updated 11:25 am EST, Tue February 26, 2008
Canonical today hoped to preempt all comers today with news of Ubuntu Mobile. Its first Linux variant aimed at handhelds, the software is tailored for the Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) expected to launch in spring based on Intel's Silverthorne technology and is designed to recognize basic iPhone-like gestures such as swiping to scroll through menus and websites. A scrolling visual front end based on Flash or Clutter replaces the traditional Ubuntu desktop and is designed to be used solely with fingers, including with an on-screen keyboard.
MIDs based on Ubuntu Mobile will also have full feature support once users launch actual programs, Canonical promises. In addition to full web browsing support, any handheld should support 3D through OpenGL and will have support for 3G cellular Internet access, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX through services such as Sprint's Xohm network. Bluetooth, GPS, USB webcams and other add-ons often used with handheld devices will be supported without needing special support.
Canonical plans to release Ubuntu Mobile sometime after late April, when a milestone release for its desktop version of Ubuntu is available; no hints are given as to the first devices that will use the software, though the company says that most MIDs will carry a screen between 4 and 7 inches large, 2GB to 8GB of flash storage. The Mobile edition will not be limited to handhelds and should still run on most any computer capable of supporting Linux.
The free, open-source software is expected to compete chiefly with Windows in the MID space but may be joined by an updated mobile version of Mac OS X, as multiple reports have suggested that Apple is developing a handheld tablet for release later this year that may use Silverthorne as its foundation.