The developer community has always had a thing for open source software. This is precisely why Ubuntu became so famous all over the world. Apart from being incredibly versatile and flexible, open source software can also be vetted and improved by the developer community which ensures that no backdoors and malicious coding is allowed on any platform. The Debian based Linux has become one of the most popular distros in the world even rivaling the other popular operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. Due to its user growth and popularity, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu decided to expand its ecosystem to handheld devices.
As smartphones continue to become a crucial part of our lives, the company opted to venture into smartphones and release a version of Ubuntu that could be supported by an Android device. Smartphones today have changed from what we used to have five years ago. For example, devices that came out in 2015 have massive specs even rivaling some computers. As most smartphones today come with powerful processors and way more RAM than they can use, these devices have become an exceptional place to try out the Ubuntu operating system.
This idea was first unveiled to the public at the Mobile World Congress back in 2012. The project was ambitious, and die-hard Ubuntu users embraced it for a while. However, this operating system did not gather as much traction and support as the company had hoped. As at 2014, Canonical decided that the project had been halted and no further development was in line for the operating system. Instead, the company decided to focus its efforts on Ubuntu Touch which essentially is a mobile version of the Ubuntu OS but doesn’t include android even though it still uses the Linux kernel as its foundation.
So, why is Ubuntu on Android such a great invention and why was it quite popular?
One of the things that all Ubuntu users can relate to is the unity interface. Despite the distro you are using, the unity interface is one of the familiar things we have come to expect. At its inception, the unity interface was designed with mobile devices in mind. Since its release in 2010, there has been time to not only refine the product, but to also make it something universally accepted and recognized. Adding the worldwide network of Ubuntu unity developers, we can be sure to have one of the liveliest interfaces to use.
As it is the norm with Ubuntu, the version that came to Android also enjoyed regular updates from Canonical. This is critical since it was a developing Operating System and some of its systems needed tweaking for superior performance. The Ubuntu operating system is said to be secure, and that security must also translate to the Android versions. As such, the company ensured that security patches were continuously deployed to ensure everything worked fine. One of the significant updates that was made is to the Ubuntu dual boot app. This was especially because many people were afraid of installing the operating system on their devices thinking it would crash or do some irreparable damage. The dual boot app then made it easier to run both Android and Ubuntu side by side directly on the device.
Ease of customization
Customization is an important factor when it comes to mobile devices. Studies have shown that many users have chosen one operating system over the other due to the ease of customization and personalization. Since Ubuntu was created around the idea of freedom and expression, Ubuntu on Android was also a champion at this. With the gnome or unity tweak tool, you have unlimited number of themes and personalization options to choose from.
Compatibility is vital for developers and operating system users. Compatibility can mean all the difference between deciding to use a system or not. Ubuntu knows this and consequently Canonical ensured that the desktop and mobile versions of Ubuntu were compatible in such a way that you can pick up where you left while working on a mobile device to extend onto your desktop. Something cooler to explore is that all current Ubuntu applications such as Gimp, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox etc. can also run on the Ubuntu OS for android phones. This is really cool since Linux announced that it would provide developers with QML (Qt Meta Language) which will make it possible for these developers to bring their native Linux apps onto mobile. Developers can also use HTML5 alongside QML and Open GL to not only develop for Linux but also for smartphones.
One of the foundational pillars of Ubuntu is security. According to a study conducted by MIT, many users have said that they choose Ubuntu over any other operating system due to its security. This is exactly why Android is based on a Linux kernel which means it automatically inherits some of the security features of Linux. In a time where hacking and malware are prevalent, having a more secure device is a welcomed idea.
However, as much as these phones have major advantages and functionalities that completely change the game on mobile devices, it did not go as mainstream as Canonical had hoped. With this operating system, the company was looking to make an entry into the smartphone market where two big giants basically own the market; Android and iOS. Ubuntu on Android faced the same problems as companies trying to make an entrance into the smartphone market. It is currently an Android and iOS market, and that seems to be unshakable for the time being.
How did Ubuntu for Android miss the mark?
It is a known fact that both Android and IOS leave a lot to be desired. However, many people are willing to overlook these flaws because of a few things. One of the things that attract users to either IOS or Android is the fact that they have millions of apps readily available in their respective app stores. These are apps that people love and for lack of a better word, can’t live without. This does not mean there are no apps developed for Ubuntu on Android, but they are not enough. It is really disappointing to search for an app and not find it on the app stores.
The second issue is that traditionally, Ubuntu has been known as a geek’s system. As such, many users still have this perspective on the operating system and will not try it out due to the perception that it is harder to operate than standard operating systems. When comparing Android apps with Ubuntu scopes, we find that the Ubuntu scopes are better than Android especially from a development and resource allocation standpoint. However, when it comes to marketing and title selection, Android and iOS have mastered the art. Since the end user does not care about the technology behind the scenes, Android and IOS apps will always take the day.
Since Canonical announced that they would no longer support their distro of the Ubuntu OS, developers and open source lovers have been forced to look for alternatives that give a near perfect Ubuntu experience.
Here are some of the best alternatives for running Android on Ubuntu
Tizen is one of the most popular open source mobile operating system available in the market today. It is important to note that this operating system is Linux based and is officially supported by the Linux Foundation. As such, many have even gone a step further and called it the official Linux mobile OS. Apart from being supported by the Linux Foundation, this project also has the support of Intel and Samsung. The later even released a Tizen phone dubbed Samsung Z.
PmOS in short, is a touch-optimized Alpine Linux based operating system that can be installed on a smartphone. We know that you can easily install Linux on older computers, but Android and iOS have stopped releasing updates for the older versions of their operating systems. PostMarket OS aims to change all that by providing smartphones with a 10-year life cycle where you can use your smartphone for much longer without worrying that its security features are outdated and defunct.
After Canonical ceased the support for Ubuntu for Android, they focused on a new project called Ubuntu Phone where the aim was to build a phone that runs entirely on Ubuntu and is nearly the same as that of the computers. This was an ambitious project that aimed at creating an operating system for tablets and phones. Spanish manufacturer BQ stepped in to make the first device running on the OS. This was soon followed up by Chinese manufacturer Meizu. However, these manufacturers have only been able to ship six devices running the OS. This in contrast to the now defunct Mozilla Firefox OS which shipped three tablets and 23 phones.
Ubuntu is a great operating system with a myriad of benefits. However, the smartphone market as it is cannot support it. IOS and Android have taken over and won’t be relinquishing the top spots for years to come. However, as research and development into this area continue, we can expect a superb project in future.