, panels, icons. The colours may change, the effects may change, but I don't see why the basic features and principles should not be working just as well in another twenty years, at least as far as the desktop system is concerned. Tablets, phones, and all things touchable are a different world, with different requirements and possibilities, and should be recognised as being different. I'm not about to demand a "start" menu on my phone.

  37. This post has been deleted by its author

  38. Fibbles

    Re: stuck in 2007?

    They're stuck in 2007 because they're still obsessed with skeuomorphism in their UI design. What that means is they're still attempting to make their UI look like it's made of real materials, such as menus that look as if they're made of brushed metal and icons of glass. It's looks very dated and it's got nothing to do with their menu layout.

    You're right that some good design is ageless. Some chairs and such from the 60's still look as good today as they did when they were first designed. Nobody is manufacturing or buying the things in their original beige or baby-puke green colours though. A well designed WIMP is also ageless, the dull greys of the 90's or the fake materials of the 2000's are not

  39. Martin 71 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: stuck in 2007?

    Thank you for being the one to notice that the emperor has no clothes, and that tablets are not the same as desktop computers. I wish you worked as a UI designer.

  40. Shagbag

    Not for everyone

    It's not going to be for everyone. There will always be people who don't like it and people who do.

  41. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Feels like the 80s

    With all these different groups working on competing smart phone operating systems, it feels a bit like the 8-bit home micro market in the 80s. The barrier to entry has dropped to a level where anyone can have a go - and lots are.

    I'm going to get my popcorn, sit back, and watch the show, because I think it's going to be a cracker.

  42. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    It's all very well seeing new OS for phones but...

    ...the issue of being locked in gets in the way. The issue is not dissimilar to PCs only being shipped with Windows (upsetting Eadon and co for example), only even more complex.

    With a PC it is generally straight forward to replace the OS. With smartphones, in spite of very similar architectures to each other, replacing the OS is near impossible for the man on the street. The manufacturers compound this by insisting that a specific handset is tied to an OS - look at HTC who offer a specific design for a Windows phone and another for Android.

    I'd like to see manufacturers offer a range of handsets from cheap to top end with a choice of OS and the ability to change the OS in a relatively simple manner. Obviously, you wouldn't get Apple on board, but it's in the interests of Microsoft as they haven't made the inroads they would like and it broadens their potential market, while it also opens the field to Linux derivatives who can enter the market place without needing to develop hardware. If the datamongers at Google are as open and nice as they claim, they too would be able to jump on board. Heck, even Blackberry might be able to clutch a straw.

    Now that's what I call an open architecture that might drive some innovation in an otherwise stagnant space.

    We can but wish. I see the porcine community donning jet packs as we speak....

  43. Pookietoo

    Re: With a PC it is generally straight forward to replace the OS

    You're really not up to speed on Secure Boot, are you?

  44. serendipity

    Re: With a PC it is generally straight forward to replace the OS

    Err, neither are you. You can turn it off, so its no barrier at all.

  45. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    Re: With a PC it is generally straight forward to replace the OS

    Err, neither are you. You can turn it off, so its no barrier at all.

    The problem is that you are not guaranteed to be able to switch it off.

  46. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    Re: With a PC it is generally straight forward to replace the OS

    "You're really not up to speed on Secure Boot, are you?"

    And you're still missing the point. I'm talking about breaking away from the old monolythic attitude that phone manyfacturers have of tying a particular hardware to particular OS. I'm not talking deep-dive technical, more philosophy. And besides, SecureBoot (if implemented properly) needn't be an impediment to this.

    But don't worry your pretty little head with such matters if it's all a little too conceptual for you.

  47. Ilgaz

    Its interface seems to impress Android scene

    I noticed someone shipped a launcher for Android resembling the interface of it. Seems to impress.

    It also means "unity" that desktop users hated is really optimized for touch. (win8 story again)

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When you phone someone up will it automatically connect to Amazon's switchboard where they will pass your call onto someone at premium rate prices?

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slow down professor

    What did you say? "The easiest way to install it is to follow Canonical's installation instructions"

    WTF? You're not writing for an IT pro blog, y'know.


  50. BleedinObvious

    Installed, uninstalled

    Ubuntu Phone stayed on my Nexus for almost an hour, I wanted to feel it running on my phone even though I was well-aware it was going to be mostly mockup, similar to what was demoed at CES last month.

    On a slightly related note, there was a nice analysis and comparison of upcoming phone OS contenders last week, covering the progress, teams, approaches, and industry support and tips for success for Ubuntu Phone, Tizen, Sailfish OS, Firefox OS, BB10


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