Canonical unveils fondleslab-friendly Ubuntu 'experience'

Claims single OS running across all client form factors


Furthering its plans to broaden the reach of the Ubuntu Linux distribution from PCs and servers to mobile devices, Canonical on Tuesday unveiled its new user "experience" layer for tablets.

The fondleslab-friendly UI follows on from the version of Ubuntu for smartphones, which Canonical announced last week.

"Our family of interfaces now scales across all screens, so your phone can provide tablet, PC and TV experiences when you dock it," Canonical main man Mark Shuttleworth said in a statement. "That's unique to Ubuntu and it's the future of personal computing."

Canonical says the Ubuntu tablet UI supports screen sizes ranging from 6 to 20 inches, with resolutions from 100 to 450 pixels per inch, allowing it to fill the gap between the versions of the OS for phones and PCs. An interface for large TV displays is also planned.

All four versions of the Ubuntu UI are be presented by the same underlying OS code, and Ubuntu can switch from one to the other depending on the size of the display and attached peripherals. For example, a tablet can switch to a full PC experience when docked to a keyboard and monitor.

The tablet UI offers a few features uniquely tailored to that form factor. For starters, the controls are fully touch-enabled, complete with thumb gestures from the edges of the screen that allow users to quickly find content and switch between apps.

Media is organized into a customizable home screen that can pull content from hundreds of sources, which Canonical expects will be used by carriers and content publishers to highlight their own properties.

Ubuntu's fondleslab face also includes a "side stage" view that helps to bridge the gap between smartphones and larger devices, by allowing phone apps to share the screen with tablet apps, rather than stretching their UIs to fill the entire screen.

"Fashion industry friends say the Ubuntu phone and tablet are the most beautiful interfaces they've seen for touch," claimed Canonical design lead Ivo Weevers. "We're inspired by the twin goals of style and usability, and working with developers who are motivated to create the best possible experience for friends, family and industry.

Canonical says the ARM builds of Ubuntu are compatible with any Linux-oriented board support package (BSP), which makes the OS easy to enable on most chipsets that currently run Android, including entry-level hardware.

Not everyone is taking Canonical's talk of a truly cross-device Ubuntu at face value, however. On February 15, Aaron Seigo, a developer with the KDE Project – a rival open source Linux UI layer to Ubuntu's Unity – published a lengthy Google+ post questioning Canonical's claim that the smartphone, tablet, and PC Ubuntu UIs are all running the same code.

"We can start with the obvious clue: Unity currently does not use QML at all; Ubuntu Phone is pure QML," Seigo wrote, referring to the Qt Modeling Language for mobile apps. "So, no, it is not the same code, it is not the sort of seamless cross-device technology bridge that they are purporting."

Seigo went on to say that while he feels an Ubuntu phone is "a great thing to see," he believes Canonical is marketing its current code in a way that is "ethically weak."

"What is really disappointing here is that the Free software community is being told a fairy tale in hopes that they will believe it and as a result support Canonical ... under what amounts to false pretenses," Seigo wrote.

But Canonical's Shuttleworth disagreed, telling ZDNet that although Ubuntu for devices is a work in progress, the vision for the platform is clear.

"By the time the work is complete, one Ubuntu codebase will deliver all four experiences: the desktop, the phone, the tablet and the TV. And one application binary will be able to do the same," Shuttleworth said. "It's not complicated; there's no point in splitting hairs over the semantics."

Canonical said fondleslab support will be included in the Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview, due to launch on February 21 via the Ubuntu developer website. Both source code and installable binary images will be made available, with initial support for Google's Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, in addition to the previously announced images for the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 smartphones.

The Preview SDK, which so far offers support for building apps only for Ubuntu running on smartphones, will also be updated to add tablet app support, though no release date for the revised SDK was given. ®

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