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Ubuntu for tablets hands-on: an intriguing mix of Windows 8, Android, and Kindle Fire

Ubuntu for tablets hands-on: an intriguing mix of Windows 8, Android, and Kindle Fire

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Ubuntu tablet
Ubuntu tablet

Canonical unveiled its Ubuntu phone OS last month, and a tablet friendly version this week. The company is betting on creating an operating system that will mimic its desktop OS on mobile platforms. Tomorrow, a developer preview will be released for Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10 owners to install and try out. I got the chance to take a closer look at the operating system today, and it's clear Canonical is mixing together the best bits from its rivals.

Multiple user support and some unique notification management

The OS supports multiple users and switching between them on the lock screen will switch wallpapers and relevant notifications. The early developer version won't support these notifications straight away, but the placeholder interface appears to suggest that Canonical will implement a radial menu for interaction with them at a later date. Swiping from the left will launch you straight into the user interface, with a launcher that's hidden out of view for activating applications.

Ubuntu's tablet interface is a mixture of gestures that aim to go one step further than similar ones used in Windows 8 and Android. Like Google's mobile OS, there's a quick settings menu available with a swipe from the top, but Ubuntu's version is implemented in a unique way. You can access messages and notifications and reply inline, while system settings are also available. Other gestures also include the ability to swipe up for contextual menus and an app settings widget that lets you manage open applications and access other features.

Ubuntu's Windows 8-like side stage is the star of the show

The really interesting part is the ability to run two apps side-by-side. Canonical calls this "side stage," a view that will bridge the gap between its smartphone OS and tablet devices. It's almost identical to Windows 8, but its current implementation is rather limited. Apps can be designed to run in the side view, or as a larger tablet version. Canonical says developers will be able to build one single app that works in both views, but for now it's really aimed at getting phone apps running on the side of the screen. It's particularly useful to have notes on the side or a Twitter application while you're browsing.

Ubuntu for tablets is rather limited right now, and the preview that will be made available this week is really aimed solely at enthusiasts and developers. You'll be able to flash a ROM to various Nexus devices, but Canonical isn't providing a dual-boot method so you'll have to flash back to Android once you're done playing around. This operating system shows a lot of promise, and the general performance and available features seem solid for such an early stage. Canonical has a year left until it plans to bring this to market — the company is aiming to get hardware into the hands of users in Q1 2014.

Vlad Savov contributed to this report