Canonical is showing here at CES Ubuntu TV: a version of its Linux OS aimed at televisions (as the sharper among you may have spotted from the name). Ubuntu TV is still in beta – a spokesman told us it was really ‘more of an alpha’ – but it could be available on retail products within the next 12 months.

Canonical is being unsportingly cagey with the details of which OEMs it’s working with, but told us to expect Ubuntu TV sets in the UK during 2012. Whether Ubuntu TV sets will be the joined up solution that gains wider success than either Google TV or Apple TV remains to be seen, but Ubuntu TV is an indisputably exciting departure from our favourite Linux vendor. See all our CES 2012 stories.

Canonical is calling Ubuntu TV "TV for human beings". The principle is that consumers will be able to access and interact with content from a multitude of sources, all from one intuitive interface. Intriguingly, they’ll also be able to enjoy what Canonical is calling the ‘second screen experience’: additional content pulled from the web and social media that enhances the viewing experience. Such content is widely available these days for all major TV shows and movies, and if no-one in your house watches TV with one eye on a smartphone screen, we are living very different lives.

Canonical says it will be setting up its own TV content services to compete with Apple and Google. Ubuntu TV has a built-in box office that allows viewers to browse and buy the latest movies and TV shows online. Canonical was unwilling to tell us which content providers it has deals with, which will be as crucial to the whole deal as the calibre of OEMs it can attract. Watch this space. 

The build of Ubuntu TV we saw today will look familiar to Ubuntu users, particularly those au fait with Ubuntu One. Given that the software is so early in development it’s impossible to make any hard judgments on the interface, but the build we saw was typically intuitive and attractive. If TV and set-top box manufacturers climb on board with Ubuntu TV it’s likely that they will wish to add their own branding and sheen to the final consumer products anyway.

Is Ubuntu TV going to be hit? From this far out it is impossible to say. It depends entirely on the quality of media providers and hardware manufacturers. But the principle of being able to access all media from a simple interface is a great one. It will be interesting to see how Canonical goes with this.

Also see: Digital Home Advisor