Ubuntu is already one of the most popular Linux-based operating systems for notebook and desktop computers. Canonical is also working on a smartphone operating system called Ubuntu Phone OS. And now Ubuntu is coming to tablets.

Canonical added an Ubuntu on tablets section to its homepage today, plans to showcase the new touch-friendly version of the operating system at MWC later this month, and will offer download links for a pre-release version of Ubuntu for tablets on Thursday, February 21st.

Ubuntu on tablets (Nexus 10)

Ubuntu for tablets offers a user interface optimized for touch input, as well as support for tablet-style apps. But under the hood it’s the same operating system as Ubuntu for desktop and notebook computers.

In other words, if you plug in a keyboard, monitor, and mouse, you can use a tablet running Ubuntu as if it were a desktop PC.

That lets you run any full-fledged desktop apps that have been compiled to run on ARM-based chips, including desktop office apps, web browsers, image or video editing apps, video games, or development tools.

You can also run desktop apps in tablet mode — but much like Windows 8 (or Windows RT), Ubuntu on tablets offers a split-panel view that lets you run a tablet app in one window and a desktop app right next to it. For instance you can make a Skype video call while surfing the web or editing a document.

There’s a mobile SDK for app developers that want to write native apps, but Canonical is also putting an emphasis on web apps written in HTML5. You can add shortcuts to web services such as Google Maps or Facebook as if you had installed a native app (something you can also do in the desktop version of Ubuntu).

Like Ubuntu Phone OS, Ubuntu on tablets supports touch-based gestures such as swiping from the left edge of the screen to view your favorite apps and switch between apps. You can swipe down from the top of the screen to view notifications, volume and wireless toggles, and other settings.

Canonical isn’t releasing its own tablet anytime soon. But the developer preview which is coming Thursday will be available for installation on Google Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets.

Eventually we may see device makers build tablets specifically for Ubuntu. The software maker is already lining up hardware partners to ship phones with Ubuntu Phone OS later this year or in early 2014.

While the Google Nexus 7 with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip will be one of the devices capable of running the developer preview, it sounds like Canonical is setting the bar pretty high for hardware designed to run the OS: An entry level Ubuntu tablet should have a dual core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 7 inch or larger screen.

A high-end model should have a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 or Intel x86 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 10 inch or larger display.

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17 replies on “Canonical unveils Ubuntu for Tablets”

  1. If they do this right, they could out-RT Microsoft by presenting a tablet OS capable of running desktop style apps in a more unified environment–one that doesn’t necessarily have to kick you jarringly back to the “desktop” to do so.

    I also hope that they are able to incorporate accurate and responsive handwriting recognition that is at least as good as MyScripts Stylus regardless of whether or not one has a digitizer built in to their device. Maybe the developer of that software will update it for Ubuntu Tablet OS…

  2. If they can get full desktop web browsers like the full versions of Chrome and Firefox that are fully Flash capable and never try to present you with a mobile version of a web page from any site (something that only Microsoft’s IE 10 in Windows 8 and RT can claim right now–having Hulu and other sites just work is more valuable on a 10″ tablet than I previously realized!), I could be persuaded to get a Nexus 10 just for this OS.

    I’ve grown tired of Android’s purposefully built in application limitations–especially for things like real web browsing. If Windows RT and 8 on Tegra and Atom tablets have shown us anything, it’s that current and future arm-based tablets don’t have to be shackled by what websites or developers think you “should” be able to view or do through your browser on a mobile device.

    1. Chromium runs very well on my ARM Chromebook under Ubuntu so I can’t imagine why you couldn’t use it.

      Maybe it needs to be adapted for the tablet UX but should be perfect in desktop mode.

  3. With all the tablet manufacturers in China making Android tablets, how difficult would it be for Ubuntu to contract hardware for their OS?

    1. Not very difficult at all, especially since the Android kernel features have been merged into the mainline kernel tree.

      So typical Android-running hw should be much easier to support with a full-desktop Linux kernel (like the one in Ubuntu).

    1. Definitely, HP blew it badly.

      Very unimaginative people must work at HP if they couldn’t come up with this concept. WebOS even had a perfectly functional X-server for the desktop mode (I used to run a chrooted Ubuntu in it but my ARM Chromebook replaced that).

  4. “Canonical isn’t releasing its own tablet anytime soon” … “Eventually we may see device makers build tablets specifically for Ubuntu.”

    So… no Ubuntu Tablet. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. I would also like to see a Canonical/Ubuntu tablet but if they want to recruit hw partners, they should stay away from the actual hw production.

      Remember, they don’t want to look like Microsoft with the Surface.

      1. I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be that different from what Google is doing. Canonical could produce a tablet for a year or two and generate a fair amount of grassroots publicity which might help attract serious partners too. The OS-space hasn’t been this competitive since the late-80s/early 90s.

        They’re also essentially a no-name brand as far as the general public is concerned so a big name partner could move in anytime once the system and infrastructure has been vetted and/or embraced.

        Still… until I see actual hardware, Ubuntu’s Tablet OS is sadly going to be a ‘DIY on someone else’s hardware with varying success’ for the foreseeable future (as the article indicated). It’s a depressingly similar Linux story unless Canonical takes charge. If they do, maybe they could avoid the tracking, spyware, forked versions, versions with embedded crapware and a myriad of GUI shells that their partners will inevitably produce.

  5. I like the look of that, especially the side by side feature, they are really going to give the others a run for their money. I wonder how long until the big guys are shameless in stealing the great ideas here…. Canonical should start stock piling now and get ready to go thermonuclear on it…

    1. By side by side feature do you mean the side stage? How does that feature differ from what is already in Windows 8? They didn’t give much details on it, but it looks exactly like what Windows 8 does. I like what Canonical is doing, but when I saw the side stage I thought it looked too familiar.

    2. You’re joking right? It’s more like Ubuntu is the one doing the stealing. Doesn’t matter who’s stealing to me though. Whoever pulls it off the best gets my money. Maybe I’ll get an Ubuntu tablet or install it on an existing tablet in a couple of years (I’m an end user not a beta tester after all).

  6. Now I have something to do with my nexus 10. Definitely installing the preview on feb 21

    1. If it runs well on the Nexus 10, I may just try to put it on my ARM Chromebook (same SOC).

      Hopefully it supports hw accelerated video playing because the desktop 12.04 on my Chromebook doesn’t (still 500p videos play well from sw decoding because Exynos5 is a beast).

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