Canonical is experimenting with technology that could let users of future versions of Ubuntu control the operating system without an input device.
Rather, with the aid of hardware sensors such as cameras, Ubuntu could "see" and respond to users' whole-body movements, recognizing when they are and aren't there and reacting accordingly.
"We thought about how Ubuntu could behave if it was more aware of its physical context," wrote developer Christian Giordano on Tuesday in a company blog. "Not only detecting the tilt of the device (like iPhone apps) but also analyzing the user's presence."
Such behaviors could include automatically changing to full-screen mode if the user leans back or moves further away from the computer while watching a video, for instance. Similarly, when the user is not at the computer, any notifications could be shown at full-screen so they're visible from a distance.
A gesture from the user, meanwhile, could affect the launcher appearance or even launch applications through a "windows parallax" mode, which would make the desktop appear three-dimensional. In such a case, users could lean to one side to see what's behind the window in the foreground, for example.
As an alternative to cameras, proximity could also be detected with infrared or ultrasound sensors, Giordano explained.
Context-aware computing is not brand-new per se, but such capabilities could make Ubuntu Linux among the first operating systems to incorporate it.
Just this week, in fact, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner spoke at the annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco about the future of such computing and Intel's own explorations into making gadgets smarter.
There's now even software that can "see" the user's face and create a font to mimic it by translating facial dimensions into generative type design.
On the enterprise side, of course, many of these applications will be productivity-boosters. Imagine technology that can accurately anticipate what software or file you'll need next, or that can see which employee is at the computer and adapt accordingly.
At Canonical, the experimental technology is "not planned to be developed in Ubuntu any time soon," Giordano admitted. Still, "it would be great to see what the community thinks and if they can bring this further. This doesn't mean the Canonical Design team won't come back to it at some point in the future."
Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.