CES is upon us, and is no doubt chock full of the usual suspects of consumer electronics OEMs, ODMs, and more. One interesting new attendee this year is Canonical, the folks behind the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution. Canonical is making a big push to get Ubuntu onto more than just desktops and laptops, and have been busy building relationships with CE companies to get it onto tablets, phones, and automobile in-vehicle infotainment displays. We’ll see Ubuntu make appearances at several booths to demo this work. Canonical will also be announcing Ubuntu TV.
Ubuntu TV is to be the first proof point of this new strategy. Silber says that you’ll be able to watch your own media files, streaming media, or broadcast media. The goal is to combine all of these media sources without radically changing user behavior. Specifically, Ubuntu TV is not simply a Linux desktop on your TV. Canonical, says Silber, does not believe in the “browser on your TV” experience. “Browsers belong on secondary devices — tablets, phones, etc,” Silber told me.
Playing on the Ubuntu tagline, Silber claims Ubuntu TV is “TV for human beings. It just works.” As you can see from the images, Ubuntu TV will have a similar interface to the current Ubuntu desktop, with the launcher on the side, but there will be fundamental differences. The goal is to make Ubuntu TV the “OS for your television”, and not necessarily a set-top box. In that regard, Canonical is working with hardware partners to execute Ubuntu TV. It should be clear at this point that while Canonical has made great strides with it, Ubuntu TV it is not, yet, a finished product. They’ll be demoing working code at CES, but we shouldn’t expect working hardware for a little while yet.
I pointed out to Silber that there is a large, vocal body of people who despise the Unity interface, and asked whether it was really a good idea to extend that for media consumption purposes. Silber, like most poeple at Canonical, remained firm that their user testing bore out the merits of Unity. “Judge us by our actions, but also by our results,” she said. As you might recall, the first version of Ubuntu to ship Unity was also the fastest adopted version of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu TV will be open source, and we should expect an application development framework from Canonical. I asked Silber about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), and how Canonical was working with content producers and distributors. I specifically wanted to know whether Canonical was drawing any lines in the sand with respect to the kinds of content that would be playable on Ubuntu TV. She said that they’re making an effort to reduce the proliferation of DRM, but they recognize that they’re late to this party and have a lot of work ahead of them. Silber acknowledged that Canonical is involved with UltraViolet, stating that “it helps simplify things from our perspective” with respect to encodings and DRM.
According to Silber, the biggest hurdle for Ubuntu TV is breaking down all the walled gardens that content producers and rightsholders have erected. Every studio wants you to watch their content on their website, with their widgets, and their advertising — all under their control. Canonical believes that there should be a single, elegant interface for consuming media, regardless of the content source. Silber believes that Canonical and Ubuntu represent a reasonable middle ground as a relatively vendor-neutral solution to this problem. Canonical isn’t in the media production business, nor are they in the hardware manufacturing business: they just want to be the OS for your TV (for now).