Correction: Mark Shuttleworth says there was a misunderstanding, and that Canonical will not be developing a version of Ubuntu built just for tablets.

While there are very few tablet PCs in mass production today, the successful launch of the Apple iPad has dozens of companies planning to enter the tablet space. And that has software makers eying the space pretty closely as well. We’ve seen plenty of tablets running Google Android over the past few months, and it looks like the folks behind MeeGo Linux are making a tablet version of their software. Now it looks like Canonical is getting in on the action, with plans to develop a tablet version of Ubuntu.

The idea is to retool the Ubuntu interface so that you can use the operating system without a mouse and keyboard, using a touchscreen display to perform most actions. That also means adding an on-screen keyboard for text entry.

Canonical is also working with Freescale, Marvell, and Texas Instruments to optimize its software to run quickly on ARM-based chips from those companies.

We probably won’t see a tablet-specific version of Ubuntu until this fall at the earliest, since the company is talking about basing it on Ubuntu 10.10 which is slated for release in October.

I’ve always felt like the program launcher for Ubuntu Netbook Edition looked like it was designed for touchscreen devices rather than netbooks with touchpads, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the tablet-friendly version of Ubuntu winds up looking a lot like the Ubuntu Netbook Edition software available today.

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4 replies on “Canonical prepping a tablet-friendly version of Ubuntu Linux”

  1. Earlier this year, it was noticed that EFL (Enlightenment Foundation Libraries) was being used to bring Ubuntu Netbook Remix to ARM-based devices. Because EFL was designed and developed with computational efficiency in mind, it can be used to deliver rich-graphical user interfaces even in non-3D-acclerated devices such as ARM-based ones (or ARM-based ones without access to proprietary drivers). The eponymous project, Enlightenment, also provides a module called Illume which modifies the user interface of Enlightenment to work well on devices with small screens and/or touchscreens. As somebody who already uses this particular graphical environment on daily basis on touchscreens ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches, I’m very curious if Canonical is tapping Enlightenment’s libraries for this effort. In my brain, there’s kind of a strange “love triangle” going on here centered choice of toolkit and the different interface needs for the netbook and the tablet. On the one side, Ubuntu Netbook Remix itself defaults to the Gnome desktop which is built GTK+. There is a good but old touchscreen/small screen environment built on GTK+ that dates back to the Sharp Zaurus called GPE, but it seems totally implausible that Canonical would go anywhere near that. On the second side, there’s QT which seems to be the currently “darling” of GUI application development framework for mobile and embedded environments, most noteably MeeGo. However, QT is most commonly associated with the KDE desktop which is the primary “competitor” to the Gnome desktop environment which loads by default with Ubuntu Netbook Remix. On the third side, there’s Enlightenment which is the best in terms of degrading from a full desktop to a tiny touchscreen (both in terms of performance and scalability), but isn’t really used as the interface framework for any of the major software like word processors and web browsers. It’ll be interesting to see what turns up, but if I were betting I’d put my money on Enlightenment.

  2. Awesome. I have Ubuntu running on my P1620 and I have to say, the touch support is severely lacking. I have to rely on a halve-baked third party driver for the touchscreen, which stopped working after a couple of weeks.

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