back to article Ubuntu for Android: Penguins peck at Nokia's core problem

Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop might be remembered as the Thomas Watson of our time, based on his remark you don't need quad-core processors for smartphones. "You don't need a quad-core phone unless you want to keep your hands warm in your pocket,” said the Yankee CEO brought in to re-float the Finnish ship. If we’re …


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                  1. dogged

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: obsolete single-core

                    Yes, the first batch (reportedly, I haven't got one and don't work for Nokia or MS so I can;t state with certainty) had shitty battery life. It was apparently an implementation thing. Later batches don't have the issue (also reportedly).

                    We can all be snide, you know. If I went looking, I expect I could battery-draining reports on some early or shoddy Android implementations. Or exploding iPhone batteries. But that wouldn't do anything except make both of us look like we're trying to score cheap points instead of discuss the issue, would it?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: obsolete single-core

                  > I thought this was about shoddy OS implementation driving ever hungrier chips.

                  No, nothing at all to do with Windows...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Richard Plinston

            "With multi-core then some cores can be completely turned off while the one remaining can be put to idle. With a quad-core, instead of 50-60% saving, you could get 75% plus 50-60% of 25%."

            Sorry but I need more explanation. Hypothetical example of single core 1GHz and quad core 1GHz CPUs. So scaling a single core to 100MHz vs. scaling a single core to 100MHz and three cores totally shut down. Yay, a larger percentage saving for the quad core but the same net result?

            1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

              Re: @Richard Plinston

              > Hypothetical example of single core 1GHz and quad core 1GHz

              I wouldn't put you in charge of design, then.

              Typically a comparison may be made between dual core 800MHz vs 1.4Ghz single core. These would give approx the same level of performance on an OS that could multi-task effectively.

              A quad core could have 3 x 800MHz and one, say, 400MHz. This would outperform both of the above and by shutting down the 3x800 and idling the 400 could use less battery when idle than either. When required it could switch on one, two or three of the faster ones as required so it need not use more battery than the above even when running.

              How hard is that ?

        1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: obsolete single-core

          > Why the HELL is making phone chips more powerful and more thirsty regarded as a good thing? Why would I want to buy more expensive hardware in order to make up for the failings of a crufty and poorly optimized OS?

          > In my little word, software needing more powerful horsepower is a bad thing. Your mileage clearly varies.

          You are not being specific about which OS you refer to as "needing more horsepower" and "failings of a crufty and poorly optimized OS".

          However, it seems that the Nokia 800 is basically an N9 with the screen resolution reduced (to fit WP7) and the 'horsepower' increased from 1GHz to 1.4GHz. So perhaps this is what you are referring to.

          1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

            Re: N9/Lumia

            " it seems that the Nokia 800 is basically an N9 with..."

            Don't be fooled by the similar enclosures: the N9 runs off a Ti OMAP system-on-chip; the Lumia 800 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon design. The camera modules are the same, but that's about it.

            My 2c on Elop's original point: he said "quad-core", not "dual-core", and he's probably right. Also, he said "right now", and the lifetime of a mobile phone is shorter than that of a PC or laptop. A dual-core system using ARM's big-LITTLE architecture is far more suitable for phones than the current designs using symmetrical CPUs. Once you go to two cores, you've made the best gain: after that, it's diminishing returns as you still have to power the idle cores.

            And Android devices are not "more capable of using better hardware" than other OSes. As a fact, Symbian and iOS both support multiple CPUs. It is only Android that NEEDS such high performance hardware to achieve acceptable user experience. If you run an interpreted runtime, you will always use more CPU power for a given task than the same program written with the a native instruction set. Just cos it's nice and smooth on your dual-core >1.5 GHz phone with buckets of RAM doesn't mean that it's an efficient OS: you may as well call a Range Rover a sportscar because it has a good 0-60 time.

            1. Ian Yates

              Re: Re: N9/Lumia

              "Android that NEEDS such high performance hardware to achieve acceptable user experience"

              Is this from your experience or just repeating what others have said?

