Ubuntu Is Ready For A Multi-Touch Future

Picture Credit: CrystalXP.NetAs more and more touch based devices flood the market, open source community is looking for support to such devices in the Linux distros. Ubuntu is almost ready to take on the proliferation of such devices in their upcoming Ubuntu 10.10.10 (Maverick Meercat Release) in October of this year. In a mail sent to Multi-Touch developers, Canonical Multi-Touch team has announced that Multi-Touch will work out of box on 3M or N-Trig (eg: Dell Latitude XT or XT2) hardware.

Those of you with 3M or N-Trig hardware can now expect an out-of-the-box touch experience that “just works” on Maverick, please file bugs if it doesn’t. A first cut of multi-touch support for Ubuntu has landed, including drivers for a range of hardware, a gesture processing system which does the heavy lifting of gesture analysis, APIs for developers who want to build gestures into their apps, and support for gesture-based window management in Unity.

Mark Shuttleworth, Former CEO of Canonical and who now focusses on their desktop and cloud computing efforts, has written a blog post announcing the multi-touch support and why they went with a 4 finger approach to multi-touch gestures.

You’ll need 4-finger touch or better to get the most out of it, and we’re currently targeting the Dell XT2 as a development environment so the lucky folks with that machine will get the best results today. By release, we expect you’ll be able to use it with a range of devices from major manufacturers, and with addons like Apple’s Magic Trackpad.

The design team has lead the way, developing a “touch language” which goes beyond the work that we’ve seen elsewhere. Rather than single, magic gestures, we’re making it possible for basic gestures to be chained, or composed, into more sophisticated “sentences”. The basic gestures, or primitives, are like individual verbs, and stringing them together allows for richer interactions. It’s not quite the difference between banging rocks together and conducting a symphony orchestra, but it feels like a good step in the right direction

From the blog post, it is clear that Canonical is not currently planning to release a tablet edition of Ubuntu but, rather, they are planning to add multi-touch support in the desktop OS. As more and more devices spring up along the lines of Apple’s magic mouse or magic trackpad, there are expectations for support to these devices from Linux vendors. Ubuntu, being a leader in the Linux desktop market, is expected to add support for these devices. This is a pretty good beginning and I am sure this will mature and be more useful in the Ubuntu versions coming out in 2011.

According to Mark Shuttleworth, may Gtk applications will support gesture based scrolling and they are working to enhance Evince (equivalent to Preview in Mac) so that it supports some richer interactions with the app using multi-touch device.

Even though they are only adding support in the desktop edition, this move prepares them to add support for computing devices of all sizes and shapes in the future. We are moving into a future where computing devices will come to dominate different parts of the household. Such a future will have touch gesture based devices as evidenced from Apple’s iPhone to Microsoft’s Surface. Having an open source alternative ready will help in the proliferation of Linux into such devices. Ubuntu will be well positioned to take advantage as a cost effective alternative to such proprietary offerings. It will be interesting to see how fast multi-touch support matures in Ubuntu.

Cross Posted from Krishworld.

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