Secrets & Lies
Canonical has been hard at work on some very interesting projects lately. This new direction started last year when it announced Ubuntu for phones, a fully featured desktop loaded onto an Android device. More recently — and more mysteriously — they’ve been working on the Ubuntu operating system for phones and tablets as a replacement for Android.
In the time between the release of Ubuntu 12.04 and the recent release of these Ubuntu images, Mark Shuttleworth announced that they would be taking a more secretive approach to things moving forward, stating in his blog:
Mapping out the road to 13.04, there are a few items with high “tada!” value that would be great candidates for folk who want to work on something that will get attention when unveiled. While we won’t talk about them until we think they are ready to celebrate, we’re happy to engage with contributing community members that have established credibility (membership, or close to it) in Ubuntu, who want to be part of the action.
The skunkworks approach has its detractors. We’ve tried it both ways, and in the end, figured out that critics will be critics whether you discuss an idea with them in advance or not.
It’s clear that Shuttleworth’s values are different than that of Ben Franklin who quite famously stated “Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”
As the world neared the release of Canonical’s first install images for the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 10, it’s first critics started to come out of the woodwork. One critic was Aaron Siego, a leader from the KDE side of the fence. His criticism is born from Canonical’s claim that Ubuntu is the full installation of Ubuntu that you’ve already been using. Siego goes on to say in a Google Plus post:
We can start with the obvious clue: Unity currently does not use QML at all; Ubuntu Phone is pure QML. So, no, it is not the same code, it is not the sort of seamless cross-device technology bridge that they are purporting.
While Shuttleworth and company has been promoting a seamless experience that scales to any device, we are now learning that it is simply not true — at least, not yet. As of now, it is easy to agree with Seigo if you are rational thinking person. Technical terms aside, Unity and Ubuntu Phone share nothing in common except for the same swatch. That’s right, apparently Ubuntu is just an inviting collection of purples and browns designed to calm your senses and heighten your complacency with it’s product.
The most recent news surrounding the Ubuntu mobile product is its compositor. Like Michael Larabel of Phoronix, I wondered if Ubuntu would be using Compiz or Wayland to draw the screen, assuming rather naively that it would be one or the other. In fact, it is neither. It’s using SurfaceFlinger; Android’s native compositor. So, that slippery, buttery experience that Mark Shuttleworth has got you so excited about is nothing more than a component of Project Butter, something that’s already being exploited by HTC, Samsung, LG and others with their custom Android UI layers.
So what is Ubuntu Phone? Well, ironically it is not Unity. It’s something completely different. It’s got an Android kernel and uses Android kernel modules to gain access to the phone’s radios. It won’t run any standard GNU/Linux software in userspace and all of the applications kick you out the a webpage.
Canonical now claims that the Ubuntu phone and tablet with be fully integrated with the desktop operating system in 14.04. As far as I’m concerned, that means SurfaceFlinger is coming to the Linux desktop.
It used to be that using Linux was about transparency. It’s still true if you’re not using Ubuntu.
Aaron Seigo’s right. We are being duped.