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Canonical announces Ubuntu for tablets; expects OS to become a big hit in enterprise

by Doug Drinkwater

February 19 2013

The first Ubuntu tablets are not expected until the start of next year
The first Ubuntu tablets are not expected until the start of next year

Canonical announced a tablet version of its Ubuntu operating system today and explained the enterprise-grade features which it hopes could see Ubuntu tablets vie with Apple and Microsoft in business.

Hot on the heels of rumors speculating on if HTC would release an Ubuntu tablet today, Canonical announced the latest version of the Linux-powered operating system today and revealed that it is the first to support a tablet user interface.

The new version of the OS is to first from Canonical to work across PCs, TVs, smartphones and tablets and sees the developer make a strong play at the enterprise tablet market currently dominated by Apple's iPad and taken seriously by Microsoft.

Canonical broke down the enterprise features of the OS and there were more than just a few, from full disk encryption, the ability to set up multiple user accounts as well as a management tool for controlling Ubuntu PCs, touch devices and servers.

"We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions," said CEO Mark Shuttleworth. "Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability.”

Another unique feature of the new Ubuntu is its ‘side stage’ multitasking feature which puts smartphone and tablet apps on the same tablet screen, while navigation is also different in using the screen edges to navigate from apps, settings and other controls.

Multiple sizes, keyboard docks & hi-res displays

Appealing to consumer and business end-users is just one part of the process for Canonical, with the firm also hoping to attract OEM vendors, something which should prove to be easy if the Ubuntu specifications are to be believed.

The Ubuntu tablet interface supports screen sizes from 6-inches to 20-inches as well as super high-resolution displays up to 450 pixels per inch. (For some context, the Retina Display’s iPad offers 264 pixels per inch).

All of this so far (the enterprise features, cross-platform OS and support for different sizes) may be enough for Microsoft to sit up and take notice, and even more so considering Ubuntu tablets will be able to be used with a dockable keyboard and access remote Windows applications over standard protocols from Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and Wyse.

"An Ubuntu tablet is a secure thin client that can be managed with the same tools as any Ubuntu server or desktop," said Stephane Verdy, who leads enterprise desktop and thin client products at Canonical. "We are delighted to support partners on touch and mobile thin clients for the enterprise market."

Canonical keen to attract Android & BlackBerry developers

Canonical is also opening up its doors for developers to learn and build their apps for Ubuntu via the firm’s developer information site.

The system code for both smartphones and tablets is to be published later this week (February 21), and after this time an installation guide on how to install the OS on Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets will go live. The preview SDK expected to go live in due course.

While this would appear to indicate Canonical's focus on native apps, Shuttleworth says that Ubuntu is also open to Android and BlackBerry developers.

“We only really want apps from developers that consciously choose Ubuntu,” said Shuttleworth. “But it is also very easy for them [Android app developers] to push into the Ubuntu app store and our native app environment is very similar to BlackBerry. In fact, a number of developers already run apps on Ubuntu and vice versa."

For all this optimism, Canonical did spell out that it is early days for Ubuntu on mobile devices.

The first Ubuntu smartphones and tablets are not expected to go on general sale until early 2014, with Canonical - which remains unprofitable - still seeking relationships with OEM vendors and telecom carriers.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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