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Canonical raises curtain on Ubuntu for smartphones

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Ubuntu is now a full-fledged smartphone operating system, featuring a host of platform-specific features and an innovative new interface, Canonical announced today.

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In a video demonstration, founder Mark Shuttleworth said that users will interact with the phone version of Ubuntu through simple gestures, with each edge of the home screen containing different types of apps and contact. Swiping from the left to the right of the screen, for example, brings up a toolbar of favorite apps.

Seamless integration of HTML5, he said, means that web apps can now take advantage of all of the phone's features - including notifications and a centralized messaging menu - without having to be downloaded and run locally. Developers can still create native apps for Ubuntu on the phone, in precisely the same way they would for desktop Ubuntu.

That unification with the desktop product, in fact, is at the heart of what may prove to be the biggest enterprise draw for an Ubuntu-based phone. A sufficiently powerful smartphone running Ubuntu can be used as an on-the-go thin client - plugging into a dock so that it can be used with Ubuntu's desktop interface, with a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

Canonical also touted the software's integrated search capability, demonstrating that a search for "Tolkien" produced results for online movies, theater showtimes, and books.

"It's one search to rule them all," Shuttleworth said in the video.

Not unlike the One Ring, however, this unified search feature has become a divisive issue among Linux fans. Its detractors say that it's an invasion of user privacy, sharing personal search data with commercial giants like Amazon by default. Canonical has stressed that users can opt out if they wish, and asserts that there's no way to link queries to particular individuals.

And while Canonical was eager to show off the capabilities of the software, the hardware end remains a murkier prospect - the company said it "expects" Ubuntu phones to hit the market in late 2013, and many references to the advantages of the Ubuntu phone system for OEMs may imply that Canonical is still trying to find companies to actually build Ubuntu phones.

Nevertheless, Canonical will show off demonstration phones with Ubuntu running on them next week at CES in Las Vegas.

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