The Quiet Rise of Linux Tablets

Unity interface for Ubuntu Netbook gets some multi-touch.

One of the things I have been working on this fall is a business-oriented book about the iPad.

I mention this because, (a) it's a shameless plug and (b) it leads into the topic of tablet computing, which I think is a lot stronger moving forward than people realize.

This is not meant to be self-serving, because the future of tablet and touch-interface devices like them will be on far more devices than the iPad. Already Android phones and tablets are in or coming very soon to the consumer device market, which many predict will soon dominate that market.

And even "traditional" Linux interfaces are getting into the mix. Last Thursday, Canonical's Gerry Carr was pretty excited about the new multi-touch gesture library the Unity team has developed for Ubuntu Netbook Edition. There's a nice one-minute video on Carr's blog entry that highlights these early features of Unity.

Of course, this is just one Linux distro--and a smaller flavor of that distro to boot, so is that enough to get excited about?

The pragmatist in me says not really, since Linux interface developers experiment with cool new stuff all of the time.

But the optimist in me is looking at the work put into this interface and I have to wonder if Canonical, which spends a lot of time on user interface testing, might be on to something. The Unity team doesn't live in a vacuum, and they clearly see a future in touch devices.

I think they are on to something. There's a business and consumer sweet spot: right between light web browsing and heavy computing, that Android and iOS devices seem to be hitting perfectly. Especially on the business side.

The form factor of these devices helps: I am currently visiting the Pacific Northwest and the iPad tablet is extremely more functional in travel than my ThinkPad. I have a dual set-up going right now: the docked Ubuntu ThinkPad for writing, virtual machines, and file management; and the iPad for everything else.

Given the right software and a little more oomph in the processing, a tablet could fulfil nearly all of my computing needs, so it's almost there for me.

I have to wonder how long it will be before tablets will the all the way there for a big sector of the consumer and business markets. I have a sneaking suspicion that we've passed that point already.

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