Canonical CEO: Ubuntu tablet OS will battle Android, iOS

Jane Silber believes there's plenty of room for a new player in tablets, TVs, and maybe even smartphones

Jane Silber is on a mission to get the Ubuntu Linux distribution onto mobile devices and TVs, rather than be stuck on desktop PCs. The CEO of Canonical (which makes Ubuntu) took over from the previous CEO, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, in March 2010, but has been with the company since shortly after its 2004 founding. Right after New Year's Day, she paid a visit to InfoWorld offices in San Francisco to talk with InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill about Canonical's ambitions in the mobile market as well as reflect on Canonical's successes and what separates it from rivals.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Canonical has been looking to attract mobile application developers to its platform. | Read InfoWorld's Mobile Edge blog for the latest perspectives on mobile technology. ]

InfoWorld: What are Canonical's goals for the client distro, the server distro, the smartphone distro, and tablet distro, and how will you measure success on these fronts?

Silber: On the client side, it's about moving from the desktop to other form factors. So tablet, TV, and at some point down in the future probably phone, but that's a bit off. And success, there is commercial success in terms of device manufacturers wanting to ship Ubuntu and its user base, its user adoption. There is a real demand for an alternative platform. We believe Ubuntu has all the characteristics that are needed to become that platform.

InfoWorld: Ubuntu is not on tablets now, correct?

Silber: We are not on tablets now, but later this year I expect announcements in that area.

InfoWorld: Will you compete with Google Android, Apple iOS, and others?

Silber: Yes. And we think we can do that effectively because of characteristics of Ubuntu as a platform, industry dynamics, and an increased wariness around the walled gardens of Apple and to some extent Google and even Amazon, as they are increasingly in this game as well. There is a demand for a platform that has characteristics that Ubuntu meets. The characteristics in my mind that are important are openness, and by openness I don't just mean open source code, I mean the governance structure, the ability to collaborate, the ability for there to be multiple devices from multiple vendors.

There has to be a strong developer ecosystem, and we've spent a lot of effort and time in the last couple years building up that developer ecosystem. Building up our software center, building tools to be able to connect the dots between developers and users so that a developer can write an app and submit it through a website and get it into the hands of users very quickly. A free app or a commercially paid app.

There's a certain level of quality and features that is needed in order to be a viable platform in this category, and Ubuntu has that, whereas some of the projects that have come and gone in the last couple years have never really cracked that. We've seen Moblin come and go from Intel, Maemo, MeeGo. Tizen is the latest incarnation -- we'll see if they ever produce anything. We're late in some of these areas. There's already Android tablets, and there aren't Ubuntu tablets. We know we're late, but we think the battle is not over, and we want to compete.

InfoWorld: What are you doing as far as touch technology?

Silber: We've developed something we call uTouch. And it's beginning to be pretty widely used, not just by Ubuntu but by other distros as well. But it's a piece of innovation and technology that's taken some time to develop and so it wasn't really credible to do a tablet until we had that.

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