Ubuntu Core 16, a real landmark for IoT Software

Internet of Things (IoT) devices have come a long way over the last couple of decades. In 1996 I remember being in complete awe at turning on a light from my Pentium II-based desktop computer using X10 and being equally frustrated when I switched on the microwave and the same light turned off. In equal parts it marveled and disappointed and to top it off it wasn’t particularly cheap. Fast-forward a couple of decades and IoT is the new buzz-word, previously know as Ubiquitous Computing, Pervasive Computing, and a whole host of other buzz words but in short what it really means is our ‘things’, our devices, our environments, are all getting smarter. In part this is because technology is, as promised by Mark Weiser and others becoming more pervasive because of the low costs associated with microprocessors especially from ARM. ARM has designed the technology shipped in a staggering 86 billion chips over the last 25 years which is an amazing achievement and highlights the fact that yesterday’s ‘dumb’ device has given birth to today’s technology-emblazoned offspring. But what does that mean today? Well, there is a growing concern in the industry that what this really means when you peal back the marketing onion is that we are in for an interconnected mess of devices with little-to-no security and a potential nightmare for device management, control, and software updates.

Canonical have observed this problem for a long time. Being part of the early effort to bring a solid Linux distribution to ARM devices, helping found Linaro to work on essential Linux/ARM projects, and most recently on Ubuntu Core for IoT devices (and beyond), this and other efforts to shore-up defenses and bring about a step-wise improvement for Linux devices over the years really has improved the whole IoT offering today. Many companies have contribute so far and this certainly is not a one-man show, IoT and Linux on IoT is such a massive endeavor that the whole industry has to come together to agree on ways of working, software delivery mechanisms, device updatability, security mechanisms, and device management. The newly formed LITE group in Linaro, comprised of Canonical, ARM, Huawei, NXP, RDA, Redhat, Spreadtrum, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, and ZTE, has the lofty goal of trying to foster security and inter-operability in this fragmented world and personally, I welcome initiatives such as this as long as together they drive the industry forward.

Last Thursday Canonical did just that with the release of Ubuntu Core 16. For those that are not familiar with this project, Ubuntu Core is an entirely new rendition of Ubuntu, stripped back and redesigned from the ground up to have security and IoT at the forefront right from the very start. It uses the revolutionary new package format: snaps, to deliver self-contained software into a constrained environment and builds upon great Linux projects such as systemd, seccomp, cgroups, Linux kernel enhancements, squashfs, and others to form a secure and extensible platform for the IoT. Ubuntu Core 16 is the latest in a line of releases that are already proven in the real world. Dell and others have been shipping Gateway devices with previous versions of this OS for sometime and many others are using it for use cases such as digital signage, robotics and more. The technology is mature and the developer story: creating and running software on your desktop that is deployable on your Ubuntu Core IoT device is compelling. In short, the team has done tremendously well to move the world of IoT forward and together, with innovative device makers, can truly deliver on the promises that the IoT has made for some time.