Why Mozilla And Canonical Should Join Forces

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Where do I begin?  This idea entered my head the same day that Canonical announced Ubuntu For Android.  That same day, information leaked about a desktop-capable Android, most likely Android 5.0 Jelly Bean.  The appeal of tethering Ubuntu to a monitor, keyboard and mouse–from an Android phone– is tremendous.  The appeal of attaching an Android phone to a monitor and gaining desktop functionality while only having to use one OS is much greater, I’m afraid…

Where do I belong?  Everywhere…

In a time where it seems that Canonical is making all the right moves, one can easily envision Ubuntu making strides into the realm of retail to compete with the likes of Apple and Google.  In fact, with the burgeoning and unavoidable proliferation of mobile becoming a true platform for productivity, what’s to stop Ubuntu from finally rivaling Microsoft?  Redmond has absolutely no presence in mobile.  It’s foothold on the desktop is quickly diminishing.  Ubuntu currently provides the only desktop experience suitable for a tablet and a desktop.  You might argue that Gnome 3 is right there with it, but I would disagree with you.  Android, iOS and even Windows 8 don’t meet the demands of a useable full desktop environment on a tablet.  With Jelly Bean right around the corner, this may no longer be true…  The rumors say that Android may even allow for the touchscreen on your phone to be used as a trackpad!!

Google's patent points to a bright future.

Google has slowly cornered every market it’s been successful in.  The king of search is also the king of email and video on the web.  It owns the mobile phone space and their chunk just keeps growing.  It’s only a matter of time until Apple’s piece of the pie looks just like it does on the desktop.  You may say that Google is evil, but it’s no secret that they’ve gotten there with good ‘ol fashioned innovation– and I’m not excluding the purchase of innovative companies.  Google also produces the wildly successful Chrome web browser.  Once Chrome becomes the standard web browser for Android, which I’m sure is not that far off, it will surpass IE and become the no. 1 browser in the world.  Unless Apple or Microsoft firebombs all of Mountain View, this is completely unavoidable.  This has left Mozilla in an awful position where they are desperately clawing at relevance on all platforms with Firefox, and to a lesser degree, the completely unnecessary Thunderbird.

Let’s Do Business

One of the reasons Android is so successful is because of how completely integrated it is.  The core experience is all Google, and with that comes a raw cohesiveness that is a pleasure to use.  Ubuntu does not have this, and never will.  All Ubuntu is is a collection of packages that best suit the average user.  With Unity and the Ubuntu Software Centre, a solid attempt has been made to create a tight and integrated experience.  With this, they’ve planted the seeds for a real ecosystem.  The big problem with Unity is the fact that instead of bootstrapping an entirely new project, they’ve projected themselves above all the rest on the shoulders of the Gnome project.  It’s important to note that Unity is much more popular in the desktop realm than it’s daddy is.  If Unity is to become a certified giant, and diminish the share of other desktops and distributions even more than it has already, what will the motivation be for Gnome to continue?

Well... it's a start.

Ubuntu needs a real set of integrated core apps, and Thunderbird and Firefox could be the first 2.  Google has made great strides with Chrome for Android, essentially unifying a great web browser.  Firefox is still futzing around with two separate user paradigms.  Firefox 10, and even the forth-coming redesign is completely different that their mobile browser.  This is a great opportunity to become deeply integrated with a serious partner that has relative goals.  The devs and design team at Canonical could put some fresh eyes on an old project and essentially apply that second coat of wax needed to make it really shine.

It’s no secret that Canonical wants to put Ubuntu everywhere and on every device.  Well, what will they do when they are ready to take on the world of mobile phones?  What will their web browser be?  Surely not Firefox 10.  Canonical + Mozilla could create a serious brain-trust.  This team could have a real shot at competing in a space where Microsoft no longer can.  I don’t think that Canonical is interested in Ubuntu being the best alternative anymore.  They want to be a market leader.

Firefox or Phoenix?

