IDF San Francisco |The UMPC version of Ubuntu hits alpha next month and features code drawn from Intel's Moblin project as well as Nokia's Linux-powered wireless Internet Tablet family.
Can't wait until the middle of next year to get your hands on a Linux-powered ultra-mobile device? Then track down one of Samsung's Q1 Ultra UMPCs and you can load up an alpha build of Ubuntu Mobile. It's actually a ‘pre-alpha' release - the official alpha will arrive on October 18, alongside Ubuntu's 7.10 ‘Gutsy Gibbon' edition, while the final release will accompany Ubuntu 8.04 ‘Hardy Heron' on April 24, 2008. The timetable was revealed during one of Intel's many Linux-UMPC sessions at this week's IDF techfest, where the Ubuntu Mobile alpha was already running on almost all UMPCs and ‘mobile Internet devices' seen around the floor.
The Ubuntu Mobile core is based on the primary Ubuntu core, with additions by Intel's set of ‘Moblin' Linux core tweaks for mobile Internet devices plus the GNOME Mobile desktop environment (as opposed to the traditional GNOME desktop intended for, well, desktops and their kin). This in turn builds on the Hildon UI and ‘widget' layer which Nokia developed for their N770 and N800 Internet tablets and subsequently pushed upstream to GNOME, to deliver a consistent look and fee, hopefully shaped by Intel's own MID UI guidelines.
|Intel's small-screen UI: the MID interface maximises the application space and limits non-app content to a small strip atop the screen
These set aside 90% of the screen for applications, topped by a ‘marquee' area that contains the application's context menu, system status indicators, a clock and two task switching icons. A thin strip at the foot of the main application window is also allowed as a ‘gadget space' for RSS feeds, live weather reports and so forth.
While MID-optimised apps and components are fed into the core, the core itself accompanies proprietary codecs, fonts and drivers to become a device-specific built of Ubuntu Mobile, which Canonical says will fit into a 500MB solid state drive.
|Core business: Ubuntu Mobile's core is based on the primary Ubuntu core but adds Intel's Moblin work plus the GNOME Mobile desktop layer
Intel also demonstrated several MID applications, including their own home-grown interface to MySpace - no surprise, as social networking in particular has been singled out as a killer application for UMPCs and MIDs. "25% of traffic on the Internet today is contributed by social networking" says Anand Chandrasekher, senior veep for Intel's Ultra Mobility Group. "There about a billion subscribers to social networking sites, with 154 million people spending 3 billion minutes on social networks site everyday".
|Make mine mobile: Ubuntu Mobile Core + device-specific elements
Intel is also contributing its own share of MID code into the open source soup via its Moblin.org project, which the company's Linux and open source technologist Mark Skarpness describes as "the upstream project for Linux on the MID" as well as a community for developers and advanced users. "This is where we do our core development, get the community going and then work with operating system developers to develop the projects that will go on the end-user devices".
Skarpness assured apcmag.com that "everything we put out there will follow one of the approved open source licences. If it's an existing project, for example a kernel patch, it will go in under the GPL version 2 licence, and the projects that we create will generally use GPL. Everything that we host on Mobilin will be 100% open source. And we're very open - if somebody wants to come and do an ARM port and host it on Moblin we're willing to do that."
However, Skarpness cautioned that not all of Intel's MID software would be open source. "We're not saying that we'll never do something that's not open source, but all of the core Linux and stack work we're doing for MIDs, and the core apps that are part of the open source stack, will be".
David Flynn is attending IDF San Francisco 2007 as a guest of Intel Australia