              I ask, because my HTC Desire (running 2.3.3) is single-core and I have it under-clocked to 800MHz so that the battery will last ~2 days. I chose 800MHz because I couldn't notice any difference to the default 1GHz (apart from some games that I don't play).

              I could post a screenshot from CPU Master, but that wouldn't prove that user experience, so unfortunately you're going to have to take my word at face value.

              I can't comment on WP7, having never used it, but the drive for more powerful, higher-core chips in Android phones seems to me to be around mobile gaming, since this is a big-money area versus iOS.

            2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

              Re: Re: N9/Lumia

              > he said "quad-core", not "dual-core"

              Elop has to tread a fine line. Current WP7 is limited to single core, but the next iteration 'SuperPhone' and WOA (and by implication WP8) will _require_ dual core by directive from Microsoft.

              > If you run an interpreted runtime

              Dalvik isn't an 'interpreter', it is a byte code VM. Just like C# on WP7.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Re: Re: N9/Lumia

                Sorry, but a 'byte code VM' is just the name for a specific kind of interpreter. Both Dalvik and C# *are* interpreted runtimes: the interpreter converts the bytes codes used by CIL or Dalvik into native machine code for execution. The only difference between this and a tokenised BASIC interpreter is that the instruction tokens being interpreted represent lower level operations.

                WP7 at least has the advantage in that it doesn't try do do all the OS's heavy lifting in this kind of an environment.

                1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: N9/Lumia

                  > WP7 at least has the advantage in that it doesn't try do do all the OS's heavy lifting in this kind of an environment.

                  You are confused.

                  Android's OS is Linux, written in C, plus a small amount of assembler, compiled to machine code. Most of the middleware and core libraries is also from Linux and is written in C and compiled to machine code.

                  Dalvik is a framework and VM for running apps, it doesn't do the "OS heavy lifting". It also has a JIT compiler which then means that it is not 'interpreting'.

                  It is also possible to develop in other lanuages for, or on, Android such as C/C++, Python, Lua and others.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Right direction

    Right now there's not much point, if you want a "full computer" somewhere you can just bring your laptop, now that MacBook Airs (and similar) are more or less tablet-size.

    But imagine a nice wireless standard for monitors and speakers... some kind of wireless HDMI... and a world where all phones and TVs support it (in hotel rooms, etc.). Then you just check into a hotel and you can start using the TV as a monitor, add a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and BAM instant desktop experience anywhere you go without having to carry a laptop.

    I suppose you can get this more or less if you carry around an HDMI cable for your phone, plus a bluetooth keyboard mouse... just not as convenient.

    1. Kwac

      Re: Right direction

      Sounds like a Raspberry Pi.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Sounds like a Raspberry"

        It's been noticed.

        Adding the RF and getting the telco permissions might be tricky, but it's an indicator of what can be done with very little space and very few milliwatts and even fewer dollars in the right circumstances.

        All being well, the Raspberries should be leaving China this week. Should be an overnight sensation fairly soon afterwards.

  2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    you don't need quad-core processors for smartphones.

    Elop's comment is right up there with "640Kb is enough for everybody".

    Of course the 640Kb was a limit for MS-DOS on PC (IBM PC actually set the limit, MS-DOS could run to 1Mb). The single core is a limit for WP7 because:

    a) it doesn't multitask effectively (more like TSRs on MS-DOS).

    b) It wouldn't use more cores, it can't.

    What Elop fails to understand is that, with an effective multi-tasking system (such as Linux) that can use multiple cores, when it goes into power-saving mode it can completely switch off cores and then slow down the one remaining. This means that it can reduce battery drainage due to CPU by around 90% rather than 50 or 60% for a single core.

    WOA apparently _requires_ dual core at least, but that seems to be to ensure that the GUI can continue to work when a process runs wild and chews all the cycles it can get,

    This indicates that current Nokia WP7 phones will not run WOA or WP8 and so will be obsolete at the end of the year. That is if they are not already obsolete.

