Ubuntu for Android

This, folks, is Ubuntu on Android. An honest-to-goodness, not janky or VNC'd, full build of the Linux distro powered by an Android smartphone.

We'll let that sink in.

Ubuntu for AndroidCanonical -- the company behind Ubuntu -- today announced that it's bringing the full Ubuntu experience to multi-core Android phones in the same way that Motorola has attempted to extend its hardware to a more traditional computing experience with Webtop. That is, you'll connect your phone to a keyboard and display, and from there have full control over a proper Ubuntu experience, all powered by the phone. Because your Android smartphone is already running a Linux kernel, the marriage between your phone and Ubuntu is darn near seamless. The Ubuntu build actually shares the kernel from your phone and boots in parallel.

Canonical gave us a walkthrough of the experience, and it really couldn't be more simple. Dock the phone, and Ubuntu Unity fires up. Photos and videos are instantly available in the desktop experience.

But photos and videos are chump change. You've got full Chromium and Thunderbird apps. VLC. The Ubuntu Music Player. If it's on Ubuntu, it can be on your phone.

But the real power is in the ability to launch your Android apps within that desktop experience. Same goes for contacts. Or your network settings. Or your notifications. It's Android within an Ubuntu experience. And it's pretty slick.

As for hardware requirements, you'll need a dual-core smartphone with at least a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. You'll need 2GB of storage free as well, plus USB host mode and HDMI out (MHL adapters will work, Canonical tells us), plus video acceleration. Older phones need not apply, basically.

It's worth repeating that this is your phone powering Ubuntu -- not the Ubuntu desktop on your phone. We're going to get a close look at Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, Spain. Stay tuned. For now, we've got Canonical's full press release after the break.

More: Ubuntu

Ubuntu for Android at MWC - world’s first full-featured desktop on a docked smartphone

Carry less, do a lot more. All the productivity and apps of the full Ubuntu desktop, built into your Android phone.

London, 22nd February, 2012: Canonical today unveiled Ubuntu for Android, bringing the world’s favourite free desktop experience to multi-core Android smartphones docked with a keyboard and monitor. Use Android on the phone and Ubuntu as your desktop, both running simultaneously on the same device, with seamless sharing of contacts, messages and other common services.

The phone experience is pure Android - it’s a normal Android phone. When the device is connected to a computer screen, however, it launches a full Ubuntu desktop on the computer display.  It’s exactly the same desktop used by millions of enterprise and home users on their Ubuntu PCs, and includes hundreds of certified applications, from office productivity to photography, video and music.

All data and services are shared between the Ubuntu and Android environments, which run simultaneously on the device. So Android applications such as contacts, telephony and SMS/
MMS messaging are accessible from the Ubuntu interface. Indeed, all data on the smartphone can be accessed at any time, docked or not.

Ubuntu for Android gives mobile workers a company phone that is also their enterprise desktop.  Government and private institutions have embraced Ubuntu on the desktop because of its ease of use, security, manageability, superb range of native applications and excellent support for web browsers like Chrome and Firefox. The desktop can also include Windows applications, using thin client and desktop virtualisation tools. Today’s IT departments commonly support a PC and at least one desktop phone for every employee. Many also provide and manage mobile phones. Ubuntu for Android presents a compelling solution to IT complexity by reducing that burden to a single device.

The first PC for the next billion knowledge workers could be a phone - but they won’t just want to use it as a handset. They will want all the flexibility and productivity of a full desktop, as well as the convenience of a smartphone on the move. Ubuntu for Android represents the first opportunity for handset makers and network operators to address this growth opportunity in emerging markets.

“The desktop is the killer-app for quad-core phones in 2012” says Mark Shuttleworth. “Ubuntu for Android transforms your high-end phone into your productive desktop, whenever you need it”

Manufacturers targeting the corporate phone, as well as the next-generation enterprise desktop and thin clients can easily add Ubuntu for Android to their smartphones. The customized version of Ubuntu drops in cleanly alongside the rest of Android, and the necessary Android modifications are designed for easy integration. Hardware requirements include support for HDMI and USB, standard features in high-end handsets planned for late 2012.

Ubuntu for Android justifies the cost to enterprise customers of upgrading to higher bandwidth 4G connections and contracts. Cloud apps like Google Docs work best with a full desktop, and shine with the lower latency of LTE. Network operators can deliver their own branded applications and services as part of the Ubuntu desktop, in partnership with Canonical.

Canonical leads the traditional Linux ecosystem in support for the ARM architecture, having co-founded Linaro (linaro.org), the consortium dedicated to the unification of Linux on ARM and the simplification of Android integration and delivery. That industrial experience, combined with Canonical’s long-standing leadership in desktop Linux and deep relationships with global PC brands enables Canonical to deliver an ARM-optimised desktop tightly integrated with Android, on silicon from a range of ARM vendors.

