Move over GNOME, Ubuntu Mobile looks at Qt, other desktop environments

An Ubuntu-based mobile phone still a way off.

The Ubuntu Mobile operating system is undergoing its most radical change with a port to the ARM processor for Internet devices and netbooks, and may use Nokia's LGPL Qt development environment as an alternative to GNOME.

During a presentation at this year's conference in Hobart, Canonical's David Mandala said Ubuntu Mobile has changed a lot over the past year in that it now includes netbook devices in addition to MIDs and the ARM port.

"I worked on ARM devices for many years so a full Linux distribution on ARM is exciting," Mandala said, adding one of the biggest challenges is reminding developers to write applications for 800 by 600 screen resolutions found in smaller devices.

"The standard [resolution] for GNOME [apps] is 800 by 600, but not all apps are. We do a fair amount of work customising screen sizes. Our apps are optimised to fit 4.5 to 10-inch LCDs -- with and without touchscreens."

For this reason Ubuntu Mobile uses the GNOME Mobile (Hildon framework) instead of a full GNOME desktop, but since Nokia open sourced Qt under the LGPL it may consider this as an alternative.

"We will be looking at a better framework than Hildon for screen input," Mandala said. "Hilton is about to change and watch this space. Intel and Nokia are creating a huge amount of change so hang tight for a couple of months."

"The KDE stuff and Qt is getting LGPL which will change the whole space. So watch this space as it is changing dramatically. We will chose the best tool."

Mandala said some of the KDE apps fit on the smaller screens well.

"I can't say anything about KDE at this point but who would have thought Qt would go LGPL," he said.

Ubuntu Mobile for netbooks will also get its own distribution in line with the release of Jaunty Jackalope in April 2009.

"Jaunty will have a full image for netbook devices," Mandala said. " Jaunty netbook edition will have a cut-down set of applications compared with the Ubuntu desktop, but apt-get works and you can install what you like."

The Jaunty netbook release may be GNOME-based or an alternative desktop.

"It's a completely supported Ubuntu distribution and will get every six month updates. We've ported the main repository, and compiled Universe," he said. "About 500 packages are still not built out of some 10,000."

"The interfaces are changing and they are playing with the interface to see what works for consumers," Mandala said. "It differs from Ubuntu desktop as it is not for experts."

The ARM v7 system for netbooks is under development and there are issues as most boards don't have 2D and 3D Linux drivers yet.

"We are also targeting things a little differently and Ubuntu Mobile requires some tweaking," Mandala said. "It is going on proprietary hardware and has proprietary extensions. It is a different marketplace, but we are still out here for the community."

"I'm working very hard with system vendors to get these devices to market at reasonable prices."

As for an Ubuntu Mobile GSM phone, "the big drawback is there is no telephony stack out there for us to use and there are certification issues".

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Rodney Gedda

Techworld Australia
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