Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

October 19, 2010

2 Min Read
Canonical Highlights Touch Support on Ubuntu Netbooks

Most of the hype about touchscreen devices these days centers around the iPad and other highly proprietary hardware.  But Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, has made major bets in recent months that touch-enabled computers will become ubiquitous in the open-source world as well.  It made that belief clear last week when it showcased the Unity interface running on a tablet computer.  Read on for a look.

Canonical’s major initiatives in recent months have included the development of a gesture library, called uTouch, for touchscreen devices, as well as the introduction of Unity, a new Ubuntu variant customized for netbooks.  The convergence of the two projects was only natural, and was made clear last week in a video posted on Canonical’s blog.

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Measuring the Touchscreen Niche

Touchscreens are definitely cool, and Ubuntu’s investment in Linux support within this traditionally underdeveloped niche is welcome.  But it’s clear that Canonical’s focus on touch devices also represents a gamble: as Gerry Carr admits in the blog post, “there are a very limited number of touch-enabled devices out there at present.”

Indeed, the only major hardware manufacturer of which I’m aware that currently preinstalls Ubuntu on computers with touchscreens is Dell, whose Latitude 2100 and 2110 netbooks are available with a touchscreen option (and one which reportedly works quite well under Ubuntu, according to friends who own such devices).

But that situation may change as more OEMs focus on shipping laptops with touch support built in, and as newer “slate” devices debut in the image of the iPad.  Indeed, Gartner predicted last April that 50 percent of computers purchased for young users will have touchscreens by 2015.

That said, of course, Ubuntu’s Unity interface is not targeted at users under the age of 15, nor are many children that young likely to be installing Ubuntu on their computers.  Unity and uTouch were designed with the mainstream market in mind, and for the time being, the number of Ubuntu users who own touch-enabled devices–just like the number of consumers in general who have purchased computers with touchscreens–doubtless remains small.

At best, then,Canonical has positioned itself well to make sure Ubuntu becomes a major contender in the touch market, if it takes off.  At worst, it’s helping to improve the experience of the limited number of users who do own touchscreens, and that’s not a bad thing either.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

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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