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Windows 10 just beat Ubuntu to the smartphone-PC convergence punch

Chris Hoffman | May 4, 2015
With Windows 10's universal apps and Continuum for phones, Microsoft is turning Ubuntu's dream of convergence into cold, hard reality.

In one fell swoop, Microsoft has potentially made Windows phones much more appealing to many more people. This is possible because Windows 10 for phones uses much of the same underlying technology as Windows 10 for PCs, especially the new universal apps. Even with Windows 8, both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 were different operating systems with different app platforms.

Canonical's vision of convergence and the reality of current Ubuntu phones
Meanwhile, in 2013 Canonical cast a spell over us with its own vision of "convergence" that would define Ubuntu for phones.

Ubuntu for phones was going to be a full version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution we all know and love, with a new version of the Unity desktop that could adapt to small screen sizes. A Ubuntu phone could be docked to a larger display and the Unity desktop would grow to provide a desktop-like interface, and those phone applications would run in floating windows with more powerful interfaces. All existing Linux desktop applications would run fine, too.

The dream has hit some stumbling blocks on the road to reality, however, though Canonical has been working on making the Ubuntu convergence happen.

That's why Canonical is creating its own Mir display server instead of the Wayland display server other Linux distributions use. That's why Unity 8 exists. Current versions of Ubuntu still use the Unity 7 desktop, but the experimental Ubuntu Desktop Next image uses a version of Unity 8. Canonical still has a lot of work to do on this interface, however--boot up Ubuntu Desktop Next and Unity 8 still thinks it's running on a phone, with references to smartphones in many places throughout the interface. It's taking Canonical a while to get there, and the main Ubuntu desktop with Unity 7 has seen few changes over the past few years as Canonical remains focused on Ubuntu phone and its cloud server aspirations.

Unity 8 is still used on those Ubuntu phones out there, but as mentioned, it has no convergence abilities. In February 2015, Canonical's Cristian Parrino addressed this:

"Convergence both in terms of a software platform that can operate on different form factors and also in terms of a device that can power a PC is very much part of our roadmap. The first BQ device is a smartphone, but it's not an Ubuntu Edge convergence play."

So it's on the radar, but it's not here yet. Canonical is struggling mightily to get the Ubuntu edition of the Meizu MX4 smartphone out so more of the world has a chance to actually use an Ubuntu phone.

For now, the official Ubuntu phone website doesn't even mention convergence at all. "Ubuntu introduces a new way to enjoy content and services on smartphones, without relying on traditional apps," it says, touting the scopes-focused interface. "Ubuntu Phone has been designed with obsessive attention to detail," Canonical goes on to promise. It's a new and unique interface, and that's great--but that's not why we were all so excited about Ubuntu phones in the first place.


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