Useful Links and Contacts

About Canonical

Canonical engineering and open community governance drive Ubuntu’s success in client, server and cloud computing - including personal cloud services for consumers. Canonical’s vision of a unified free platform in Ubuntu, from phone to cloud, with a family of coherent interfaces for the phone, tablet, TV and desktop, makes Ubuntu the first choice for diverse institutions from public cloud providers to the makers of consumer electronics, and a favourite among individual technologists.

With developers and engineering centres around the world, Canonical is uniquely positioned to partner with hardware makers, content providers and software developers to bring Ubuntu solutions to market - from PCs to servers and handheld devices.


Reader comments

Ubuntu on Android becomes real, looks to take on Moto's Webtop experience


The article states they run in parallel. You just access one interface on the phone and another on the desktop while docked, but it's all shared all the time.

I'm also wondering about this. I would be shocked if they didn't find a way to get this working with the Galaxy Nexus. I know there are a TON of Galaxy Nexus users out there that would jump on this immediately.... myself included!!

Hmmm. I wonder if this means Android development with the ability to run tests directly. That could be a nice development system in the making. Would be cool to do the same from a tablet, too.

Yes, seconded on decision making for a new phone! I can see this being a very popular technology decision if properly leveraged!

I can see this affecting how quickly I upgrade to a new phone too.

Not to get this functionality on my new phone, but to free up my current phone for this functionality full time...


what do you think you will be running? You will have to re-compile everything to get it to work with your setup.

I can't see this being that useful at all. Android is already a linux, and the apps out there for it are actually made for smartphones.

kids are dumb.

I for one look forward to being able to use the chromium browser when I plug my phone into a lapdock or hdmi dock. I really don't see why you're hating on it so much, is it a full sized x86 computer? No. Does it need to be to do web applications, full scale browsing, document work, movie watching, etc? Also no. Android is not designed for keyboard and mouse, Ubuntu is. Seems like it could work great for casual use to me.

Looks like that exynos processor can be put into some good use.
P.S. I had a sudden realization that we can finally Happy Wheels anywhere we go!

this would be a must for mostly all honeycomb/ICS tablets. I have an original Asus transformer and would love to add another reason to hold it above the iPad for superior content creation.

Perfect. Awesome.
Unfortunately it sounds like they are selling this to manufacturers and not as a consumer product.

Oh my goodness. I'm contemplating how badass this will be using my Xoom...

To quote the epic Barney Stinson.... CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

For all you people that criticized quad-core phones and there being no purpose to that much power. This is why hardware needs to keep advancing. Don't sick your buyers remorse on other people, just enjoy what the fact that if your phone brakes you got great options.

Lol, well I should have ended that note with saying "if your phone "breaks" or if it's time for an upgrade you'll have great choices...

You know what I realized? That most phones now have a single micro-usb/HDMI/charging port. Can the phone(s) slated for this both charge AND drive an external video source simultaneously? They'd have to, or else battery life for this will be even more dismal than normal smartphone usage.

The devices could have a separate dock port, or the dock itself would take care of the data and video transfer. I'm not sure if the port is physically capable of doing both at the same time, but I'd assume so as it would use different contacts for the different functions.

Good point, although I'm pretty sure USB host mode uses the same connections for voltage out (to power devices) as the charging in uses. Probably couldn't mix in and out voltage like that. Docks designed for this are likely the easy answer.

That's what USB host mode does. It provides the 5v of power from the phone/tablet for things like thumb drives to function if they're plugged directly to the device.

Yes, that kind of port (MHL) is on all the new Samsung and HTC (not sure about LG) phones and can charge and output HDMI at the same time. But they cannot connect USB data at the same time as HDMI. So if you have MHL and not a separate USB and HDMI, then you would need to use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. That's probably best anyway because I think USB host mode is tricky without some kind of powered and specially wired dock (must be how those Moto Webtop docks work?)

I wonder if Googlerola will dump WebTob and adopt this instead. The Laptop 500 is great, just not very useable because Webtop is so sucky.

So then this would make my Xoom my replacement for my home PC. Well, except I'd keep my PC for gaming :-) I would definitely use my xoom for everything else, then it would become my mobile PC. Very very cool. Just need this to become available for my Xoom, lol.

Linux software will run on everything, when KDE4 was just to relese i was able to run full KDE3 envriament... on very-old 300MHz Calerion on Slot-1 (a card CPU :p) PC, ofcorse speed of work was slacking but it was usable.

Thing most comecial systems can work on old hardware, but it know that you got old PC and don't let you run it so you can't have "bad experience" :p

So...help me understand...if we have this on our phones...I'll need to haul a dock & BT keyboard w/touchpad around to use this?

