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Ubuntu Touch may be our last hope for a Linux tablet

touching screen on tablet pc digital tablet touch screen digital internet technology 000019365617
Credit: iStockphoto

The KDE-powered Vivaldi tablet project has been killed, leaving Ubuntu Touch as our only hope for a Linux-first tablet.

My daily computing experience is pretty “tablet-heavy.” My Nexus 7 is my constant companion. In fact, for the better part of the last year, I've done the vast majority of my actual work on this little Android tablet of mine.

But, as much as I enjoy using Android, I am a Linux guy at heart. (I know, I know... Android is built on the Linux kernel and is, predominantly, Open Source... but it's just not the same.) And, being a Linux guy, I would love to have a tablet powered by the technology I've come to love over the years. Namely: A shell I can run bash scripts in and the ability to run builds of some of my favorite desktop Linux apps (LibreOffice, Calligra, Inkscape, The Gimp, etc.).

(Side note: I know that running a piece of software designed for use with a keyboard and mouse typically doesn’t provide the most user-friendly experience on a touchscreen device... but being able to have access to such software on the go, even in a slightly cumbersome fashion, is incredibly handy.)

In my efforts to achieve this goal, I picked up one of the newer Intel Bay Trail-powered tablets. Those little guys are powered by X86 processors – which means, in theory, you can install and run whatever X86 OS you want. Unfortunately, in practice, this means Windows 8.1. And a not-terribly-functional (yet) version of Fedora.

So what is a Linux- and Open Source-loving guy to do?

Many of my hopes had been pinned on the KDE-powered Vivaldi tablet, an effort to provide a complete (Mer-based) system created for people like me. It, in a nutshell, was to provide a KDE Plasma desktop tailored for touch devices, meaning that I could run whatever software I want on it.

Unfortunately, this tablet has been scrapped...before any big public launch was possible. A major bummer, to be sure. The team announced this sad news, saying "There was simply not enough support to make the project work, despite having fully functional, production ready devices and a strong commitment to succeed."

And, the reality is this - there isn't anything shipping right now that scratches this particular itch.

The news isn't all bad, I suppose. Canonical says that they expect Ubuntu Touch-powered tablets to start shipping in the second half of this year. When I took Ubuntu Touch for a spin on my Nexus 7 last October, it definitely had promise (if it was a bit on the buggy side). And it has certainly improved a great deal since then.

Unfortunately, the ability to run traditional Linux desktop software isn't the focus of Ubuntu Touch. In theory, this will be possible, but I've yet to see this actually happen. So I'm not holding my breath.

Oh well. For the time being we've got Android. And that's kinda Linux... right?

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