London-based software developer Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, announced at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando, Fla., Monday that it will diversify into the mobile arena of tablets and smartphones.

The device world is highly competitive and highly dynamic, while Android and iOS dominate handheld devices, disruptive elements could still establish themselves, said Mark Shuttlesworth, Canonical's founder. Ubuntu and Windows can still be a real force.

But first, Canonical will release Ubuntu 12.04, the next long-term support (LTS) of its Linux operating system, and make it as stable and polished as possible before expanding into other computing devices.

This is a natural expansion of our idea as Ubuntu as Linux for human beings, Shuttlesworth said. As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it's important for us to reach out to our community on these platforms. So, we'll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens.

A big piece of the mobile puzzle for Canonical is figuring out how to export its GNOME-based desktop software, Unity, to other devices like tablets. But unlike Canonical's other free open-source systems, the company won't easily allow users to alter Unity's design.

Unity has a strong design vision and part of that is to provide coherent screens across platforms, Shuttlesworth said. While it's not one-size-fits-all, a common design is vital to it. Nothing is cast in stone. Still, since Unity on the desktop is part of a greater whole, we look at the experience as a whole. We want a consistent platform with a tightly structured user experience.

Shuttlesworth, who backs Ubuntu with his own money, says that Apple and Google will be formidable opponents, especially if Google's pending deal to acquire Motorola Mobility goes through.

The Google-Motorola deal changes everything, Shuttlesworth said. The notion that [the mobile OS status quo] is a done deal has some merit and we don't have a mobile product today but the level of interest is high, and there is an underlying hunger both in the industry at large and in the open-source, free software world for leadership in this regard.

Canonical does not expect a production version of a mobile Ubuntu until at least April 2014, when Shuttlesworth releases Ubuntu 14.04. The company hasn't even written alpha code for such an operating system, but it taking the time to get it right. The team is working with ARM to build the proper architectures, and is working with hardware partners to bring products to market.

As progress is made Ubuntu will take the device-specific code, open source it, and roll it into standard Ubuntu, Shuttlesworth said.

One might expect to see Canonical release developer tablets and smartphones with ARM processors by mid-2012, but in the meantime, the company will also look at developing other mobile technologies.

We will embrace phones and tablets and also smart screens-whether they're smart TVs or monitors or touch devices, Shuttlesworth said. That's a fairly radically broadened scope for the work we do with Ubuntu now.

Shuttlesworth hopes to engage developers further at the Ubuntu Developer Conference to flesh out a more detailed roadmap and timetable for cultivating a line of mobile products.