Ubuntu Touch OS released to Nexus phone, tablet developers

A touch-enabled version of Linux Ubuntu for developers was released for download Friday by Canonical.

Daring users are being warned by the authors of Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview that it's an experimental development snapshot that can potentially "brick" their devices.

They aren't kidding, as InfoWorld writer Galen Gruman discovered. At one point during his experimentation with the mobile OS, he turned his Nexus 4 phone with Ubuntu Touch on it off. It wouldn't come back on.

"Ubuntu Touch killed my Nexus 4," he lamented. "Oh well, the Nexus 4 isn't a great smartphone anyhow."

However, the OS apparently has a Lazarus feature. "[A] few hours later, my dead Nexus 4 came back to life—I have no idea why—with Ubuntu Touch running as if nothing had happened," Gruman wrote.

Ubuntu Touch wipes Android from your phone

When you install the software, it will wipe Android from your device—another reason for caution. However, Google has posted firmware images online that can be used to restore a Nexus device to its factory condition. It's a good idea, though, to make sure the factory image for your device is available from Google before nuking Android from your Nexus device with Ubuntu Touch.

Downloads of the mobile OS are available for the Galaxy Nexus (GSM "maguro" variants only), Nexus 4 ("mako"), Nexus 7 ("grouper"), and Nexus 10 ("manta").

Ubuntu
This example from the Ubuntu wiki shows how the Ubuntu Touch OS looks on phones or tablets.

You can also run the softwareon Sprint and Verizon Galaxy Nexus devices, as well as the 3G Nexus 7. Since the mobile OS doesn't support CDMA or 3G data transfer, its operations are somewhat limited on those devices.

Applications for the preview OS are, as might be expected, scant. There's a browser, a video player, a music player, a Twitter client, a photo-taking app, a Facebook client, a basic note-taker, a basic weather app, and a phone client. Also supported are Ubuntu's built-in speech and voice-searching tool.

Features in the tablet version of the software

The availability of the preview download of Ubuntu Touch comes on the heels of Canonical's announcement of a tablet version of the mobile OS.

Features in the tablet OS, which supports screen sizes from 6 inches to 20 inches, include:

  • Real multitasking: A phone app on the screen can run at the same time as a tablet app.
  • Secure multi-user: Multiple accounts on one tablet with full encryption for personal data, combined with the trusted Ubuntu security model that is widely used in banks, governments, and sensitive environments.
  • Voice controlled Heads-Up-Display design to increase productivity.
  • Use of screen edges for navigation between apps, settings, and controls, which reduces clutter and displays more content.
  • Full convergence: Tablet interface is exactly the same as the one used by the OS on phones, PCs, and TVs.

The first Ubuntu phones were originally reported to start arriving on retail shelves in October, but that timetable has been revised by Canonical. It now says its mobile OS will be ready for prime time in October, with Ubuntu phones expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2014.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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