Linux

Where are the Linux tablets?

The iPad has brought attention back to the tablet PC. There will be plenty of new tablets arriving soon...but will Linux play a part in this new craze?

With the release of Apple iPad, the tablet is the new netbook. Although tablet PCs have been around for a long time, their price point has been well over the budget of the average user. Now, however, that has changed. With the iPad coming in at under (just under) $500.00 it is now up to the competition to up the ante. And they will. But how will they? And how will Linux and the open source community respond?

And respond they better...or it will be tabula rasa for Linux.

If you google anything like "linux tablet PC" you get tons of hits. Most of those hits are from hobbyists, explaining their process for getting Linux on their trusty tablets. Most of these tablets are either older models (read BIG) or very costly models. There are even some links that point to Emperor Linux and their overly priced tablet PCs ($2,100 for their bottom-line $4,400.00 for their top-line).

If you keep digging, you will start to see more modern instances of tablets, like the Asus E91T, which can be outfitted with Linux (but only ships with Windows). You will also see a number of up and coming models that will be shipping with the Android OS (we'll count Android because it was based on the Linux kernel - even though all Android code has been pulled from the Linux kernel).

What is missing in this mix (outside of the out-of-reach Emperor Linux hardware) is a tablet PC pre-installed with Linux. This is not acceptable. Linux owned the netbook market and now the "new" market is arriving and it seems it's doing nothing to make headway. I don't get it. The support is all there. Touchscreen? Check. Wireless? Check. Video? Check. Sound? Check. So where is the disconnect?

This is yet another opportunity for companies to save money by shipping the Linux operating system on a piece of hardware that needs an OS to be reliable, simple, and DOESN'T NEED TO RUN GAMES! It's the perfect formula. And just like netbooks, these tablets need a secure OS underneath. Because of their portability and nearly "always on" functionality, they need an operating system that is up to the task and not dependent upon third-party software for protection. From everything I have seen so far, the only blow me away tablet slated to release is the Notion Ink Adam. And this is an Android-based tablet!

In my opinion, the ideal OS for a tablet PC would be a Linux-based OS running the Elive distribution. This distribution would be lightweight enough, yet have plenty of 3D eye candy for a modern desktop. The Elive desktop would be ideal for a touchscreen-based hardware. Yes, this is me showing favoritism, but if you really put some thought to it, the E17 desktop is perfect for the touchscreen. If you've not experienced Elive, download a Live CD of it and try it out. Once you have it running, imagine it being used on a tablet PC. The only hitch would be how to initiate some of the Compiz features without having the keyboard handy. Of course, after seeing what the Elive team has done so far, any hitches to tablet migration would be minor.

This is big. The tablet is going to surpass the netbook in sales and popularity. If Linux doesn't find an in-road to this market, it's going to knock it down such that getting back up might be a challenge. The Linux and open source community does not want to find itself back where it was in the mid-to-late 90's, where it was relegated to servers and the desktops of fan-boys and uber-geeks. This is not where Linux wants to be. The last five years has blessed Linux with so much growth. But if Linux can not gain a foothold in the tablet PC market, that growth could wither away.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

52 comments
qlenfg
qlenfg

Um... you left out one of the most recent, and probably most popular tablets -- the Nokia N770 / N800 / N810. They have quite worldwide following, although support / software for the 770 seems to have dropped off and supplies of the 810 have dwindled with the release of the N900 phone. A great tool with lots of features and software.

wolframwrenches
wolframwrenches

I tried the Ubuntu Karmic Koala 64 bit startup disc on my new HP tablet Model tx2-1020us (Only had it for 3 months. It is running Windows 7.) for grins and yucks. It started up fine but natively it had no support for touch screen. If the start-up disc supported touch interface I would seriously consider installing a second hard drive (which I have available) or even a partition when the HP warranty gives out.

Denismungai
Denismungai

Linux is the way to go inasfar as tablets are concerned.its light-weight,fast,versatile with most hardware even without unnecessary drivers and very,very,very secure.windows is just an over-decorated os with the best in security loopholes and memory-hungry apps..stick to linux on laptops and note the difference.

pbounds
pbounds

Followup on my Earlier POST to the author of the article...AMEN to all points raised...

pbounds
pbounds

I was thoroughly disgusted that Apple just made a larger ITouch, NO OSX??? What Were they Thinking???

j007_oscar
j007_oscar

I have already bought a SmartQ V7. I find three OS inside this machine. 1. WinCE 5.0 2. Android 3. Linux-Ubundu Is it a tablet ?

swilsonw
swilsonw

Seems to me that Linux people are not into tablets. They are into Linux - the OS and don't really see devices as important. Whereas we users are more device oriented. Yes, I think Linux will miss out on the tablet world and be in about the same state it always has been as a result. It head still buried in the sand. Like a child waiting for the world to discover it's greatness when it should be out there making a name for itself.

blarman
blarman

Linux is the best-suited OS for a tablet, no question. The biggest problem is marketing - Linux's failing area. If the big PC makers such as Apple, HP, and Microsoft are having problems marketing pads, Linux will have 10x the problems.