    1. Goat Jam

      640K is enough for anyone

      "Of course the 640Kb was a limit for MS-DOS on PC (IBM PC actually set the limit, MS-DOS could run to 1Mb)."


      The 640KB limit was originally due to the 20 bit address bus of the original 8086.

      20 bits gives you 1MB (not Mb). Now some of that address space is required for things like the BIOS ROM, buffers, screen memory and IO so during the hurried design of the IBM PC the IBM beardies declared that there would be a maximum of 640KB available as general RAM, the rest being reserved for the system.

      When DOS was ported over to the PC (from qDOS which was originally written for Z80), they essentially designed it based on the assumption that the 640KB limit defined by the hardware platform was going to be there forever.

      Indeed, the first PC only came with 64KB, so 640KB probably seemed an enormous amount of RAM back then.

      This is the genesis of the (probable) urban myth where Bill Gates allegedly states that "640K should be enough for anyone".

      Hmmm, now I feel the need for a trip down <ahem> "memory lane".

      It wasn't long before the 640K limit became overly restrictive and during those early days a few schemes were devised to work around the limitation.

      First, utilities appeared that allowed you to find and "recover" unused portions of the reserved area and these extra crumbs were referred to as "high memory"

      .. continued ..

      1. Goat Jam

        Then "expanded memory" (EMS) came along. This was a hardware memory expansion board that used a special software driver to swap memory from the memory board into the "High Memory Area (HMA) where it could then be used by a CPU operating in "Real mode" (aka DOS mode).

        When "protected mode" arrived with the 80286 (along with an expanded address bus), "extended memory" (XMS) was introduced. XMS used a software driver to temporarily switch from real mode to protected mode in order to access physical memory above the 1MB ceiling. XMS didn't require a special hardware memory board.

        Later drivers were introduced that emulated EMS in XMS without the special hardware although by then most people were using XMS unless they had an application that for some reason required EMS.

        Oh, I remember the days when you had multiple config.sys and autoexec.bat files to load up just the right driver profile (usually to make some game work properly) like it were only yesterday. I honestly think I spent more time tuning those files than I did actually playing the games but there was occasionally that special thrill you got when you managed to eek out another 16KB of RAM! Yeah baby!

        These days it's just another entry in my list of "complicated geeky things I have learnt that is now totally useless except for boring people during a nostalgia trip on an Internet forum."

        That said though, happy days they were, although looking back that entire memory model was really just a huge shit fight most of the time.

        I certainly wouldn't want to go back there.

      2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: 640K is enough for anyone

        > 20 bits gives you 1MB (not Mb).

        Exactly, and I have some 8086, 8088 and even an 80186 machines here where almost the whole 1megabyte is available for the OS and programs.

        > Now some of that address space is required for things like the BIOS ROM, buffers, screen memory and IO so during the

        hurried design of the IBM PC the IBM beardies declared that there would be a maximum of 640KB available as general RAM, the rest being reserved for the system.

        The original 5150 'A' Model only had address lines for 256Kb no matter how many 16Kb or 64Kb memory cards you could stuff into it. The 'B' model (which I have here) did allow memory to grow to 640Kb if you could afford the cards and could find enough slots (such as with an expansion cabinet).

        Other machines had other limits. I have a Sharp PC that has around 900Kb with the BIOS and screen buffers above that.

        > (from qDOS which was originally written for Z80)

        I don't know where you got that from. QDOS was based on CP/M and was written (some say cloned*) to support the 8086 S100 cards that SCP were starting to produce for their Zebra S100 systems. There was no need, nor any utility, in having it written for Z80 as SCP were a full OEM for DRI's CP/M.

        * At the time there were so called 'source code decompilers' for CP/M (and other) which output annotated 8085 source from the CP/M BDOS. In fact all the annotations and source were coded in the 'decompiler' but it had to be sequenced by the BDOS binary to avoid copyright issues.

        Intel had also produced an 8085 ASM to 8086 ASM-86 converter. It has been alleged that these two together is how the first cut of QDOS was produced. Apparently it was from CP/M 1.4 BDOS because Gary Kildall claimed that SCP-DOS had a bug that was present in 1.4 and was fixed in 2.0 and 2.2.

