Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded Initiative

Interesting announcement coming from Ubuntu/Canonical last week, one that probably came not a moment too soon! There are so many open source projects with mobile activity right now that it is timely to have someone with a proven track record like Ubuntu to help bring everything together into a complete package.

Looking through the announcement, the wiki, and launchpad site, my impression is that it will be oriented towards the Nokia N800 class or Ultra Mobile PC markets (UMPC). Intel seems to be involved, and with their general push into development of chipsets for ultra portable devices this could be a really promising joint effort.

On the flipside to all of this I have had some rather negative experiences recently with these UMPC’s – I had the chance to play around with the Sony VAIO VGN-UX1XN, as well as another no-name machine the other day and in my brief use of the devices I was surely struggling to find a valid use-case for the two. Both devices seemed like a compromise in all respects and offered nothing truly beneficial other then a ‘cool’ factor which wore off in about 5 minutes of squinting trying to maneuver the mouse over a Windows Start menu – bleh.

The great thing about the Ubuntu Mobile effort is that they are going to leverage technologies (such as Maemo) which were originally designed for this form factor as opposed to attempting to shoehorn a desktop OS onto a 6″ screen. I have not had the opportunity to get my hands on a Nokia N800 or N770 so can’t speak to whether or not you get the same feeling of trying to find a use-case or not but at the very least I would expect the device-oriented operating system to make it easier to use — for something. I’m curious as to what people out there with these devices find themselves using them for right now? If there was existing tighter integration between IM, VoIP, and your home and/or mobile phone would this be a great all-in-one communications device or would it be a jack-of-all trades master of none?

It wasn’t completely clear from what I have read so far whether the objectives of Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded include scaling down to OpenMoko size devices. With both platforms building off of a similar set of components (Gnome Mobile and Embedded) they are at least complimentary in their efforts to shrink down the size of many existing Linux/Gnome components. Perhaps Ubuntu for Mobile phones is a phase 2 development for now.

All of the work happening in the open source community towards mobile and embedded devices is critically important. Many of the proprietary operating systems on mobile devices are more closed to end users than even their counterparts on the PC, limiting even further what you are and are not allowed to build. The network operators are leveraging this level of control as a further way to inhibit innovation and competition by users and businesses around the world. With mobile networks becoming so pervasive the opportunity is there to connect more people together in a single network than ever before. The potential for new ideas or methods of communication to bring the world closer together with such an immense group of users is infinite – so long as those connected are given the permission to do so.