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Ubuntu mobile takes two steps forward, one step backward

Feb 12, 2014 — by Eric Brown 2,295 views

[Updated Feb. 18] — Vodafone joined Ubuntu’s Carrier Advisory Group, as Ubuntu demoed progress on a unified desktop/mobile UI. Meanwhile, Ubuntu will comply with a Debian decision and phase out its Upstart init in favor of systemd.

Canonical has yet to sign up any vendors or carriers for upcoming smart phones running Ubuntu, which is not surprising, considering the first Ubuntu phone release appears to have slipped to 2015. However, the company has signed up an impressive roster of mobile providers that are at least intrigued enough to join its Carrier Advisory Group (CAG). Now, leading European carrier Vodafone has joined the pack, which already includes U.S. carriers including Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.

Vodafone represents 411 million customers and has equity interests in telecom operations in approximately 30 countries and 50 partner networks worldwide, says Canonical. Other CAG members include China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Everything Everywhere, Korea Telecom, LG UPlus, MTM Group, Portugal Telecom, SK Telecom, Smartfren, Telecom Italia, and Telstra.


Progress on Ubuntu Convergence

The Vodadone news was a welcome reprieve from recent reports that the Ubuntu Phone project is being delayed. In mid-January, Ubuntu’s Community Manager went on Reddit to write that he “would be surprised” if the first phone arrived before 2015. In the response to another question about the Ubuntu project’s ambitious “convergence” plans to enable a single application to run on desktop, tablet, and phone devices, he responded that “Currently we are not scoping any fancy integration between Ubuntu devices.”

Apparently, some convergence progress has been made in recent weeks, however, as Bacon has now posted a YouTube video showing a single Reddit client app running on a laptop, phone, and tablet. The latter two are most likely Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus devices, which are supported with the current Ubuntu Touch build. (A Phoronix item alerted us to the video.)

Ubuntu running a Reddit app on a laptop, phone, and tablet

Debian splits with Ubuntu over init

Like many Linux distributions, Ubuntu is based on Debian. Yet, in recent years, Ubuntu has been moving away from Debian and other foundational Linux technologies such as GNOME. Now, the Debian technical committee has selected systemd as Debian’s default system management daemon technology to replace the Unix-based init, rather than Ubuntu’s Upstart.

While Canonical’s past decision-making suggested it would likely disregard the ruling and continue with Upstart, the project will apparently transition to systemd. In a Feb. 14 post entitled “Losing graciously”, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth wrote that the Ubuntu project would support the decision and start work on supporting systemd in Ubuntu as an option. He added that he would recommend systemd be made the default “as soon as it offers a credible quality of service to match the existing init.”

According to a Feb. 12 ZDNet report by Chris Duckett, tech committee chairman Bdale Garbee cast the deciding vote for systemd system and service manager to break a 4-4 tie. The vote came after a “fractured and heated debate” that included “two stalled votes and one failed coup,” wrote Duckett.

A Muktware report on the same news was updated with a note saying some members are appealing the decision with calls for a “General Resolution.” However, Shuttlesworth’s capitulation will no doubt moot that effort.

The init daemon has been around forever, to the point that people long ago referred to the technology as an init instead of a system management daemon. The technology is important, as it determines the first process to execute in userland during boot.

Systemd has been growing in popularity after Fedora switched to the technology as its default init in May 2011. Since then, most other major distros have made the switch, including Arch and OpenSUSE, and Red Hat Linux has said it will follow whatever Debian decides to do. The major exceptions are Ubuntu, which has switched to Upstart, and Gentoo, which defaults to OpenRC, but supports systemd as an alternative.

As both stories noted, prior to Shuttleworth’s Valentine’s Day mash note to the Debian community, sticking with Upstart would further isolate Ubuntu, which has already isolated itself enough in recent years. For example, it switched to a new Mir (or XMir) display server to replace the X windowing technology, while the rest of the industry has moved in force to the somewhat similar Wayland. That same XMir is said to be causing some of the delays in pushing out a final Ubuntu Phones release.

This followed previous controversies, including Canonical’s switch from GNOME 2.x to its own homegrown, touch-oriented Unity desktop environment. To be fair the GNOME Foundation made few friends when it switched to the radical new GNOME 3.x. The difference is that it listened to the community and dialed back some of the more controversial changes.

It’s a matter of debate whether Canonical should be censured for thwarting the open source Linux community and grabbing power under a single company, or else applauded for daring to innovate and breaking Linux out of its desktop slumber and into the brave new mobile world. Either way, as Duckett points out, the company is placing a huge burden on the Ubuntu community to maintain and update all these homegrown technologies without the help of the broader community.

“Supporting such a large stack of software on its own could be manageable for Ubuntu with the revenues from mobile handsets,” writes Duckett. “But on the desktop, doing everything on its own when the other Linux players are all moving in opposite directions looks more and more like madness.”

No doubt, the Ubuntu leadership came to the same conclusion. As Shuttleworth noted, the close vote supported his impression that both technologies were perfectly suitable. Assuming Ubuntu goes ahead and implements systemd as a default on a reasonable timetable, it should help heal the rift with the Linux community and give Ubuntu coders a break.

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3 responses to “Ubuntu mobile takes two steps forward, one step backward”

  1. LinuxGizmos says:

    Looks like Shuttleworth is giving in today on systemd:

  2. Istimsak Abdulbasir says:

    The fact that canonical is having delay issues with the official ubuntu phone release could be do to the stories of canonical going rogue from universal linux development. I admire that canonical has become independent. They are bold enough to go their own route. Sometimes, you have to do things at the right time.

  3. guest says:

    It’s “systemd”. Not “SystemD”……
    Please, read some docs sometimes before introducing your own spelling:

    “Yes, it is written systemd, not system D or System D, or even SystemD. And it isn’t system d either. Why? Because it’s a system daemon, and under Unix/Linux those are in lower case, and get suffixed with a lower case d.”

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