Ubuntu Improves Support for ARM-Based Mobile Devices
As Apple, Google and Microsoft battle for mobile supremacy, Canonical — promoter of Ubuntu Linux — is preparing its own mobile moves. Ubuntu 11.04 will ship in April 2011 with a kernel version customized for OMAP 3 ARM processors, according to Ubuntu developer notes. Does this mean Canonical hopes to target more types of mobile devices in the future? Here’s the scoop, along with some thoughts.
Texas Instruments’ OMAP 3 chips are a family of ARM processors designed primarily for use in mobile devices. They boast ready support for multimedia applications and acceleration, and are already in use on a variety of phones.
During the last meeting of the Ubuntu Kernel Team on Jan. 4, 2011, developers decided to release a kernel for the next version of Ubuntu, 11.04, customized for the OMAP 3 architecture. This is part of an ongoing effort to expand Ubuntu support for ARM chips.
While no OMAP 3 kernel has been released yet, meeting notes indicate that one should be coming in the future, as the development cycle for the next version of Ubuntu continues. “We are still working to determine how to provide OMAP 3 kernels; testing is ongoing of a master-based kernel,” according to the notes.
Ubuntu On Your Phone?
Ubuntu ports customized for OMAP chips already exist, and plenty of geeks have successfully run Ubuntu on mobile phones in the past. In that sense, the announcement of an OMAP 3 kernel build for Ubuntu 11.04 may not be too exciting.
Official Ubuntu support for OMAP 3 devices, however, represents a major milestone in that it would be the first Ubuntu kernel flavor targeted primarily at mobile hardware — not to mention smartbooks, which may well become an important new family of devices in the coming year.
That change itself may not mean that 2011 will become the Year of the Ubuntu Cellphone, but it could be a significant first step toward a new market for Ubuntu, a Linux distribution traditionally focused on desktops and servers.
Other ARM-related goals for Ubuntu 11.04 include the release of an ARM image and ARM build support on Launchpad, a further indication of Canonical’s aspiration of placing Ubuntu at the forefront of the ARM-based hardware market.
Google’s Chrome OS, of course, which is based on Ubuntu, will also support ARM chips, and it seems likely that many more end users will run Google’s operating system on their devices than Ubuntu 11.04.
All the same, Canonical’s casting of a direct bid for ARM market share could have significant implications for the evolution of Ubuntu going forward, as smaller devices may become an increasingly important focus of Ubuntu developers. It’s also good news for end users who want smartbook hardware but are reluctant to sell their souls to Google by running Chrome OS, which in all likelihood will come tightly entwined with Google services.