        1. Jerome 0

          Re: Re: 640K is enough for anyone

          To clear up the QDOS confusion, the QDOS that was the predecessor to MS-DOS was first written for 8086, and was later renamed to 86-DOS. Both Atari and Sinclair had entirely separate QDOSes of their own, but neither of these were written for Z80 (6502 and 68008 respectively).

  3. Shades

    Wait, what?

    "Ubuntu on a smartphone. That would be impossibly stupid and impossible to use."

    I think the guys over at XDA Developers HD2 Ubuntu forum would beg to differ about that!

  4. Adair
    Thumb Up


    More of this please, distro developers. I'd even pay a bit.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Potentially interesting.

    I'd have preferred if Nokia had kept going with Maemo, but after that assassination I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed for this. I hate Unity on the desktop where I run Mint KDE so it'll be interesting to see how this works on the smaller screen. I had given Ubuntu on my Galaxy Note a very quick go but it wouldn't boot and I hadn't time to play around so I must retry that soon.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "unless you want to keep your hands warm"

    ...and who would need that while standing on a burning platform...

  7. imaginarynumber

    It is refreshing to see someone sell a product without the need to slag off their competitors' products.

  8. Darran Clements

    Elop's comment was that "You don't need one", not that you can't make use of multicore processors. He was alluding to the fact (well his opinion) that Android requires more processor "grunt" to operate smoothly than iOS and particularly Windows Phone. I don't know how you can fault that argument really. If the OS performance overhead is lower, surely that is a good thing? It leaves more headroom for the device to perform elective tasks.

  9. keithpeter

    Canonical are trying...

    ...You have to give them that. TVs, phones that double up as desktops, a possible tablet in a few iterations, and HUD.

    Typing this on 12.04 Ubuntu / Unity /HUD on a 24 inch screen. But then, I'm a teacher and used to play a bit of rugby...

  10. Random K

    Gimme Gimme

    This would be absolutely killer for my Asus Transformer! I know, I know, Unity is clunky and not always very intuitive on a normal PC, but it would be nice to see if all their "touch sreen optimizations" actually bear fruit on a tablet/sudo-netbook. One has to admit that Unity is less broken now than when it was first introduced. Maybe I'm the last one left who has any faith that Ubuntu can iron out their UI issues, but I'm excited about this. ICS is great and all, but it really doesn't benifit from an attached touchpad and keyboard since most apps are just not able to make use of them. Not sure I want this on my phone yet though...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One can almost smell the fail

    "We really know the desktop and spent a lot in time the last two years trying to leapfrog Windows and get to a future of a fully converged set of experiences"

    I could not help but keep thinking about that sentence. As a long time (K & U)buntu user, I have to say that yes, Canonical has spent the good part of the last couple of years attempting to dumb down the Ubuntu desktop to a level where it resembled a Smartphone instead of a full fledged desktop.

    Now it is time for them to realize that phone users are not going to like the experience when they plug their dual-core-as-powerful-as-a-desktop-was-ten-years-ago monster phone in a docking station with a keyboard attached... because they expect a full fledged desktop UI. Oh the irony.

    A pity, really. Everyone is entitled to have its own vision and push for it. And spend its hard earned dot com millions on it. And one usually tends to sympathize with them, even if they fail, just because they were brave enough to keep trying. This time, Canonical is failing, but not because legions of unhappy Ubuntu users were not crying out loud.

    Maybe there is a lesson here: do not ignore disturbances in the force caused by your loyal users. Yes, some critics were being extreme. Even rude. But you should have heard them. A phone is not a desktop. A desktop is not a tablet. A tablet is not a phone. A tablet is not a desktop. A desktop is not a phone. Get it?

    The worst part? I hope to be wrong, because even if it is the UI mess that Unity is, I would be happy for Linux to get some significant "desktop" share. Linux has already won the embedded, router, phone, server and most other markets, with the desktop and tablet being the only thing keeping it from total world domination.

