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How Windows, OS X, and Ubuntu are slowly turning your PC into a smartphone

Brad Chacos | Aug. 22, 2013
All the desktop operating systems are integrating mobile features, but they're using very different methods.

"I like that Apple was more gentle about the 'phasing in' [of mobile elements]," says Wes Miller, a research vice president at Directions on Microsoft. "I'm not going to say there will never be a touchscreen Mac—but if there is, I think Apple's going to make sure the App Store's there, first."

Both experts admired the way Apple integrated multitouch elements into Macs via the touchpad, rather via than actual touchscreens. Touchpads let you use gesture controls in a way that feels much more natural than lifting your hands from your keyboard or mouse to poke your monitor, thereby minimizing the physical impact of touch on your PC workflow. (Windows 8 technically offers the same, but most laptop touchpads just plain suck.)

Don't expect the Mac/iPad convergence to stop with OS X Mavericks, either. As Miller points out, the iCloud website was recently updated with "a very iOS 7 look and feel. That makes me think we can expect OS X in 2014 to have a flat, new look."

Baby steps.

Ubuntu Linux
Put down your pitchforks! I know Linux is a complex and varied ecosystem woven from a near-endless number of distributions and interfaces. But for the purposes of this article (and my sanity), I have to focus on just one Linux iteration—and that one is Ubuntu, which is making headlines with its audacious (and doomed) Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign.

If anything, Ubuntu for Android and the Ubuntu Edge smartphone are even more forward-looking than Microsoft's and Apple's ecosystems. Ubuntu for Android functions pretty much like any other smartphone when you use it as a smartphone—with apps, gesture controls, all that. But when you connect a phone running Ubuntu for Android to an external monitor and mouse, the device seamlessly switches to the full desktop Ubuntu Linux distribution, sudo apt-get and all.

Rather than trying to merge portable and PC operating systems, Ubuntu for Android adjusts to offer the best experience for your needs, with the help of some hefty internal hardware. Contacts, photos, videos, and other files are accessible from either side of the OS wall. It's insanely ambitious—a glimpse into a future where one device can handle all our computing needs. But it faces two problems.

First and foremost, no hardware manufacturers have stepped up to actively use Ubuntu for Android. And the reason they haven't is likely tied to the second issue: We aren't living in a one-device kind of world just yet.

"That's a very future-centric [UI] paradigm," says Bajarin. "I don't think it's something we're going to see go big right away...I can see someday, when we've got so much processing power in our phone or tablets that there's no reason why it can't power all these other displays and be all these different PCs. And I think what Ubuntu's doing with the dual-modal software is very interesting.

 

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