Keen hardware hackers will soon be able replace the Android operating system with the full Ubuntu for Phones software, enabling them to use desktop applications on a mobile phone.
The code is initially being released as a file for Samsung Galaxy Nexus handsets, and Ubuntu's founder is apparently in talks with manufacturers for devices to be sold with the system pre-installed. Ubuntu-powered phones are expected to arrive in 2013.
It is unlikely that Ubuntu will gain any significant traction in the consumer market, as it's doubtful whether people want to run a full computer operating system on mobile handsets.
Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder acknowledged to the BBC that the device would be limited to "enthusiasts and hobbyists at first", but claimed that it signalled a wider shift on the horizon. "It's quite incredible that we're at this point when the power of the phone is crossing over that with baseline processing power of basic laptops," said Shuttleworth.
"We're taking advantage of that so for the first time in history you have the full consumer PC platform available on a phone.
"I'm very confident if we look ahead over the next three to five years that's a transition that Apple is going to have to make... and if it's not Windows 9 it will be Windows 10 that will see Microsoft bring its phone and laptop together into one device. It's really cracking to do that ahead of everyone else."
Although it may be limited to tech tinkerers, they may get a powerful device out of an Android phone running Ubuntu Linux. Because Android itself is based upon Linux it shares the same Kernel (the software that sits between the operating system and hardware). This means that it's easy for Ubuntu to access the same hardware on an Android handset.
Ubuntu Linux has over 45,000 native apps already available, and most are free. And the Ubuntu development community is active in pushing forward new technology and feautres, as well as working collectively to ensure that software is free from bugs. It's also free from viruses and runs relatively well on older hardware.
Ubuntu recently introduced a Siri-style 'head-up display' that enables users to control the OS with their voice. Even so, the main problem with running Ubuntu on a 4-inch touch-screen display is that most software is designed for the traditional mouse and keyboard interface. Developers are being urged to adapt their apps to touch screen.
A new trailer demonstrates how Ubuntu for Phones works.
The new Ubuntu for Android interface also uses Thumb gestures from the four edges of the screen to help users switch apps more quickly than on other phones. And controls appear only when users want them to.
London-based Canonical is behind Ubuntu for Android, and is offering it for download free of charge. “We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client, and phone functions,” explained Canonical CEO Jane Silber to PC World. “We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web, and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation.”
Even so, we don't expect it to threaten Apple or Google any time soon.