Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth has officially ended the dream of a converged Ubuntu Phone future, announcing that his company is abandoning development of its phone platform, Unity desktop environment, and associated technologies to concentrate on traditional desktops, servers, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Canonical first teased its vision of having a pocket-sized device which could operate as both a fully-functional desktop computer and a high-end smartphone in 2013 with the unveiling of the Ubuntu Edge convertible smartphone
. The company's stated aim of raising $32 million through crowdfunding to construct the device, which at the time existed purely as a solid plastic mock-up handset with no electronics and rendered images, was missed by a country mile
, though whether that was the company's plan - to build up hype for the handset with a headline-grabbing record-breaking crowdfunding campaign without risking actually having to build the thing by hitting a more sensible funding goal - remains unknown.
What is known is that the company signed up partners for the Ubuntu Touch mobile platforms
off the back of said publicity, though for low-end rather than flagship devices. The ability to use the smartphones as desktops, too, got lost along the way, until appearing in 2016 on the Bq Aquaris M10
. This was powered by Unity, Canonical's in-house desktop environment based on work originally done for small-screen netbook devices and shared by the company's desktop Linux distribution - but now Unity, and Ubuntu Touch beside, is officially for the chop, four years after the Ubuntu Edge was announced.
'I’m writing to let you know that we will end our investment in Unity 8, the phone and convergence shell. We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS,
' Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth announced
in a post so surprising many took it as a belated April Fool's gag. 'This has been, personally, a very difficult decision, because of the force of my conviction in the convergence future, and my personal engagement with the people and the product, both of which are amazing. We feel like a family, but this choice is shaped by commercial constraints, and those two are hard to reconcile.
'The choice, ultimately, is to invest in the areas which are contributing to the growth of the company. Those are Ubuntu itself, for desktops, servers and VMs, our cloud infrastructure products (OpenStack and Kubernetes) our cloud operations capabilities (MAAS, LXD, Juju, BootStack), and our IoT story in snaps and Ubuntu Core.
The move will see Canonical drop development of Unity 8, the latest version of the desktop environment, and switch back to the GNOME Shell it had previously abandoned. The move spells the end of Ubuntu Touch, which is heavily integrated with Unity, and also of the company's in-house X replacement Mir which will be switched for Wayland in future releases of the operating system.