An old idea about open source -- that it's all about cheap knockoffs of proprietary ideas -- has been turned on its head. Today's open source communities, where it's easy to build on the work of others without constantly seeking permission, offer the most fertile soil for seeding new ideas and growing innovation.
Among open source projects, the Ubuntu operating system in particular has shown a propensity for experimentation in this tradition. Ubuntu's parent company Canonical has a history of bold choices and innovations. As you may know, the company's vision is now broader than end-user desktop Linux; for example, Canonical announced a partnership with Hewlett-Packard last week to put Ubuntu's cloud server edition on HP's ProLiant server range. And the company is working on a variety of phone and tablet operating system ideas.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Canonical's main offices in London to check out Ubuntu for Android. This software development opens up a new vista of lower-cost and multipurpose devices in the enterprise. By sharing the Linux kernel that's running in the phone between a full copy of Android and a full copy of Ubuntu, it's possible to carry your desktop in your pocket.
That phrase has been used before to describe thin client desktops, referring to the identity token used to access a remotely executing desktop, but in this case it's real. The full Ubuntu GNU/Linux desktop is indeed running in the phone, just waiting to be connected to a screen, keyboard, and mouse. I asked Canonical's product manager, Richard Collins, to give me this explanation and demonstration:
Richard told me that the Ubuntu for Android he showed me is a proof-of-concept, but Canonical is in negotiations with both manufacturers and carriers that might conceivably see a product on the market before the end of the year. There are many potential enhancements possible, including native Ubuntu applications that exploit the phone hardware directly and applications with both Android and Ubuntu variants that collaborate through the shared kernel and storage of the phone.