Canonical, the open source software company behind the popular Ubuntu distribution of Linux, has unveiled the next stage in its plan for a unified operating system.
The Ubuntu tablet forms one-quarter of Canonical's strategy to produce a single operating system that can run on smartphones, tablet computers, PCs and laptops, and even "smart" televisions, with applications that can run on any one of those devices.
Ubuntu is also expected to be the operating system behind Valve's Steambox, which will enable games and other media to be streamed direct to a console in a home's living room.
The release reflects the growing convergence of mobile devices.
The key for developers, said Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, is that they can write a single application, which will then be capable of adapting for each of the form factors.
"Developers will be able to ship a single application binary, which itself can respond to the different form factors. For the first time, a developer will be able to write a single application binary, which can run on a phone, tablet, PC or television," said Shuttleworth. "It will declare to the system which of those form factors it can support, and will essentially present the appropriate interface for that application in each of these form factors."
He added: "It is a unique and powerful convergence story. The work that we have been doing to shrink the operating system and the 'housekeeping' that it does for the phone has had consequences for people running Ubuntu in the cloud. Because as we make the core operating system image lighter, leaner and more efficient for the phone, the same core operating system image becomes a more lightweight virtual machine."
Furthermore, the security underpinnings of the operating system are the same across all platforms.
"All of the encryption that comes with Ubuntu by default, all of the ability to separate and isolate both applications and users from each other is there in the tablet," said Shuttleworth. "So we expect to see Ubuntu tablets adopted initially in enterprise settings where the ability to manage multiple users on a single tablet is very valuable."
It can also offer full disk encryption of the device and full encryption of all the data generated by the users of the device. It will use the tools that organisations already use today to manage Ubuntu desktops, he added.
For users, the tablet offers "true" multi-tasking.
"We have combined the tablet form factor with the phone form factor, so you can run a tablet application and a phone application on the screen at exactly the same time," said Shuttleworth.
Most phone apps ought to be able to run on the tablet in either full or split-screen without modification. "You can Tweet while you're watching a movie, you can make notes or you can have a Skype conversation while you are surfing the web or working on a document together," said Shuttleworth.
Canonical's single operating system approach stands in stark contrast to the profusion of incompatible operating systems that Microsoft has released over the past year for different platforms: Windows 8 for desktops, Windows 8 RT for ARM-based tablets, and Windows Phone 8 for smartphones.
However, hardware to support Canonical's ambitions have yet to see the light of day, with phones and tablets running Ubuntu not expected to be released before the beginning of 2014. "Developer builds" of Ubuntu for phones, running on the LG Nexus 4, will be out tomorrow.
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