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Eric  Lundquist
Eric Lundquist
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5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone

Love your carrier -- and your huge monthly bill? Then read no further. But if you'd jump at a better deal, Ubuntu might just fit the bill.

Lots of folks think Ubuntu is nuts for coming out with one more phone operating system. The writers at Techcrunch say it doesn't stand a chance. The Verge says Ubuntu and its parent company Canonical are "tracking a terminal trajectory into irrelevance." Our own Tom Claburn was at least willing to give Ubuntu the benefit of the doubt as a late starter with the possibility of being a server to mobile platform for the enterprise.

While reading the Ubuntu phone trashing, I got to wondering whatever happened to that ancient Intel Centrino-based IBM ThinkPad (designed for Windows XP!) I had hanging around my basement. Rather than doing my work, naturally I headed downstairs to my electronics junk heap, and there it was: that old T42.

I dug up the power supply, and after about an hour of fiddling it was running the latest version of Ubuntu -- complete with all the apps I use on my other Ubuntu installs, plus networking and access to the Ubuntu cloud. My faithful disk utility screeched about an imminent catastrophic disk failure, a warning I never take seriously. The laptop might run a bit slow by today's standards, but if I really want to get ambitious I could throw in some RAM and a solid state disk and chug along equal to just about anything out there.

[ Not every gadget showcased at CES is a winner. Here are a few duds: 10 Epic CES Fails. ]

The point of my trip to the basement was to show the value of Ubuntu's model: moving forward while not abandoning the past (and how many vendors can say that?). That's the first of five reasons I believe the Ubuntu naysayers may be wrong. The idea of an operating system extending from the server to the desktop to the television to the mobile phone has been around for a while, but nobody has offered it yet. Ubuntu makes that full-sweep promise at the right price: Free. It's not like Ubuntu is that far behind the curve.

Reason Two: My -- and probably your -- monthly mobile carrier bill. Page after page of inscrutable details and charges (regulatory cost recovery charge, anyone?) that adds up to at least twice what you were expecting to pay.

Will the Ubuntu phone eliminate that morass? Not if it's simply part of a carrier plan. Someday, U.S. mobile service will resemble the European model, where you buy a phone and select whichever carrier best fits your needs. You can switch carriers when your needs change rather than being locked into endless multi-year contracts.

Of course, this is not going to happen anytime soon. Will one of the big device manufacturers be willing to offer an unlocked Ubuntu phone? Samsung is rumored to be ready to offer a Tizen-based phone, so an Ubuntu device isn't that crazy. And I expect the Ubuntu crowd to start figuring out how to take all those old phones floating around, wipe them clean and install Ubuntu -- much as I upgraded that old laptop of mine.

The frustration of having only two carriers to choose from -- both of which are similar in price -- leads me to Reason Three: The rise of competitive carriers. In the U.S., the carrier world is mostly split into AT&T, Verizon and everyone else. But there's evidence that this is changing.

The biggest change will be if Softbank's acquisition of Sprint takes place. Softbank grew up learning how to compete with the likes of Japan's NTT. Also, look at the rise of non-contract phone companies running on other carrier networks. Republic Wireless, for example, uses Wi-Fi wherever possible to offer an appealing no-contract phone, messaging and data plan for $20/month. The catch? It is limited to only one phone: the Motorola Defy XT.

Reason Four: An answer to the IT headache. The mobile enterprise and the rise of BYOD continue to pose a difficult management task for enterprise IT professionals. It may be an ultimate irony that a Linux-based device (Ubuntu is a Debian-derived Linux distribution) is easier to manage and secure than the iPhone or Windows phone. Appeal to the enterprise IT organization was an important part of Ubuntu's phone announcement: "It meets the demands of two key segments particularly well: those who want a beautiful but easy to use basic smartphone and those who want enterprise-grade thin client and desktop capability in a secure smartphone that can be managed using enterprise tools."

Reason Five: The opportunity to be a fast follower. Sometimes we forget just how young the mobile phone market is, and how quickly new models are introduced. Apple, for all intents and purposes, created the market in 2007 (feel free to email me, RIM, Moto, Symbian and IBM Simon fans). The issues surrounding proprietary frameworks, native apps, Web apps and form factors are absolutely in flux.

