Canonical is working with hardware vendors to port Ubuntu to smartphones, tablet computers and Internet TVs, founder Mark Shuttleworth has told journalists.
The company could not announce any specific tie-ups yet but said it hoped to bring a strategy based on expanding Ubuntu's appeal beyond the desktop to fruition by 2014 with the first products appearing "in the next 18 months."
Hardware vendors would be offered SDKs to smooth development and partners would be able to offer reference hardware for developers as needed.
The company had received strong feedback from hardware companies that the industry needed an alternative to the increasingly integrated and locked-down platforms being offered by Google, Apple, and Microsoft, he said.
"Vendors feel disempowered. Most don't have much confidence. They know that in a world limited to hardware, they are in dire straits," said Shuttleworth, comparing the current situation in smartphones and tablets to what happened during the early years of the IBM PC era.
The risk was that the big three platform makers would control the revenue streams coming from services, leaving third-party hardware vendors eking out a living from the small margins on hardware.
Using a third-party software vendor such as Canonical would result in a more equal partnership that many vendors were desperate to see happen before the mobile market is carved up.
The potential of Shuttleworth's new Ubuntu everywhere? Ubuntu had 20 million users today but Shuttleworth believed expansion to non-PC devices had the potential to multiply this tenfold.
Shuttleworth said he was confident that the relatively long timescales would not present an obstacle to Ubuntu take-up. "This is a tightly contested market but it is very dynamic," he said.
Canonical released the latest version of Ubuntu, 11.10 'Oneiric Ocelot' two weeks ago, the second of its twice-yearly refreshes but there is no question that today the well-regarded OS is still seen as software to run on PCs, laptops and servers.
The potential for Ubuntu to expand its horizons is obvious but will require a major culture change in which partners and developers play a leading role.