How do you monetize a web browser?  It depends on your position.  If you’re Apple, you don’t.  It’s a value-added feature of Mac OS X.  If you’re Microsoft, you produce Internet Explorer so that you can get people to msn.com.  Why do you think Internet Explorer lags behind in features and only meets the bare minimum in the functionality department?  Both msn.com and Internet Explorer exist mutually.  But what if you’re not merely a component of an operating system, or in Microsoft’s case, an after-thought?  There aren’t many ways to monetize a free web browser, especially with so many free-loaders lurking around.  Mozilla is in the unfortunate position of relying on Google for referral revenue.  With Google as a major player in the browser market, Mozilla is in a tight spot.  So, can Firefox rise from the ashes and shine as brightly as it once had?  Maybe not as bright, but as a tightly integrated component of Ubuntu, there is some chance.

You’re doing it wrong

It’s interesting to look at the approach taken by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Canonical.  iOS 5 is a version of Mac OS X.  They share Darwin, Aqua, and many other technologies, though they are maintained separately.  Now, with the success of the iPad, Apple is working features up to the desktop and laptop from iOS.  Canonical is moving itself downward towards the phone despite being full of apps that are helplessly bound to the desktop.  This leaves Google in a prime position.  They’ve curated the phone experience with Ice Cream Sandwich and created something brilliantly easy to use and manipulate.  They’ve unified the tablet and phone experience and now they’re looking towards the desktop.  What’s ChromeOS for again?  I’m not sure how anyone will be able to compete with Android on every platform.

Conclusion

You can wish in one hand and you can crap in the other and see which one fills up first.  A world where Ubuntu can gain significant traction in mobile and desktop with a new and exciting- and scaleable- version of Firefox and Thunderbird, is an exciting one.  I would be lying if I said that I think this will happen, but there is a silver-ling…  If Google can manage to scale Android up to the desktop, we can all get our decade plus long wish of Linux on the desktop.

 


Dean Howell

Dean Howell has over a decade of experience with Linux and nearly 2 decades of experience with computers in general. Currently, Dean is Editor-in-chief of The Powerbase and also works for one of the world's largest providers of Linux-based NVRs.

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  • fcassia

    Android is not Linux

    • Keithammond

      If that is so, Then how are they merging the kernels again?

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      Android is as much Linux as any other distribution is. Linux is not an operating system, it is a kernel: a component of the larger OS.

      Mainstream distributions are a combination of the Linux kernel and the GNU userland, while Android is the Linux kernel and Bionic/Java VM.

      • fcassia

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/sep/19/android-free-software-stallman

        Android is a lot less “free” than a truly mobile linux like Nokia N9’s MeeGo or Moblin.

        • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

          That has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Android is a Linux distribution or not. It even says as much in the article you just linked to:

          “Android is an operating system primarily for mobile phones, which consists of Linux (Torvalds’s kernel), some libraries, a Java platform and some applications. Linux aside, the software of Android versions 1 and 2 was mostly developed by Google; Google released it under the Apache 2.0 license, which is a lax free software license without copyleft.

          The version of Linux included in Android is not entirely free software, since it contains non-free “binary blobs” (just like Torvalds’ version of Linux), some of which are really used in some Android devices.”

          More to the point, the FSF doesn’t even consider the Linux kernel to be truly free software (which is why Linux-libre exists: linux-libre.fsfla.org), so I don’t know how you can come to the conclusion that Android is not Linux because the FSF says Android isn’t free software. Neither of them are free software, they are both open source projects. There is a big difference.

  • http://profiles.google.com/pmazz04 Pete Mazzaccaro

    Totally late to this post, but I agree 100% I thought the same thing when I first heard about Boot2Gecko and also thought about it again with the Ubuntu on Android announcement. The obvious upside is that between Ubuntu and Firefox, you’re talking about two of the most popular names in open software — Firefox is a name people will recognize. I think a partnership would definitely help them make a dent (albeit a very small one) in the Android market.

    I think as Android grows, it very easily could start to muscle in even on the Linux desktop market as it becomes the best third option to Windows and MacOSX. In a couple of years, or less, the best expenditure of $500 on computing will likely be on something like the Asus Transformer pad.

    I think Mozilla and Canonical could definitely put out something competitive. I also doubt it will happen, but it is a really good idea.

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