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: One can almost smell the fail

      > dumb down the Ubuntu desktop

      Yes, they have produced a _different_ UI, just as iOS is different from OS/X and Metro is different from W7.

      But UIs on Linux optional. Ubuntu can run KDE, Gnome, XFCE, LDXE or several others. While Unity is the default and is rather orientated towards tablets or netbooks, the others are in the repository and in other related distros (eg Xbuntu).

      > A phone is not a desktop. A desktop is not a tablet. A tablet is not a phone. A tablet is not a desktop. A desktop is not a phone.

      You should mention that to Microsoft who seem to be 'converging' everything to Metro in the belief that they are all the same.

      What Ubuntu is doing is providing an environment where the UIs _are_ different for different usages, but with one device. You can choose the UI when you login, even if it is LXDE (which I use).

      1. admiraljkb

        Re: Re: One can almost smell the fail

        Or in the case of Kubuntu (KDE) if installed on a netbook, it has a different UI than if installed on a laptop/desktop. Pretty cool really, and really well tweaked for the screen real estate. I wish Canonical had done that with Unity rather than trying to apply the same interface everywhere. Hopefully MS copies KDE's work there instead of Ubuntu's so we have different UI's on the phone an desktop. Once size does not fit all!

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      People don't use Linux/Unix because of the GUI

      The GUI is just there to get people hooked to it, and to have multiple terminal windows as well as something for the browser.

      The reaon why I want Linux on a mobile device is that I can run all my non-Gui software on it. I want to be able to run olsrd on my mobile device, or openvpn, or of course ssh.

    3. 2cent

      Re: One can almost smell the fail

      You would be right except for:

      Ubuntu One

      Ubuntu One is the personal cloud that brings your digital life together. Now you can sync your files across all your Ubuntu or Windows computers; access your contacts or notes from anywhere; or stream your entire music collection to your mobile phone. Ubuntu One helps you do it all.

  12. the-it-slayer

    Two OSes in one device?


    That's my verdict. If you have an OS that's not fit for both mobile and desktop uses in one go (like Android 4.0), then it's game over for the user experience I'm afraid. Most of you see this from the experienced IT guy perspective. If you want to confuse the hell out of Joe Public, go ahead. Most people don't even know what Linux is, let alone try and readjust to an OS designed for the geeks-elite to run an open-minefield of open application.

    Great idea in principal, but serious; linux distro developers need to get their head round the mobile market and get an OS which will fit both the mobile and desktop experiences without too many headaches. Challenge? Of course. Who's already ahead in that game? Apple. When OS X and iOS bond? Who knows. They're the only company who understand that Joe Public wants a nice GUI experience from A to B without too many complications.

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: Two OSes in one device?

      Maybe suicide, maybe not. In this case, it's the same OS. Different "window" dressing. Not like its Windows running on top of Android. So no big deal really. I'm expecting Apple to follow suit shortly, since they're running the same OS under iOS and MacOS and the mobile hardware has caught up. Why maintain two code bases anymore? Microsoft has already signaled they are following suit with wiping out the old Windows CE/Mobile/Phone altogether and going with the Windows NT code base so it resembles more closely the Linux/Android "agility" with relations to platform hopping which is difficult under the current Windows. (But was easier with "Classic" NT 3.51)

      The new BYOD stuff from VMWare are about to introduce VM's on your phone for a secure business "phone" to replace the remaining Blackberry's in the corp world, with a virtual phone in its place. (I don't know how I feel about that really, but its happening anyway)

      I personally like the idea of different UI's for different functions since i get something customized for the function at hand. Nothing worse than using a screwdriver as a hammer (which is what Unity and Metro feel like). For Joe Public? Dunno.

  13. D. M


    Ubuntu on desktop is disaster since the unity crap. And now they want to put it on phone? Even it works, you still get a very underpowered desktop, it might be good for limited situation, but it doesn't make any sense. If we have the sort of processor power and power source technology in ?Star Trek, then we are talking about true mobile phone/computer all in one device.

