Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, has shared his plans for 2013. It was clear from the Nexus 7 initiative that Ubuntu is eventually looking into the mobile space more seriously. Google created the cheap device Ubuntu was looking for wider testing and development.
Mark Shuttleworth writes on his blog, "That’s why Unity in 2013 will be all about mobile – bringing Ubuntu to phones and tablets. Shaping Unity to provide the things we've learned are most important across all form factors, beautifully. Broadening the Ubuntu community to include mobile developers who need new tools and frameworks to create mobile software. Defining new form factors that enable new kinds of work and play altogether. Bringing clearly into focus the driving forces that have shaped our new desktop into one facet of a bigger gem."
The initial builds of Ubuntu for Nexus 7 also showed that despite popular perception Unity is far from ready for the mobile devices. In fact quite a lot of 'controversial' technologies introduced in Unity don't fit on a mobile devices such as Global Menus or HUD. The last thing you want to do on a mobile device is typing. So, Unity needs a lot of reworking to make it work on touch-based device. Gnome 3 Shell has kept touch in the focus from the very beginning so everything is being developed with a concrete focus. KDE is already future ready with Plasma Active which leave Ubuntu to create a UI which can run on mobile devices.
There are many questions for the Ubuntu development and design teams. Does that mean Unity will see yet another major design shift to accomodate mobile devices? Will the company maintain two UIs - one for mobile devices and one for desktop? What will happen to technologies like HUD and Global Menus which don't seem to make much sense on mobile devices?
At the same time when we look at Ubuntu in the mobile space, as we have learned, it's less about the base OS and more about the apps. Even if Ubuntu Unity gets ready for the mobile where are the apps and device that can run Ubuntu? Mobile is also about power efficiency, you want at least 9-10 hours of battery life, you can't expect such power efficiency from traditional apps (which a UI not optimized for mobile devices) to give such battery life. I am really curious what plans Mark has to engage top developers to offer their applications for Ubuntu Mobile. Microsoft, with its deep pockets, is struggling to get decent apps for their Windows 8 platform (and they can 'buy' developers) so what incentives open source developers will have, which often work in free time, to re-write their apps for Ubuntu Mobile? I am really curious about Canonical's strategy for 2013 to engage open source developers for their mobile initiative.
One thing Canonical got right was it's strong presence in the cloud. Ubuntu One and Ubuntu One Music are already going strong and since mobile is mostly about cloud, Canonical won't have to struggle in this department. They can offer a very tight integration with Ubuntu One cloud service.
For enterprise customers Mark says, "It’s also why we’ll push deeper into the cloud, making it even easier, faster and cost effective to scale out modern infrastructure on the cloud of your choice, or create clouds for your own consumption and commerce."
Ubuntu is one of the most successful open source product with a huge user-base. That also means a lot of challenge, when you change things around, it upsets a lot of people. The year 2013 definitely means a lot for Canonical as they have declared it to be the year of mobile for Ubuntu. Ubuntu has already seen criticism from FSF and EFF and it will be walking on a tight rope to maintain a balance among what long time users need, what the larger free software community expects from it and what the company actually wants.
Mark is aware of these challenges and he says, "There will always be things that we differ on between ourselves, and those who want to define themselves by their differences to us on particular points. We can’t help them every time, or convince them of our integrity when it doesn’t suit their world view. What we can do is step back and look at that backdrop: the biggest community in free software, totally global, diverse in their needs and interests, but united in a desire to make it possible for anybody to get a high quality computing experience that is first class in every sense."