The Ubuntu Phone OS Doesn’t Stand A Chance

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I’m an open-source fan and want more than anything for Linux to spread to the far reaches of every desk and kitchen table where enterprise grunts linger. But there is no chance that Ubuntu will make it in those places.

Even if the new Ubuntu Phone OS that Canonical launched today looks pretty, it still is late and oddly tied to the desktop. I would not even call it a mobile strategy. It’s a mobile/desktop strategy more than anything else.

The desktop is something that Canonical Founder Mark Shuttleworth doesn’t want to give up. So much so that Shuttleworth has lacked the appetite for a mobile play, much less an enterprise-focused one. He wants nothing more than to see someone sitting next to him on the train working on his Ubuntu OS-powered device. His heart is in the consumer market.

In the meantime, the only traction Ubuntu has in the enterprise is on the server-side. And that’s not something you hear Mark talk about that much. He has the consumer on his mind. That said, Shuttleworth is making some promises for Ubuntu and the cloud. Here’s a bit from a post he penned Dec. 26:

It’s also why we’ll push deeper into the cloud, making it even easier, faster and cost-effective to scale out modern infrastructure on the cloud of your choice, or create clouds for your own consumption and commerce. Whether you’re building out a big data cluster or a super-scaled storage solution, you’ll get it done faster on Ubuntu than any other platform, thanks to the amazing work of our cloud community. Whatever your UI of choice, having the same core tools and libraries from your phone to your desktop to your server and your cloud instances makes life infinitely easier. Consider it a gift from all of us at Ubuntu.

The supposed benefit of the Ubuntu phone is that it’s a PC. That’s how Canonical marketed the introduction of Ubuntu for Android that it announced in 2012. Now comes much of the same for today’s news. That does not seem like a strong marketing play to me in this day and age. The desktop is not sexy anymore. And this year it will lose even more of its luster as the form factors for mobile make productivity apps more useful on a smartphone or tablet.

Ubuntu has also lost some of its appeal. Geeks once turned to Linux desktops to build apps. Now it’s the MacBook Pro or Air that you will see them use.

Of course proponents will say that the mobile market is still in its infancy and there is a need for an open OS. While I agree, I am not convinced that Ubuntu will become a winner on the scale of Android, its Linux counterpart.

Years will pass before Ubuntu sees developer traction for an Ubuntu phone. The device does not yet have a manufacturer or an operator. And the first device won’t hit the market until 2014. Further, Android apps can’t even run on the Ubuntu Phone OS.

Ubuntu’s community is not what it used to be, and I am not alone in saying that. It has no history in the mobile market and it won’t for quite some time. The brouhaha over Amazon.com search appearing in the “Dash”  of its Unity interface has not helped either. Nor has its practices for who it allows to develop certain features.

I know people who work for Canonical. They’re hard-working and passionate. But I am really curious to see how Ubuntu fares with its mobile strategy in the enterprise market.

I do also wonder about the future of Canonical. Its money comes primarily from the desktop Ubuntu OS.