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There's no denying the open source world lags far behind the proprietary universe when it comes to tablets and touch-enabled devices. But as ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose explained recently, that may soon change, as she and her employees are working hard to release a Linux-friendly tablet. Here are the details.
September 29, 2011
There’s no denying the open source world lags far behind the proprietary universe when it comes to tablets and touch-enabled devices. But as ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose explained recently, that may soon change, as she and her employees are working hard to release a Linux-friendly tablet. Here are the details.
It’s true that open source developers have been making progress when it comes to touch. Interfaces including Unity and GNOME 3, with their finger-friendly buttons and emphasis on dropping and gesturing, lend themselves to touch in ways that earlier desktop environments do not. And projects like Canonical’s uTouch promise better overall support for touch on Linux.
Yet the fact remains that, unless you count Android as a kind of Linux, no major OEM currently ships a tablet-like device powered by open source software. Nor can any existing tablets run Linux very well, even if the user installs it himself (or herself). As things stand right now, Linux and touch are not getting along well.
ZaReason, the Berkeley, Calif.-based PC vendor that since 2007 has shipped systems exclusively with different Linux distributions pre-installed, would like to change that — and it’s been working for some time to do so. As the company’s CEO, Cathy Malmrose, wrote recently in an email:
We had a gorgeous sleek pad ready to go before the first iPad ever hit the market. We have been working on one since 2007. We have every single aspect of it in place, manufacturing, QA control, distribution.
Asked about the hardware specs, Malmrose offered these details:
Dual core arm, Nvidia Tegra, 512mb ram, 10″ display, and ultra sleek style thanks to Tony, our CTO who naturally has excellent taste.
So what’s holding ZaReason’s tablet back from the market? One word: code. Because the company is committed to shipping hardware that relies only on GPL-protected, freely redistributable software, ZaReason can’t release the tablet until support for touchscreens on Linux catches up. As Malmrose wrote:
As soon as the touch-ready features are solid, we are ready to go. If Ubuntu (or another distro) said tomorrow that [touch support] is at the “just works” level, within 24 hrs our in-house QA and R&D teams would have it verified. Within 2 hrs the ZaReason website would be taking pre-orders. Within 2 weeks we would be shipping.
Malmrose promised she and her employees are not sitting idly by, waiting for someone else to bring rock-solid touch support to Linux. They’re actively working to find the right combination of hardware and software that will allow ZaReason to release the product on its terms, which include making sure any code written by ZaReason developers is released back upstream.
But like most things worth waiting for, this effort takes time. Stay tuned.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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