August 17, 2010

511 words 3 mins read

The iPad Killer might be... Ubuntu?

Last night I saw the news about Canonical developing a multi-touch stack for Ubuntu. While there isn’t a ton of details, I did read their UI Guideline and was suitably impressed. If they can develop a “standard” for multi-touch for all Linux-kind, I think it would majorly solidify Linux’s market going forward.

Since the iPhone burst onto the scene in 2007 with its “game changing” multi-touching, nothing has been the same. There have also been numerous articles as of late on how mobile devices are outselling PCs. Some of them are fairly vague as to what exactly is a mobile device (i.e. do Laptops count as PCs or mobiles?). Irregardless, it does go to show that there are a LOT of mobiles selling, and that will continue to be a big market in the future.

Linux has been predominantly server-only as far as operating systems go. Sure, you can use Linux on your desktop, and I had as far back as Red Hat 6.0 in the 90s, but it wasn’t an end-user friendly experience. Canonical and Ubuntu have been slowly but surely changing this, with their “For humans” drive. They’ve even gone as far as releasing Ubuntu Netbook Remix (which I’ve covered a number of times here) which is rather slick as far as netbook OSes go.

If Ubuntu can get GUI software projects to include multi-touch support in their applications, the game for larger mobile devices, tablets and netbooks, could change radically. A true and proper operating system (that can do more than just watch videos and punch out email, like the iPad), with great touch support could potentially put a serious hurt on the iPad. Sure, part of the iPad’s appeal is the hardware, and no arguing that is nice (for what it is), but hardware is easy to replicate.

One of the biggest challenges for Linux adoption has been the fact that it isn’t Windows or Mac. Simply the lack of ability to run your favorite applications is the biggest drawback for most people. On the mobile/tablet device market, no one cares. Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry, iOS… all of them are custom made for their devices (cell phones) and form factors, and no one cares. For Tablets you choices are only iOS (on the iPad) and Windows 7 (for everything else). While Win 7 for Tablets is the same OS, people don’t care nearly as much. The tasks you want to accomplish on a Tablet are different than those on a desktop or notebook.

As much as I’d like to hope for it, Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverik) isn’t going to drastically change the game. It will show us the potential of Open Source Multi-Touch, but in a limited fashion. After all, the release is only 2 months off. Ubuntu 11.04 (P) will probably refine muti-touch nicely and add support from a number of applications. One (specifically this OSS nerd) can only hope that the rest of the Linux community will adopt the same standards, if not the same code base. Fragmentation of this new “basic input” would be lethal.