Mark Shuttleworth takes his case for the Ubuntu Edge to Reddit

The Canonical founder discusses the merits of crowdfunding its superphone, how open the device will be, and whether users should worry about government surveillance

Canonical's bold Ubuntu Edge experiment in crowdsourcing, open source, and device convergence has proven intriguing to members of the tech community. That point became all the more evident earlier today as Reddit users showered Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth with myriad questions during an AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview concerning the proposed, cutting-edge "superphone."

For the unaware, Canonical launched an ambitious $32 million crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo earlier this week to fund the production of 40,000 Ubuntu Edges devices. The idea behind the device, which runs both Ubuntu and Android, is that one can use the phone when out and about, or use it as a PC by connecting it to a monitor and keyboard.

As described by Canonical, the Edge will feature a quad-core processor from a yet-to-be-named chip company. It will boast 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4.5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel display made from a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. Other features include high-speed roaming with access to 4G LTE broadband; support for dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, and near field communication; and two cameras, an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. It will be powered by a silicon anode battery.

Following are some excerpts from the Reddit AMA interview with Shuttleworth.

On why Canonical is using Indiegogo instead of more traditional sources to fund the campaign, such as the Carrier Advisory Group: "The point of crowdsourcing is to shift processes away from industry into the hands of enthusiasts and independent decision makers. We are able to propose a device which would never make it through the risk-averse selection process at a carrier or manufacturer -- not because they are dumb, but because the consequences of failure are bad for them personally and institutionally.

"We're doing it because we are set up to host a community, which is what the Edge backers become, that can help finalize the Edge spec and then work on next-gen specs too. We're already doing that every day, while the major carriers/manufacturers are not set up to do that."

On how Canonical will spend the $32 million it hopes to raise: "Software is covered by our existing efforts to bring Ubuntu to mobile, nothing more needed there. The crowdfunding is really what it costs to bring a device to market, it would be more if we were a major brand, $32 million is pretty lean, I'm told."

On what happens if the campaign fails to raise the $32 million: "Lots of folks have speculated I might close the gap if it's close. But I think that would not be in the spirit of the project; rather I would hope someone smarter than me will come up with a better concept that does get green-lighted, because I really believe in the idea of crowdsourcing the signal to innovation."

On whether the Edge will comprise open hardware: "This first version of the Edge is to prove the concept of crowdsourcing ideas for innovation, backed by crowdfunding.... [In] this first generation Edge, no, we didn't look for open hardware specifically. We can choose silicon with more open drivers as we finalize the spec, but I think the priority for the CPU/GPU will be performance to hit the goal of convergence.

"In future generations, it would be great to see if we can do an all-open device, for example."

On the potential for the quad-core device overheating: "We've done thermal modeling of the device (recognizing that the processor options are still only guidance from the vendors). I think for this generation we want to go all-out for performance to get over the convergence hump -- i.e. deliver a device that gives a good enough desktop experience when you hook it up via HDMI and a Bluetooth keyboard.

"But we are doing a lot of work on cooling off while you are not actually using it docked, so it doesn't warm up your pocket when you're not using it as a desktop!"

On the potential brittleness of the device's proposed sapphire crystal screen: "We've done drop-test simulations, and we have tried to shape the internal structure to manage this, and think it's going to be OK, but that's the point of pushing the limits, right?"

On employing wireless-charging technology. "We considered it and decided it would make the device too thick (because we are already pushing the limits on storage, RAM etc).

"In a future iteration I would like to do both wireless charging and wireless display for untethered convergence, but that's not ready yet, even for the crazy people."

On whether the Edge will employ binary blobs or open-sourced firmware: "There may be blobs in the first generation device. The way to a blob-free future is to show demand from folks who care about that, not to be ideological about it."

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