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Your mobile as PC

T. Ramachandran
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Easy installation of web applications, smooth and fast running onlow-end hardware, virtual desktopinterface — the new Ubuntu OSpromises all this and more.

A new operating system for mobile phones unveiled recently by the makers of Ubuntu, the free and open source Linux-based operating system, offers users a PC-like user experience when these devices are connected to a keyboard, monitor and mouse. Companies manufacturing mobile phones will have to adopt the Ubuntu system for it to flourish in the mobile OS world that is dominated by two behemoths — Google's Android that comes pre-loaded on most smart phones in this part of the country and Apple's iOS that powers iPhones.

The future of the new operating system will be dependent on the extent of support it receives in the coming months, observers in the technology realm said. Talks with global handset manufacturers had been underway at the recently-concluded Consumer Eelectronics Show in Las Vegas, where it was first demonstrated. Exploring tie-ups specific to the Indian market would gather momentum after the Mobile World Congress scheduled to be held in Barcelona next month, where the new OS would be showcased, said Prakash Advani, Regional Manager - Asia Pacific, of the company that promotes Ubuntu — Canonical.

Smooth navigation

“We are still in discussions with handset manufacturers and right now they haven't announced any firm date on when they plan to make Ubuntu-based phones available,” he said. “We particularly see the ability to convert your phone into a PC a big draw for people. In India the phones to PC ratio is 10:1, hence this function is important. Users buy phones to consume content and the PC to create content. With this function, users will be able to create content using the computing power of the phone,” he said. The navigation system for the Ubuntu-powered mobile phone cleverly makes use of all four edges of the phone screen for swipes that provide access to apps and navigation options, control the settings and open up display space. Users do not have to unlock the phone every time they want to use it or come back to the home screen to access content.

Improved apps performance

Web applications of the latest kind (based on version 5 of Hyper Text Markup Language, which is used to format web pages) can be easily installed on the new OS, and co-exist with native applications already loaded on the device. This new app system makes it possible for developers to 'adapt any web property for installation as an app on the phone, running independently of the browser with its own icon and access to system services.' And software made for Ubuntu computers could also be made to work on the phone too, extending the reach of packages.

The OS also works smooth and fast even on low-end hardware, claims Ubuntu, because it dispenses with the Java virtual machine, improving performance for apps that are natively compiled to use the full hardware capabilities. But what is interesting is Ubuntu's visison of mobile phones gaining a PC-like dimension when these devices are connected to a keyboard, monitor and mouse. This can be done by using a dock provided by phone manufacturers, or by using certain types of cables or through Bluetooth.

Virtual desktop interface

In a corporate setting these devices can even replace a thin client — the barebones computers that merely act as intermediaries between individual users and more powerful computers that do the processing. By using a technology called Virtual Desktop Interface, these mobile-phones turned thin-clients running on Ubuntu can even be used to access programmes running on other operating systems like Windows on the back-end computers, said Mr.Advani.

He believes that the limitations of using thin-clients notwithstanding, this vision of employees turning their mobile phones into thin clients in their office with an appropriate hardware interface has particular resonance for India where the PCs outnumber smart phones manifold. Asked whether smartphones would have the power to deliver the kind of experience that users get when they use thin clients, he said that devices with powerful quad-core processors would be common by the year-end when the Ubuntu-loaded devices are expected to hit the market. These devices would have sufficient power to provide a smooth user experience. And corporates in India were showing interest in exploring such options.

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