Canonical has unveiled the first fruits of a project that could put applications for Google's Android on a netbook sooner than the search giant can deliver itself.
Ubuntu's chief sponsor has demonstrated an execution environment that lets applications built to fit the screen, power, and hardware of an Android smartphone on an Ubuntu-powered PC.
The execution environment potentially lets these applications take advantage of features common to a PC such as support for mouse-based input instead of touch, multiple windows open simultaneously, and have an application run while the CPU is idle.
Demonstrated at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Barcelona, Spain, the environment lets Android applications work with the PC by harnessing Ubuntu. It puts patches in place that fool applications into thinking they are on the phone, Canonical told The Reg. You can see some screen shots here.
Canonical unveiled the project against a backdrop of growing expectation that we'll soon see the Android operating system for the G1 phone running on a netbook.
Cupcake, the update to Android that began US roll-out this week, is expected to power such machines. Dell last week showed off a Mini 10v netbook running Cupcake on a video blog but gave no commitment to product.
It's unclear how Google would feel about somebody else providing the operating-system layer for Android applications on a PC.
But Canonical believes Ubuntu can provide a quick solution because it's already done the hard work of getting Linux running on a PC. "People have thought of Android or Ubuntu on netbooks - we are convinced the way forward will be Android applications on Ubuntu netbooks," a Canonical source told us.
"You get the full operating system underneath. For all its faults, desktop Linux has solved lots of complicated problems and Android hasn't even started to address them."
The Ubuntu execution environment compiles the Android code to its own version of libc instead of Google's libc. Android libraries are mapped to Ubuntu libraries where appropriate with others masked and fooled into thinking they are running on a phone.
Long term, the project wants to tackle USB keys, printing, and sound. The Barcelona unveiling was designed to see where people want to go. "It's definitely running with our blessing. We will see where people want to take it this week, and we will go from there," our source said.
The Canonical project comes as Microsoft and Intel have reportedly taken steps to carve up the netbook market to suit their product roadmaps and business-unit plans.
DigiTimes said the companies had "reached a consensus" to limit the size of a screen for netbooks running Windows to 10.2 inches. The move means OEMs that go over this size would not qualify for the low-priced versions of Windows 7 - Starter Edition - for netbooks.
OEMs that do go large would see their margins damaged, meaning they'd be forced to fall into line rater than incur losses and Microsoft and Intel would have shaped the form factors for this nascent market to their desire. Intel refused to comment on what it called rumors and speculation, while Microsoft was unable to comment at the time of going to press.
If true, the move fits what's emerging as a strategy by Microsoft to use netbooks as a way to up sell people into more expensive, full-featured notebooks and PCs that run Windows. Pricing for Windows 7 has not been announced, but Windows 7 Starter Edition is an entry level option that will only let you run three applications simultaneously.
The Microsoft and Intel news, combined with the Ubuntu execution environment, would potentially play to Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth's belief that netbooks should combine local computer processing with offline services and applications. ®