Canonical's Ubuntu Linux will battle for mobile developers

Canonical, which has great ambitions to extend its to such devices as smartphones and tablets, is prepared to reach out to developers to get them to build the applications necessary to make the platform successful. But the company will have its work cut out for it, given that established providers on the market have a substantial head start.

To get developers interested, the company will leverage its existing ecosystem and build out its SDK. "Applications are largely what drive a platform, and we do have a rich developer ecosystem today. But we also recognize that we need to up our game in development," said Peter Goodall, program manager in the product strategy group at Canonical. already provides documentation and APIs, and the company's accommodates commercial software developers who want to upload applications to the company's software center, he said. Guidelines will be offered on architecting applications to run on different types of devices.

"Part of this move means that Ubuntu will run across many different form factors, which increases the reach for the developers," Goodall said. The company also intends to make it a good proposition for developers to sell mobile applications without imposing burdensome restrictions such as those Apple mandates, he said.

But at mobile application developer Big Nerd Ranch, President Aaron Hillegass has seen mobile Linux efforts before and stressed the need for a viable ecosystem. "It isn't enough for Canonical to announce that it is making the OS available -- what makes the [Apple] iOS platform so compelling is the entire ecosystem: the OS, the devices, the iTunes store, iCloud, and the iTunes application. When that ecosystem exists for Ubuntu, we will be developing apps for it and offering the relevant training and consulting to our clients."

Ubuntu will need traction with hardware vendors before it gets it from developers, said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research. Canonical has "a steep hill to climb," and it is getting steeper, he said. "Right now, developers have multiple platforms in market to choose from -- tens of millions of iPads, and millions of tablets next year. Until Canonical manages to get around 5 million tablets in market, I can't see much interest in their efforts from developers. They also need to build a good monetization model so that developers can sell direct to users. Apple has a good one, and Amazon's is also coming together nicely."