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.
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 jackwallen.com.