Canonical’s Ubuntu project released Ubuntu 13.10, complete with an SDK for developing Ubuntu Touch interfaces for mobile devices — but the only usable build provided is an experimental one that runs on two Android Nexus phones. Meanwhile, the promised XMir windowing interface has been postponed from the main desktop branch, likely delaying the mobile-ready “convergence” release from April to October 2014.
The good news, for those itching to try out the Ubuntu Touch UI on smartphones, is that Ubuntu 13.10 (“Saucy Salamander”) is now available for loading onto Google’s Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus and LG-manufactured Nexus 4. As promised, the mobile release has the first implementation of Canonical’s controversial Mir windowing interface, now called XMir, as well as an early version of the related Unity 8 UI.
Ubuntu for phones and tablets
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The bad news is that unlike the “stable” release Canonical had said would be available with Ubuntu 13.10, this is an “early release that can potentially brick your device,” says the company. Canonical goes on to state: “It does not provide all of the features and services of a retail phone and cannot replace your current handset.” Furthermore, it appears to be available only for the two Nexus phones, not for the previously mentioned Nexus tablets.
More troubling is that XMir, which had been part of the beta release of Ubuntu 13.10, will only be available on the mobile build, except for an experimental version. The desktop Ubuntu defaults to the X windowing interface and Unity 7. XMir and the mobile-ready Unity 8 UI layer won’t be ready until April’s Ubuntu 14.04 at the earliest, and will likely still be in beta phase. The ready-to-roll “convergence” solution will likely be postponed to October 2014’s Ubuntu 14.10. So instead of the first native Ubuntu smartphones shipping next spring or summer, they are not likely to arrive until the end of 2014.
XMir stack and scope
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Canonical doesn’t actually come out and say all this, but the evidence points to this reality, which is echoed by sources ranging from Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul to Engadget’s Terrence O’Brien. An Oct. 2 blog entry by Ubuntu developer Matthew Garrett points to deeper technical problems with XMir beyond Canonical’s claims of multi-monitor support issues, including input driver bugs and a lack of color profiles.
Garrett also reports rifts between the mobile and desktop Ubuntu development communities, and notes last month’s statement from Chris Wilson of Intel’s Open Source Technology Center. Wilson wrote: “We do not condone or support Canonical in the course of action they have chosen, and will not carry XMir patches upstream.” It should be noted that Intel is backing a rival mobile Linux OS called Tizen, and that many in the Ubuntu community, which preferred moving from X to Wayland, have been upset about XMir from the get go.
The convergence delay follows Canonical’s understandable failure to meet its $32 million Indiegogo funding goal for a concept phone that runs Ubuntu Touch called the Ubuntu Edge.
Mobile apps, UI tools, and more
Putting the delays aside for a moment, let’s get back to the good news: developers finally have a complete Ubuntu SDK for mobile development, as well as an experimental build they can play around with. Vendors and carriers can see if the hype about the first truly convergent OS is real. Plenty of folks are excited about the ambitious Ubuntu Touch project, and here’s a chance to take a peek.
The mobile build of Ubuntu 13.10 provides a number of mobile core apps created by the Ubuntu developer community, including a browser, calendar, clock, weather, and calculator. The SDK, meanwhile, provides templates and extensions, theming, automatic orientation, and UI tools for rapid application development. Both native and HTML5 development is supported in an SDK that “makes it easy for developers to target phones, tablets and PCs with a single codebase,” says Canonical.
Beyond the mobile build and SDK, Ubuntu 13.10 is a fairly minor release. The headliner is an overhauled Ubuntu Dash that now offers many more “Smart Scope” search widgets that provide access to more than 50 online sources from both desktop and phone users. The Smart Scope feature combines results from many different scopes and adjusts search results according to individual user preferences. New search scopes include Wikipedia, Amazon, Google News, and Flickr.
Enterprise server users can now use a new Juju tool that lets them create Ubuntu instances in Microsoft’s Azure cloud while also managing LNX containers. The OpenStack cloud software, meanwhile, has been updated to the latest “Havana” version, featuring integration with VMware vSphere.
Ubuntu 13.10 is available now at the Ubuntu 13.10 download page. Instructions for loading Ubuntu on a Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4 phone may be found on Canonical’s Installing Ubuntu on a phone page. The Ubuntu 13.10 announcement may be found here.