Is Ubuntu Phone Really Based on CyanogenMod?

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Shortly after we started seeing Ubuntu for Phones showing up on some of our favorite Android-powered smartphones and tablets, we started hearing rumors and rumblings about its origins. Specifically, people started saying that Ubutuntu for Phones is “based on” CyanogenMod custom ROM.

At first blush one might think that based on comments like these:

“Indications for Ubuntu porting to other devices is quite simple since it has the same basis as CyanogenMod 10.1 with Ubuntu Interface Touch running in a container and accessed via chroot.”

That sounds a lot like Ubuntu for Phones is not only based on CyanogenMod, but that it’s somehow simply a skin sitting on top of CyanogenMod. Let me clear that up right now: Ubuntu for Phones is not “simply a skin”. We’ll get into that a little more in a minute. If it’s not a skin, what is it?

First off, Ubuntu for Phones uses the same “basis” as CyanogenMod, by separating the various layers in such a manner that the UI and some of the operating system are essentially the “frosting” on top of the “cake”. The cake is the foundation. This makes it easier for developers to focus on “tweaking the recipe” for various hardware platforms. It sounds kind of backwards, since the frosting is already done and developers are baking the cake inside it, but that’s as close to a functional metaphor as I can get. That’s the way CyanogenMod does business, too — and it’s ridiculously successful! Ubuntu for Phones uses a similar methodology, so releasing the OS onto new devices shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

But what of the other side of that rumor, that Ubuntu for Phones is “based on CyanogenMod”. That part is true.

Wait, what?!

You read that correctly! Ubuntu for Phones utilizes quite a bit of code that they pull straight from the CyanogenMod repositories. Don’t believe me? Check out the sources below. Not only will you see the name of one contributor to the CyanogenMod project, you’ll also see the code itself being referenced in many places.

Here’s where it gets interesting

CyanogenMod is based on AOSP. Why didn’t Ubuntu simply go straight to the source and pull from AOSP rather than the CyanogenMod source? Put simply, the work had already been done and CyanogenMod bootstrapped the project, helping them get to where they are today. All this leads up to two questions.

Does that mean Ubuntu for Phones is basically like HTC Sense, or TouchWiz UI?

As Azrienoch from XDA-Developer TV recently told us: 3rd Party versions of Android aren’t “skins”, they’re completely new versions of Android. Does this mean Ubuntu for Phones is similar? Is it just another Android version? The answer to that is no. Ubuntu for Phones is its own separate “thing”.

Can Ubuntu for Phones run Android apps?

No. The Cyanogenmod fork that Ubuntu for Phones is using has been stripped of the Dalvik VM and the other components that are needed to run Android apps. Could an emulator or something that can run Android apps be built into Ubuntu for Phones? Sure, just like Bluestacks for Windows does today.

So, although Ubuntu for Phones isn’t a version of CyanogenMod or even another distro of Android, it does utilize code from both. That’s not surprising since all of those are based on Linux to begin with. They’re just borrowing from one another, which sort of makes them all part of the same family.

Does that clear everything up? If you’re still confused or have questions or comments that you’d like to add to the conversation, make sure you let us know in the comments below!

Sources: Ricardo Cerqueira, Reddit, Android Market Apps, Phablet.Ubuntu.com/gitweb (1, 2)

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.