Ubuntu Touch Not Dead

Mar 10, 2017

Lives on as a community project

It would seem that, at least in the short and mid-term, there are no plans on behalf of Canonical of producing a new version of Ubuntu Touch, the operating system for the Ubuntu phones put out by companies like bq and Meizu back in the day. It also true that Canonical's hardware associates seem to have no plans to put out any new devices running the system.

One would be excused of thinking that the Ubuntu Touch/Phone project is dead or, at least, suspended, until such a time when the mobile market is more favourable.

However, this would be wrong on two counts. Firstly, it is now clear Ubuntu Touch, a system running on top an Android base, was not meant to be the final thing for Canonical. Unity 8 running on Mir and a full Ubuntu Linux stack was the end game. Canonical's vision was one system for all devices, and a Ubuntu Touch was a temporary solution. (We review Unity 8 in the current issue of Ubuntu User and, spoiler alert, it is not all there yet, it does seem to be on its way).

Secondly, a free software project (and Ubuntu Touch is free software1) is not dead until there is nobody willing to support it. UBports is a group of independent developers who want to port Ubuntu Touch to as many models of smartphones as possible. Spearheaded by Smoose, a free software company from the Netherlands, and with the blessing from Canonical, the project has made its first target porting Ubuntu Touch to the Fairphone 2. The initiative has proven popular so far and the UBports community grew from 0 to nearly 100 members in its first two months.

The Fairphone is a logical choice for Smoose and UBports since it is consistent with the company's and community's principles. The Fairphone is produced with sustainability and fair trade in mind, and is also fair to the user, since all its components are easily replaced and customisable. Also, the rapid growth in the number of contributing members proves their is a real interest in developing an alternative, community controlled operating system to what is already out there.

Although Fairphone is the main immediate aim, the UBports are also working and improving the ports for the OnePlus One and Two, several Nexus devices, Optimus L90 and several others. This also gives hope to early adopting device owners who may think they were left out in the cold when they discovered no more updates for their handsets were forthcoming from Canonical.

The people of Smoose were at the MWC at the Canonical booth last week showcasing their project. They have also been kind enough to loan us a device for review. We will be talking about this project in depth and trying out the Fairphone with Ubuntu Touch in the next issue of Ubuntu User, on sale in May/June, so you can look forward to that.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in seeing if there is a port of Ubuntu Touch for your phone, or want to contribute, head over to the project's site, join the discussion and try out some code.

1. Ubuntu Touch's code is mostly distributed under a GPL, with some components distributed under MIT and Apache licenses.  

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