Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Thoughts on Canonical cutting its convergence & Ubuntu mobile projects

Canonical announced it will no longer work on convergence and Ubuntu Mobile; instead, the focus will be on Ubuntu desktop and to support private Linux cloud infrastructures. In the words of Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Ubuntu and Canonical):
I’d like to emphasise our ongoing passion for, investment in, and commitment to, the Ubuntu desktop that millions rely on. We will continue to produce the most usable open source desktop in the world, to maintain the existing LTS releases, to work with our commercial partners to distribute that desktop, to support our corporate customers who rely on it, and to delight the millions of IoT and cloud developers who innovate on top of it.
The focus on the desktop also entails a move from Unity to the GNOME desktop interface. Considering larger projects to enter the mobile world failed - e.g., Microsoft and Mozilla - it makes sense to change direction. However, concentrating on the desktop PC is not the way forward.

I would like to see Ubuntu differentiate their operating system to meet the demands of different users - this includes the desktop PC but also entry-level laptops and two-in-one devices. The popularity of the entry-level laptop - e.g., the HP Stream series - identifies a use-case scenario in the laptop segment. Linux - less resource intensive, compared to Windows - is an ideal operating system for this segment and Ubuntu could adopt a version of the operating system to ship with similar devices. For example, further developing Xubuntu - with its lightweight XFCE desktop environment - is a viable option for devices with low-end hardware (Xubuntu's current interface is out-dated and doesn't work well with low-end Intel processors that ship in entry-level laptops).

Further, while Ubuntu Mobile is now discontinued, Canonical could also develop a touch optimised version of Ubuntu that is cloud-centric and directed towards two-in-one users. Before Chrome OS, there was Joli Cloud OS - a Linux operating system that aggregated the user's different web-based services in one place. With the popularity of the touch-enabled two-in-one devices, a touch-enhanced, cloud-centric version of Ubuntu would be a welcome addition to Linux. Google realised the direction of computing and developed Chrome OS - an operating system that is based on Gentoo Linux.

Re-thinking the Linux operating system would also contribute to a stagnated Linux world in which efforts are replicated in the release of too many distributions. To be sure, developing the GNOME project is necessary but this should be part of a broader effort to move beyond the traditional PC desktop operating system. Convergence was an attempt to contribute to this different direction but the hardware is still not mature to make the idea work. Differentiating the Ubuntu operating system, however, is a viable path in the PC connect era.

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