wyattbiker
wyattbiker

Its not just a tablet. It's a whole eco system that must appeal to mainstream consumers. By hook or by crook Apple has created a computing and multimedia ecosystem that may be hard to beat.

tr
tr

I prefer Linux, but lets get real. What are the strengths of Apple and Microsoft? Microsoft are the kings of marketing, since people have been buying their crap for years without ever knowing that their is an alternative. Almost every PC have a "windows button", and it's not because Windows makes the best OS. And what about Mac? If you buy a Mac, it works. And it works, and works. And if you buy more Mac things and gadgets and connect them together, it works. And works. So, to round this up: Linux probably have the best OS, but suck at marketing. And the strength of Linux (it's devoted community) is also it's weakness: You can get anything to work, but in a thousand different ways depending on your choice of flavor. Linux is a high-tech race car, but it wont go anywhere without a strong and devoted driver. That driver needs to come from the hardware industry.

neondiet
neondiet

--"DOESN'T NEED TO RUN GAMES"-- Oh you are so wrong. Those of us who took the time to watch the full 1.5 hour iPad Keynote will have seen what the Games Vendors started to do given just a couple of weeks access to the iPad SDK prior to the event. The iPhone/iPod Touch OS is already a serious games platform and the larger display and multi-touch surface has given vendors scope to make some very fun looking improvements. As well as increased screen resolution and performance they started experimenting with how enhanced multi-touch could improve the way you interact with the game. Don't like the controls layout they give you? No problem, just drag the controls around to where you want them. Want to change gear in your race car, just swipe the gear stick with your finger/thumb. Need to open that circular door on the space station: you need to touch and rotate it with a three finger twist. Basically they're bringing a whole new tactile way to interface with games on your portable game player. The iPad is going to be lots of different things to different people, and one of those will be a very fun and capable games platform. Mark my words. The only hope of Linux being able to compete with this is via Andriod. It has an existing user base, existing applications that could be ported to a larger format with relatively little effort, and is already used to play games. More importantly it also has mind share and strong commercial backing. Trying to kick start anything else to compete with either of these two at this late stage without a very determined commercial backer (with deep pockets) is just a pipe dream. They've got just too big a head start already.

Eduardo_Vinhas
Eduardo_Vinhas

A University Spanish Team has announced on last week a Linux Tablet with disabled features. It's called "iFreeTablet". You can watch a youtube video showing how it works: http://bit.ly/cMh93D It's done with open source software.

nowave7
nowave7

How about Nokia's tablet series with Maemo, that is around for some 5 years now?

bdbauer
bdbauer

Linux might have a better chance with tablets than it did with netbooks, because people wanted netbooks to behave like a small laptop. People will expect a tablet to behave more like an iPad - simple finger-driven UI, great hibernation, and great battery life. There is probably an opportunity for an even better UI for a larger screen (not just a giant iPod), too. Who would do this? I can see the community developing a better UI, but I'm not so sure about the battery/hibernation, which is likely to be fairly hardware-specific.

Elwood Diverse
Elwood Diverse

I don't doubt Linux would would work as well as any other OS in that environment, but it would not have any advantage either, until a hardware platform is available for users to roll their own on. Let's see a standardized bare-bones machine that can be customized with the tablet software of our choice, then we'll see rapid progress.

gmeader
gmeader

One reason the apps for the iPhone are so good is the Touch UIkit framework that comes with the iPhone SDK. Without a touch framework, it will not be possible to create apps for Linux that are familiar to use as the iPhone/iPad with it's standardized gestures and UI. Elive does not solve the touch problem at all. It might be a start though. Android does not count, as it is not standard Linux and you have to use Java to write apps for it. Android is really a completely new OS. Maybe ideas from Android could be used to build a native Linux touch framework.

trentreviso
trentreviso

Linux is cheap, fast, secure, easy to use, and already has tens of thousands of applications available. It is portable across many different hardware platforms has a great deal of support available already. Therefore, it has no chance whatsoever of succeeding in the tablet computer marketplace.

TapP
TapP

Not kidding. Take the DT reasearch DT366. It's a 400mhz AMD Geod CPU tablet, 8.4" for around $90 used. They come with WinCE stock, but you can put Linux on it. http://bit.ly/bFctbT Or how about the chinese SmartQ V5. It has Linux, Android, and WinCE on it. HDMI out, 5" screen, 667 (arm 11?) cpu. all for less than $250. http://bit.ly/aZtfA3 So they may be hiding, but they exist.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

right beside the Microsoft headache tablets and the .38 cal permanent Microsoft pain reliever, to be used on your computer, not you.

