Linux Faces Major Revisions for Mobile, Consumer Devices

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-01-03

Linux Faces Major Revisions for Mobile, Consumer Devices

With all the excitement surrounding Android and other open source projects like the MeeGo Linux-based mobile operating system project, the Linux open source operating system seems to be getting less attention these days.  

Advocates have been predicting the "year of desktop Linux" almost ten years now, but this year's focus seems to be on how developers are updating Linux for today's mobile devices.  

Linux will be making a play for the tablet market, competing with the wave of Android tablets, Apple's iPad, The BlackBerry PlayBook, the long-promised MeeGo, and the expected Microsoft Windows 7-based units this year. Some hints about a Linux tablet, long teased by Canonical as "coming in 2011," emerged in December from Taiwan-based TENQ.

As promised by Canonical earlier in 2010, the Ubuntu tablet from TENQ will run a derivative of Ubuntu 10.10, also known as Maverick Meerkat, which has been optimized for touch, according to GizChina, who had the exclusive images of the upcoming device.

The specifications for TENQ's P07 promise a 10.1-inch touch tablet with an Intel Atom 1.66 Ghz processor, 2 GB of RAM, and a 32 GB SSD hard drive. TENQ is also claiming to include HDMI and USB ports, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. It will also have a built-in webcam, a Micro SD card reader, and a "cover with built-in keyboard," according to reports.

There is a lot of potential for a Linux tablet, since there is no need for a separate App Store. The Ubuntu tablet would just extend the Linux desktop to yet another device. Canonical's Chris Kenyon, vice president of alliances and OEM services has said that the company had plans for pushing Ubuntu into automotive systems, tablets, set-top-boxes, and digital devices. Maverick Meerkat is being modified to improve its touch capabilities and the new Unity interface is supposed to simplify user experience on the tablet.

The shift to the Unity graphical user interface represents a dramatic shift for Linux desktop. Canonical sent shock waves through the Linux community in October when its founder, Mark Shuttleworth, announced that Ubuntu will abandon the X Window interface in favor of Wayland for its graphical stack, and that all future Ubuntu distributions will ship with a Unity interface by default. Ubuntu had the GNOME interface as the default in the desktop and laptop versions and the new Unity interface in the netbook version. Canonical decided that Unity represented the interfaces that users wanted to work on the latest Linux devices and applications, said Shuttleworth.

Linux Faces Major Revisions for Mobile, Consumer Devices

title=Linux Moving Away from Old X Window Interface} 

Even though Unix- and Linux-based systems have been using the X Window interface as its base system since the mid-80s, there have been many complaints, such as it being too complicated, too slow, and too cluttered. Android and Mac OS X are the notable exception as operating systems that don't use X Windows at all. Along with Canonical, Red Hat's Fedora community has also announced plans to move to the Wayland graphics stack.

Ubuntu's next version, Natty Narwhal, with the new interface is not expected till April and Fedora expects to release Fedora 15 with the new version in May.

The LibreOffice application suite made a lot of waves since it announced its breakaway from the Oracle-controlled Open Office last fall. Since then, it's been fairly quiet, as it works on maintaining and improving the office productivity suite. Oracle has gone ahead with its plans with OpenOffice, by rebranding and launching professional versions for the desktop and the cloud.

As a fork, LibreOffice has to prove that it will be viable for the long term and not just fade away. As it signed up a lot of backers from the start, such as Google, Canonical, and Red Hat, there is some expectation that it will continue to offer a robust alternative to both Microsoft Office and Oracle's suite. However, for LibreOffice to remain relevant, the development community needs to update the package to compete with the features found in more recent versions of Microsoft Office-and not remain stuck on Office 97 compatibility.

Linux will continue becoming more mainstream as manufacturers start providing open source drivers. While there are plenty of open source drivers available for most the latest devices, the "hunt for drivers" game is still a headache. Broadcom recently came out with an open source wireless driver and AMD announced Linux drivers for the Ontario Fusion chip. With more hardware manufacturers planning for and developing open source drivers for their latest products, for both desktops and mobile devices, more and more companies start collaborating on Linux-based partnerships, such as Intel and Nokia on Meego.

The low-power ARM processors will drive more mobile devices running Linux and other Linux-based systems. Mobile devices are expected to outpace PC sales, which feeds into ARM's strengths. As Linux continues to exhibit power-friendly capabilities, like the ones Red Hat introduced into the Linux kernel with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, it's likely that ARMs and other low-power chips will become more popular for PCs and servers, as well. With the operating system being able to take on heavier loads with less horsepower, low-power servers may become more commonplace in the data center.

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