Home > linux, smartbooks, tablets, ubuntu > Why the Desktop Mode is necessary on Linux-based tablets?

Why the Desktop Mode is necessary on Linux-based tablets?

Many have predicted, that tablets will replace netbooks completely. While I cannot agree with this absolute statement, I admit that tablets serve a set of use-cases better than netbooks. The touch-interface and low power-consumption of tablets make content consumption more comfortable (e.g. no heating, no fan-noise, longer battery runtime, less weight to lug around…etc).

That said, there are areas where tablets just cannot give enough. For example, any kind of work which requires more serious input while being mobile. The problem of efficient input can be solved with accessories like a bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Usually, when you prepare your tablet for extra-home journeys, you buy a case which also hosts the keyboard.

If we stop here for a moment, we may realize that a tablet in a foldable bluetooth keyboard case is actually a modular netbook (or a smartbook if you like) which is capable of loosing its keyboard for added mobility. This realization, however, is imprecise because the typical netbook software stack is mostly missing: a full-featured office suite, a browser with your favourite extensions and all of the desktop bells-and-whistles you are used to.

How could we improve on this situation?

In the case of Linux based mobile operating systems like Android, WebOS and MeeGo, the answer is fairly simple: bring back the Desktop Mode as the second work environment besides the touch interface. Desktop Mode may automatically activate when you attach a keyboard or a mouse and runs all of your traditional Linux desktop applications. The user is of course should be allowed to easily switch between touch-mode and desktop mode (preferably with a dedicated hw button)

If you think this as a lunacy, think again. Microsoft has already announced that Windows 8 will have this double nature (the metro UI for touch applications and the desktop for traditional applications).

Some people think that the typical ARM based tablet hardware would not be able to run desktop heavyweights like OpenOffice and Firefox. They are wrong and nothing proves this better than the Ubuntu ports already done for the Toshiba AC100 (a video about it is here). This video clearly demonstrates that Tegra2 level hardware with even 512Mb of RAM (and run from an external SD card)  is capable of running these applications with acceptable speed (e.g.: cold startup time of 8 seconds for OpenOffice 3.2 Writer). We can safely say that a HP Touchpad’s dual-core SOC overclocked to 1.7Ghz will run these applications significantly faster from the internal SSD and with 1GB of RAM. An even more powerful, Kal-El (Tegra3) based tablet with 1-2GB of RAM will clearly pass Atom-based netbook performance.

Of course, there have already been attempts for providing the Desktop Mode for Android machines. The Webtop interface of the Motorola Atrix is fundamentally a desktop environment, albeit a very limited one.

As I have suggested recently for the HP Touchpad, I believe that every Linux based mobile OS should provide a lightweight desktop environment and a full complement of desktop applications by default (or at least an extremely easy way to install them). Only this way can they counter the very real advantage a dual-mode Window8 would have.

Categories: linux, smartbooks, tablets, ubuntu
  1. tmx
    September 5, 2011 at 09:24

    This is a very good article. If you look at things like the Asus Transformer, is a tablet, but has a dock which actually transform it into a laptop with keyboard, touchpad and USB, this is what the future computing will be like. Yet Ubuntu is bloated and slow (relative in the linux world), its simply not the answer for ARM tablet, even if their Unity interface was designed for that purpose. Even Microsoft understand they have to break into ARM market, because people don’t want hot devices with fans and poor battery life.

    I think hardware wise we are already there, the tablet can replace laptop/desktop, if designed properly with docks/extensions softwares and a full featured linux OS, not toy Android. We’ll have to see what Android 4.0 is like when its released sometime this October.

    The main problem is lack of standards between these companies that utilizes ARM as Linus was complaining about. It should be easy to partition drives and install OSes. My feeling is Windows 8 tablet is going to win out because they will try to avoid the fragmentation issue. Even though I’m a linux supporter I have to admit this due to my experience of using six differents Android phones and tablets in the past 6 months, every each has a software or kernel features that’s incompatible with another.

    • Soltész András
      September 5, 2011 at 10:50

      Windows 8 may help standardize thing among ARM SOC producers.

      Microsoft will definitely push a lot of things to simplify their own work.

      • January 8, 2015 at 17:54

        It’s a pleausre to find someone who can identify the issues so clearly

  1. September 5, 2011 at 06:33
  2. September 5, 2011 at 17:49

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