Open source! Free! Gestures galore!
Today brought a surprise from London with Canonical's newly announced Ubuntu for smartphones. We're not going to be too critical of Ubuntu here, after all, we write about webOS here, we don't have many legs to stand on when it comes to mocking other operating systems. So… good luck with that.
Canonical's Ubuntu operating system has ben around for years for the desktop and they've recently been making a good deal of noise about extending Ubuntu to other platforms, wanting to get Ubuntu running on screens big, medium, and small with the same general interface. You know, like Open webOS.
Where Ubuntu 12 on the desktop is a fairly intuitive and easy-to-grasp user interface that relies on pre-existing interface conventions in common with Windows (pre-Windows 8, that is) and Mac OS X, Ubuntu for smartphones offers a fairly fresh take on the smartphone user interface. One can look at Ubuntu for phones and see where certain parts of the OS may have taken inspiration, with heavy doses of BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry 10 along with measures of Android, Windows Phone, and webOS. Ubuntu for phones is far more reliant on gestures than any smartphone OS to date, perhaps to its detriment.
Where gestures in webOS were relatively easy to grasp (swipe back, swipe up, and swipe off), Ubuntu for smartphones is entirely dependent on gestures to to the point that user interface discoverability has all but evaporated. webOS had some small discoverability issues, iOS and Windows Phone have always been perfectly obvious, and Android has greatly improved on the discoverability front. Ubuntu, on the other hand, requires knowing gestures just to get past the lock, er, 'welcome' screen. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball put it, "it’s like a desktop interface with nothing but keyboard shortcuts."
Ubuntu for phones also faces the same set of issues as webOS: convincing manufacturers to pick it up and run with it. It's hard to say who has the tougher road here, though the two Linux-based operating systems both have a difficult path to acceptance ahead of them. And hey, they both run on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That's fun, right?
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