Mr_Tech
Mr_Tech

As the title of my post says, only Android.

dogknees
dogknees

>>The Linux and open source community does not want to find itself back where it was in the mid-to-late 90?s, where it was relegated to servers and the desktops of fan-boys and uber-geeks. This is not where Linux wants to be. Then, it's up to that community to resolve. It's no one elses responsibility. If you as a member of the Linux community wan't this to happen, then do something about it. Invest, contribute code, .....

santeewelding
santeewelding

Given an on-screen, haptic keyboard with but the essentials of English composition, the rest accomplished with on-screen virtual.

gregconquest
gregconquest

Android will be great for the just-want-it-to-work crowd. Android tablets will be like Mac tablets. The hardware can handle linux fine too, and a dual-boot ability with android and ubuntu or some other linux distribution would enable OpenOffice, Thunderbird email, etc. With a USB keyboard and mouse left at my office, I'd basically have a traveling desktop without the weight that doubles and an e-reader, triples as a media player, and quadruples as a large PDA.

seanferd
seanferd

If I had to use a tablet PC, I think I would indeed rather have a Linux OS on it. Or a BSD with the same apps, if the relevant kernel bits could be ported over.

GCompton420
GCompton420

I remember an article posted on TR that discussed the makeup of contributors to Linux code and the majority of them were corporate developers; I know IBM was on the list. I'd wager that with that kind of backing, Linux will take the tablet market by storm before the iPad can even get its seatbelt fastened.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

I am in the market for a Linux based tablet right now, as a matter of fact. If I find one reasonably priced, with a screen around 6 inches, I'll buy it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Maemo 4 on the N800/N810 is fading too. I've not seen a third party program updated for it in a long time and am not expecting to see many updates for the platform version itself since the last firmware release. Maemo 5 on the N900 is getting all the third party development and Nokia focus now it seems. The down side is that Maemo5 would need heavy modification to run on the N810 or older hardware. But, on the up side, the N900 is a heck of a hardware upgrade.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

they use a capacitive touch system, but a 5-wire resistive touch would be better, though more expensive. The iTablet will have options of either,depending on the user's needs, and either Win7 or Linux.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

That's pretty nifty! I will have to go find some reviews of that.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

More and more "ecosystem" seems to be a buzzword that means "group of closely related services that reduce consumer switching choice"

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

... that means no more pizza while working on the computer, or twinkies while playing?? Because sure enough and soon enough the screen will become unreadable. Furthermore... HOW LONG WILL SUCH A SCREEN LAST?!?!? Neeeeah... I don't think I like the concept of multitouch. Once the image is VIRTUAL (like with a miniaturized high resolution projector...) that will be something else...

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Apple's con job called MultiTouch is useless. It is outdated technology witha multitouch chip added, it is not accurate, durable or infallible as a 5-Wire resistive or even capacitive touch system is, that's why you have to smudge it up and can't use a stylus either. Multitouch is so prone to false positive input that it simply fails as an accurate, business application, UI.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

In my opinion netbooks were not much of a deal. Bought one and sold it quickly. Screen's too damned small, can't see anything on it and the darned keyboard too small for my fingers. Same thing for the stupid little tablet. What's it supposed to do?! Help me browse the net and read stuff?!? I already do that on two other pieces of hardware: one of them is called a computer and the other one is called a book! Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware!

jlwallen
jlwallen

as soon as a good product arrives I will have one. it will make being out in the field so much easier than having to crack open my laptop every time. but having Linux on that is pretty much a must-have for me, because i rely on a lot of linux tools for troubleshooting.

joshuabj
joshuabj

I've been wanting one since they previewed them a little over a year ago.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

If you have the room for it.

masonm
masonm

I have to agree, I still can't see the core business need that a tablet is going to meet. Don't get me wrong, a touch based thin tablet like the iPad is a cool "toy", but I really don't see the business application. Maybe I am totally off base here but I don't see myself doing any sort of "work" on a touch screen device.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I hear recent rumors that Nintendo has confirmed rumors of new WII hardware in development. A company working on it's next generation product shouldn't be a surprise but Nintendo was kind of sticking with the WII v1 hardware. Maybe they are just announcing on schedual but it could also be pressure from competition.

neondiet
neondiet

Yes I do, and so do Nintendo who just last year admitted that unless they can do something to combat the threat posed by the iPhone OS they will be in trouble. About 33 million iPod Touch units have been sold so far for the sole purpose of browsing the web, reading email, watching films, listening to music and running Apps (mostly games). The iPad is really a scaled up, faster iPod Touch and offers a much better user experience on all those fronts except listening to music (too big for the pocket). When the public get their head around this - and Apple advertising will ensure they will - then iPad sales will grow. We'll have to wait about 2 years to really see how well it's done though as all these new products from Apple have had a hockey stick growth rate: slow to start then faster later.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How many different versions of Bejeweled do we need?

masonm
masonm

Do you really think people will buy the iPad as a gaming device? The thing about the iPhone is that it is a phone/messaging device that ALSO plays games, music, movies etc. People don't buy an iPhone as a game console or media player, they buy it as a phone and then play games and listen to music on it because they can. With the iPad I don't see the core need that is being met by the device. Without that all you are left with is the "extra stuff" that it can do... I could be wrong, and I would love to hear some additional input on this.

Editor's Picks