In a few days, hardware designers will gather in Taiwan for the second annual Ubuntu Hardware Summit, hosted by Canonical.  Here's a look at some of the highlights of the conference, and what they suggest about Canonical's longterm plans for the world's most popular Linux distribution.

It's become a cliché these days to repeat the old line that everyone would use Linux if only it had better hardware support.  That's not true: beyond the fact that Ubuntu and most other modern distributions already work quite well with most devices, the factors mitigating widespread Linux adoption are much more complicated than hardware issues.

Nonetheless, there's certainly room for improvement when it comes to making Ubuntu work better on more hardware platforms, and that's why the upcoming conference is exciting for Linux users as well as developers.  In particular, notable items include the following (copied from the event website, which contains the full list of planned sessions):
  • An overview of multitouch support in Ubuntu, covering kernel drivers, the X input stack, and applications.
  • A session on the UTouch gesture suite that will make its first appearance in the 10.10.10 build of Ubuntu.
  • An explanation of PulseAudio's timer-scheduling mode and its mixer, and what sound drivers, BIOS and hardware must support for these features to work.
  • Ubuntu Server in the cloud, ...[explaining] why we believe Ubuntu is the future of the cloud and cloud computing the future of computing.

Canonical's Objectives

What do these sessions reveal about Canonical's longterm vision of Ubuntu?  Here are some thoughts.

The first two items build on Canonical's recent initiative to improve touch support in Ubuntu by creating APIs to help developers integrate this technology into their applications.  Such innovation is essential if Ubuntu is to remain competitive not only on mobile devices with limited mouse functionality, but also on traditional desktops, where the mouse's days may also be numbered.

Similarly, the PulseAudio session reflects what has been one of the most onerous thorns in the sides of desktop Ubuntu users since PulseAudio was adopted in 2008.  Perhaps it's not fair to blame PulseAudio bugs entirely on hardware-support issues, but helping hardware designers to understand how the sound server works will hopefully lead to a more pleasant experience for desktop users.

Finally, the session on the cloud serves as a reminder of Canonical's strong prioritization of the cloud niche.  On this front, Ubuntu faces imposing competition from other vendors, but if Canonical's many investments in the cloud pay off, they will provide a lucrative--and vital--revenue stream for the company.

Taken as a whole, the summit is an indicator that Canonical remains focused on traditional desktop Ubuntu, but has it eyes on emerging niches as well, and in particular on small-form devices and the cloud.

From our perspective, that's a good thing: desktop Linux is what sets Canonical apart from its competitors, and it should remain at the center of its strategy.  But since desktop Linux is also not currently generating much cash for the company (though that may change, if the Ubuntu One offerings mature and take off), investments in other niches are essential if Canonical is to succeed financially.