Maybe I'm not getting it, but honestly, I'm not sure if I even know anyone with a monitor anymore. They all have laptops...so that would also add a monitor, for true portability?

The full Ubuntu is uber cool, love that! However, I'm looking to not have to carry my phone & laptop around when traveling, so I was planning on the Lapdock as my (albeit imperfect) solution.

What am I missing? (It sounds more like a corporate IT solution, where there are hoteling kiosks set up for them, rather than a consumer solution?)

not unless you are wanting to take ubuntu with you. the idea is that you would have a docking station that you keep at work (phone dock, keyboard, mouse, monitor)

but everything still would remain on your phone.

That's the way I'm taking it too... but I don't see why to do this unless one is really concerned about security. This is essentially the anti-cloud solution for Android. The funny thing is that it is booting into a Linux desktop environment with Linux's star software. Programs like OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Inkscape and GIMPshop, Scribus, and Audacity... which are all very much pointed towards using open standard file formats that should be the most compatible with the cloud anyway.

You'll probably be able to use laptop docks like Moto's Lapdock instead of a separate monitor/keyboard/mouse/dock. The only thing is the price, $300 is too much for these things.

As a long time Android user I can say it pretty cool that you can use your phone features on a large screen but after reasently useing Ubuntu on my pc I am very disappointed. I did no really care for Ubuntu I found it fustrating and limiting as well to easy for it get a virus. I had to get rid of 5 viruses one almost competely messed up my computer!! I found it fustrating because I could not do alot of the things with the current version I had heard on the web it could do as well I had read in a few books. I understand that Android is based off Linux maybe there were things people know how to do with that I don't know how to do with it. Maybe they will make an app that links Android phone or tablet directly to Chrome and that you can do anything with it from there. I just think the whole Linux thing is bad news. I saw it conects seemlessly but at what loss of funtionality or being exsposed to what bug??? We will see time will tell.

This was an accidental double-post, but I figured I might as well use this space to explain why the above poster must suck at computers.

Ubuntu, its parent distribution Debian, and many other Linux distros have trusted repositories full of open-source software packages for nearly anything you may need to do. Furthermore, in the case you may need something outside of the official repos, there are many trusted (and monitored) third-party repos, available either from the community or directly from the upstream developers.

Basically, to get "5 viruses" on your Ubuntu installation, you'd have to go out to ridiculously dodgy websites, download and install at least five random *.deb packages, not have any common sense of basic computer security, and then give your password to install the packages.

In which case I doubt you'd be any better served on Windows, unless you had an anti-virus suite to override your poor judgement.

Ubuntu cloud has 5GB free and has an android app (so when you don't have a dock) so its not really that anti-cloud.

Eclipse, Gimp, etc. on an Android phone! Put it on a quad core next gen ARM chip and sign me up! :-)

Nice to see this but not surprised or amazed. I've been running/distributing a lightweight version of Xubuntu with GIMP and Open Office for the Photon/Electrify since Sept. of last year(a.k.a. Ubuntop). It nice to see that atleast Canonical thinks I'm not crazy.

Totaly Beast!!!! Android is beast!!! Now as desktop w/ Ubuntu!!!!! This means i can compleatly rid any and all buggy,unsecure, past its prime Windows OS !!! I suddenly feel the daily headache and stress dissappearing and freeing my soul!!!!!! i love android but google scares me. There is somthing about google that seems fishy to me. i just dont like how google is getting into EVERYTHING. The only thing i want to compleatly encircle me and my life is the Bill of Rights.
Just so i am clear my comment about google has nothing to do with my comments about android and ubuntu. it is just a feeling i felt needed to be shared.

The author states:

> The Ubuntu build actually shares the kernel from your phone and boots in parallel.

Today's chroot environments do the same thing (I'm typing this on one now in Firefox, on a kernel I compiled myself); the only difference is that (1) as the author mentions, a desktop is only available through VNC or XRDP, and (2) there is no hardware acceleration; which I believe is one of the main reasons for the Canonical distro.

I would not be at all surprised to find out that Ubuntu's implementation *is* a chroot environment with some additional "hacks" to speed it up and use a physical KVM. I think that USB Host mode is already available to many Android phones already; it is simply not enabled in the Android kernel. I haven't tested this with by Incredible, but I have seen some stuff on the Internet that make me think it would work.

To those who doubt that this is useful - I can assuredly say that it is. It's awesome. As a programmer, I can carry a complete development environment with me wherever I go. I'm running apps that are normally limited to my desktop, and have full network capability with my 3G. However, with my 1GHz phone, it's a little on the slow side. Newer processors will only make it even better.