Eric Zeman offers a rundown of the phones being introduced at CES. While some markets are stagnant or at least predictable, the smartphone business is both evolving and expanding at an incredible rate. The speed with which users buy and abandon phones in search of the next great mobile device suggests that a new OS can find a home in this business, even if it's not a market leader.

Now I want to see how well an Ubuntu phones plays with my ancient ThinkPad.

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/27/2013 | 7:42:12 AM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
The Chinese govt was complaining that Google treats chinese smartphone vendors like step children by delaying release of code and other American hegemony tactics. The chinese wanted to make their own desktop OS to rival Windows but dropped the plan. They should now put weight into getting their countless universities to contribute code to make Ubuntu phone apps. They can single handedly destroy iOS and Android marketshare. But of course, watch out for spyware if they give you closed source apps.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 10:12:24 AM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
It will not go mainstream and make billions simply because that's the kind of preoccupations that Google/Apple and their shareholders are obsessed with, not us. And even if Canonical had the same greedy plans in mind, Canonical is not alone to decide about Ubuntu, the very mobilized, educated and democratic Linux community plays a major role in its development.
To the community, as opposed to corporations, market share, profitability and Wall Street's opinion are all secondary to user complete satisfaction if at all a concern.

So if Ubuntu Phones won't ever go mainstream as a simple matter of motivation, what will they be? A niche alternative to the "not good enough" Android user base. It will be community driven, free as in powerful, loyal to a true Linux, made of tomorrow's technology enthusiasts that would crave its amazing interface and potential even if not a single OEM released the phone...
And if Canonical finds an OEM partner, the niche might further grow a little over the user base the Linux desktop has now, which would make a serious dent into the phone market...
User Rank: Guru
1/10/2013 | 12:16:23 AM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
Looks like Android Linux has had fair success breaking into the consumer market.

I think you are over-applying the desktop market model, where a determined monopolist has fought off various Linux and Unix products for a couple of decades. But that's the exception rather than the rule, as pretty much every other market segment is dominated by Linux now.

That certainly doesn't mean Ubuntu will succeed in mobile. It just means that Linux is a feature, not a bug. :-)
User Rank: Strategist
1/9/2013 | 5:17:32 PM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
HP had the right idea when it attempted to bring out a WebOS tablet that would be able to communicate with the Windows desktiop. But it quickly abandoned it, despite the potential of a mobile business device system that could integrate with the office..Ubuntu could serve as the common operating system for smart phone and desktop, but it would need to be drastically modified, stripped down and then maintained as almost a distinct mobile Linux. HP's experience shows there has to be real commitment and staying power behind such an initiative and I don't see the pool of open source developers chomping at the bit to repeat work done elsewhere. Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek
User Rank: Apprentice
1/9/2013 | 4:15:14 PM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
re: "The laptop might run a bit slow by today's standards, but if I really want to get ambitious I could throw in some RAM and a solid state disk and chug along equal to just about anything out there."

Hmm... The DDR RAM you'll need comes it at a per GB price that is about 4X that of DDR3 RAM. And you'll find a pretty short list of choices for an IDE-based SSDs, and even then your throughput will be an order of magnitude less that what can be achieved with SATA. Oh, and that 8-year-old battery probably barely holds a charge and will need replaced. So after about $200+ of investment, you could have a Ubuntu laptop that runs slower than an atom-based netbook. It would be heavier, though!

Sometimes leveraging existing, proven technology doesn't turn out to be as practical as it might initially appear. Could a linux-derived kernel be useful basis for creating a phone OS? Sure. Both iOS and Android have Linux underpinnings. But how much of Ubuntu is actually useful for building a phone OS? Not much, I would say...

User Rank: Apprentice
1/9/2013 | 3:46:30 PM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
I don't think it really has to be the iPhone, it just has to get support from a few carriers, and it will find a niche. At least, I hope....
User Rank: Apprentice
1/9/2013 | 3:06:31 PM
re: 5 Reasons I Want An Ubuntu Phone
Good luck with that. The point isn't that it's not cool or anything like that. It's simply that you're not going to gain any market share. And Linux needs market share to truly break into a consumer market. Marketing to geeks isn't the answer. We love it but we represent a fraction of a fraction of the marketplace.
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