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Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer

Ubuntu – enterprise mobility champ?

This may sound like a very weird title, because: “Wasn’t Ubuntu a desktop Linux distribution?”

-Yeah, it is, but now it’s also a mobile phone operating system, and a tablet operating system.

New Mobile Os contender

A while back, Ubuntu had already announced the mobile Phone OS. It looks great, it packs a lot of new ideas and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The thing that got me going though, was the idea that you could have your mobile phone, with a nice Phone-optimized UI, but in the background, it’s actually a full-blown desktop Linux.

Once you dock the phone with a screen, keyboard and mouse, you get to see the full blown desktop mode. How cool is that?

You don’t even need a laptop any more, you just carry your entire PC in your pocket.

That’s the post-PC era right there!

Yesterday, Canonical announced their tablet OS.

The same principle applies here as well. It’s actually a full blown Ubuntu installation, but with a different Layer on top, to make it optimal for tablet devices.

Again, you can dock it and turn it into a desktop.

What interests me most about this tablet version, is the fact that you can have multiple user accounts on it.

That means you can separate your personal data and your professional data in a very easy way. You even have a guest account for the rest of the family.

Multiple accounts on the device will make it much easier to partially manage the device, only for the professional part. That is the one thing that is missing from Android, iOS and WinPhone. There’s no separation of corporate data and personal data. There’s no different identities or roles on those devices. And that is the reason why BYOD remains so hard.


All of these different Ubuntu versions (Phone, Tablet, PC, Television) are all actually one and the same Operating System, but with different layers on top. That means that your phone, tablet, pc and even television are 100% compatible and mutually interchangeable.

I always hoped that Android would evolve to such a model, but Google opted for Chrome OS for the notebooks. But here is Ubuntu rising to the challenge.

I think that this sort of model may very well be the future for enterprise mobility.


From February 25 to 28, there is the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Canonical will be there, announcing their first phones and flashing your Galaxy Nexus if you want. SAP will be there as well.

I hope the opportunity rises for the folks of SAP to sit together with Canonical and integrate support for this new challenger in their device management and development platform.

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      Author's profile photo Steve Rumsby
      Steve Rumsby

      "What interests me most about this tablet version, is the fact that you can have multiple user accounts on it."

      I agree that makes a lot of sense, even for an entirely personal device - having accounts for other members of the family keeps them away from your email and social media accounts! I should point out, though, that Android 4.2 does support multiple accounts, at least in the tablet version (not on phones, although I'm not sure why). So this isn't a unique feature of Ubuntu.

      My problem with the concept of Ubuntu as an "enterprise operating system" is that until there's a large enough consumer take-up of these devices there won't be enough of them around to use in enterprises, and developers won't target it and so the necessary apps won't be there. So the first question has to be, when will this be a mainstream consumer OS and what's being done to make that happen? Look at Windows Phone for an example of how that shouldn't be done:-)

      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Steve,

      I agree with your input. There has to be an eco-system. Fortunately, because Ubuntu as a desktop exists already 12 years, that eco-system is already there. Long before there was tak about an appstore, Canonical had already foreseen a software center in Ubuntu (which is actually an app-store).

      Ubuntu seems to have a good adoption amongst consumers, enterprises and in the public sector. So the critical mass should be there.

      And there are tons of developers on Linux, so it shouldn't take them too long to develop apps for the phone version.

      Most reactions I already saw where in the likes of: "Cool! Does it run WhatsApp?"

      But that's on consumer side.

      Enterprise side isn't much interested in an app for DropBox, Chatting, Angry birds or whatever. Enterprise wants to have a platform that is easy to control and secure.

      Granted, in a BYOD environment, employees are the ones who make the decision on which device they buy. So we do have a bit of predicament there.

      But I'm confident that Ubuntu, or at least the model they are pushing forward, will make it in the end. (MS does something similar too with their Windows 8 on pc, on tablet and downscaled on phone)

      But it's a matter of: "Wait and see"

      PS: I didn't know about that feature in Android. Thanks for the heads-up.

      I have a tablet at home with Android 4.something... I'll check this evening which version and if I can find the option for multiple accounts.

      Author's profile photo Steve Rumsby
      Steve Rumsby

      I think "Cool! Does it run WhatsApp?" is exactly the point. Until it runs consumer side applications consumers won't buy it, at least not in large enough numbers to make it a viable platform. You are right that enterprises don't care for that stuff, but unless they exist there won't be enough devices around.

      Windows Phone has existed for some time now, and with the marketing budget of Microsoft and Nokia behind it is still isn't anywhere close to a decent platform. And with respect, the existence of a developer ecosystem for a desktop operating system doesn't necessarily translate to an ecosystem for mobile. Again, Windows Phone demonstrates that nicely.

      I'm not saying Ubuntu won't work as a mobile platform. I can see lots of reasons why it will. But you need much, much more than a good OS. Many people argue that the best mobile OS so far was HP/Palm's WebOS. I never owned a WebOS device but what I saw of them was very impressive. But developers didn't develop for them and nobody bought them, and now WebOS is dead.

      Let's hope that doesn't happen to Ubuntu, but to make sure it doesn't it needs to be able to compete with iOS and Android, or at least Windows Phone. That's going to take a while, and need a lot of effort...

      Author's profile photo Steve Rumsby
      Steve Rumsby

      I meant to say, the multi-user feature appeared in the 4.2 version of Jelly Bean. The only tablets I'm aware of currently running 4.2 are the Google Nexus 7 & 10. Nobody else has released it yet for their tablets. The joys of Android fragmentation...

      Author's profile photo Bjoern Weigand
      Bjoern Weigand

      Hi Tom,

      As I watched the announcement from Canonical Ubuntu for mobile phones and yesterday for tablets I was also very impressed. As a mobile developer I like to see innovations and even as a hardcore iOS fan, I have to admit that I really like the UI and how multitasking seems to work. And as you have already pointed out, to have a full OS in your pocket seems brilliant.

      But on the other hand, how much of those concepts will work in a final version, how good will the performance be on a standard device and especially with apps that were developed by 3rd parties? Mostly concept videos looking awesome, but the reality is different. IMHO it was the same with Windows 8 on tablets. The idea was good, the videos looked great, but in the real world it seems that it has no chance against Android and iOS.

      Then there is another thing, as a developer I wanted to figure out what languages I can use to develop apps. Luckily it also supports HTML5 apps, so this will be the best option for lightweight apps in the future, when more and more systems come out, e.g. Firefox OS, Tizen etc. But as a native-fan I checked the developer site and figured out that apps will be developed natively with QML and I have to admit that I didn't hear about it before. But probably Ubuntu dev will know it. So for me it seems I have to learn another language, even if it is JavaScript-based.

      So the question for the future IMHO should be:

      Can I afford to learn x-languages to develop the same app on all the platforms or do I need to swallow the bitter pill and use HTML5 to make at least theoretically life a bit easier.