  14. Giles Jones Gold badge

    People just write slow, high level rubbish code these days. So it's no wonder you need so much CPU power in a phone.

    I've been playing with some MIDI electronics projects recently and it's refreshing to see people who can write decent code on PICs in only a few bytes of RAM.

    While a modern smartphone is obviously a lot more powerful, it needs to be if you're going to write applications in Flash then convert them into Java style code to run on a VM above a HAL which finally (after a few layers of API) does something.

  15. Dare to Think
    IT Angle

    A new ecosystem in the making?

    Could it be we will soon be able to buy a smartphone and then decide which OS it is running? Or better, we will be able to assemble, configure and upgrade our smartphones ourselves?

    I better get going on my Linux distro....

  16. Cam 2

    It makes sense to me

    Chip vendors have to go somewhere and their best improvements seem to be related to multi-core.

    I wondered how a phone would benefit from this but it seems that newer chips will offer better power management opportunities, that alone makes sense for phones.

    But also, phone vendors have to go somewhere to continue selling and making the phone a thin client is a good way to offer users more tangible features from the phone platform. Multi core gives the platform a boost and when connected to a display, presumably there is power too and running all the cores is feasible.

    Finally Ubuntu can build on the Linux part of Android and provide desktop-like functionality for little development effort. So it all makes sense.

  17. Niall
    Thumb Up

    I want this.

  18. Andrew James

    I like this idea... but

    How long before Apple implements a full OSX experience into future iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone when docked (via expensive accessory) coupled with iCloud storage ... then they claim to be the first to do such a revolutionary device.

    If they were to do this (Apple, that is) monitors would start popping up all over the place with a dock connector for this purpose and pretty soon you'd struggle to buy a monitor that didnt have the dock i bet.

    As irritating as it is sometimes, Apple does tend to make ideas catch on through sheer greed of others wanting to jump in on the action with accessories etc.

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: I like this idea... but

      Since Apple MacOS/iOS is analogous to Linux/Android, I would think less than 6 months of development time. 3 months on a crash program for the hardware/software combination that Canonical is pushing here. Cisco could push it out even faster since they already have the Cius Android tablet phone with the dock and peripherals, and had Ubuntu running on it already at one point for home electrical monitoring program which got cancelled.

      Keep in mind, with the Ubuntu Installer app in the marketplace already does the basics of using Ubuntu desktop from your ARM based Android phone/tablet from anything that supports VNC. It currently is for the hardcore geek among us (sheepishly raises hand), but isn't for the masses due to the manual steps required. That was one guy doing the majority of that project. I don't see why Apple couldn't have this available almost immediately for iPad2 (which might be the only mobile product they have with resources to do it) since they have much vaster resources. MIcrosoft won't be able to until its mobile codebase switches to Windows instead of a very badly cut down WinNT kernel which it is doing for Win8.

  19. 2cent

    Dual Boot BS?

    "In years past, Canonical tried dual-boot on Windows PCs, a program that has failed and been withdrawn."

    Of all the people you personally know running Ubuntu, how many are dual boot and how many boot from inside Windows.

    A + B = 100%

    Now add in the those who only use Ubuntu.

    A + B + C = 100%

    Your assessment of failure is tuned to to the Microsoft song.

    Those who still dual-boot only do so because of software they cannot donate to and only runs under Windows or Mac OS.

  20. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Just in case you wonder..

    I have a Droid 2 Global. This is a single 1.2ghz ARM, and 512MB of RAM. I do have a Debian chroot on here, and a while ago I did install OpenOffice (or is it LibreOffice now? Whatever) and ran it on a remote X display. Not only did it work, it was SNAPPY, and even if I started whipping through menus, preference screens, etc. to try to drive up CPU usage, I couldn't get it above 5%.

    So, I could easily see a phone running a full desktop environment with a dock.

  21. Black Road Dude

    Way to cram Microsoft into a Linux post

    again with the Microsoft advertising??

    come on you are really spreading it a bit thin getting MS in this post.

    Ubuntu on a Android phone ... lets talk about microsoft again then. its quite sad :(


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