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…
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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 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?
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.
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.