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The iPad Cometh, and So Do the Linuxy Contenders

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Mar 29, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Legions of Apple fanbois may be all aquiver as April 3 draws near, but that doesn't mean the rest of us don't have plenty to look forward to.

The iPad Cometh, and So Do the Linuxy Contenders

Sure the iPad is arriving on the scene first, but there will be no shortage of Linuxy contenders not far behind. For those of us on the open side of the fence, *that's* where the real excitement lies -- and it could be felt all over the blogosphere in recent days.

"I get why you'd want an iPad," wrote Computerworld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, for example. "I'd like one, too. But when I consider that there are soon going to be literally dozens of cheaper, Linux-powered iPad-like devices on the market, I find it easier to resist putting (US)$499 on my credit card."

'Year of Linux on the Tablet'

LXer contributor H.Kwint dug deeper into the specifics, even putting together a handy table that compares some of the contenders, including Notion Ink's Adam Tablet and Always Innovating's Touchbook.

"It's safe to say 2010 is the year of Linux on the tablet," Kwint went so far as to say.

Other bloggers were no less decisive.

"What with all the other tablets coming out that let me install whatever the hell I want on them, I see no reason to be stuck with the programs Apple deems 'appropriate' for me," wrote Pojut on Slashdot, for example.

iPad vs. Rubber Hoses

"The 'average person' deserves treatment only slightly better than being beaten with rubber hoses," chimed in Captain Splendid. "Since that won't clear marketing, they'll get the iPad instead."

And of course: "2010: Year of the Linux Deskt- er ... Lapt- wait ... no .. er ... palmt- ... no no ... hmm. 'Tabletop'?" added Kell Bengal.

So, are the pads going to make a difference for Linux? Is Linux going to make a difference to pads? Is this really another "Year of" moment? Linux Girl headed down to the Apple Sauced Saloon for some more insight.

'It's a Neat Gadget'

"I would buy a tablet -- OSS Windows or Apple -- because I think it's a neat gadget," Slashdot blogger Josh Ulmer began. "While it is likely that I would find functionality for it that I do not currently realize, I don't really believe that it would become as integral a part of my life as my laptop or my smartphone or my desktop."

With an iPod for music, a smartphone for mobile connectivity, a laptop, a workstation and a server for high-end work, "I would love to merge some of my discrete functionality, not split it up even more," Ulmer noted. "Every layer of additional division means one more device to update, charge or upgrade."

Still, "I think that there are some very cool applications for a tablet," he added. For instance, "I think it may very well be the ultimate kitchen and bath 'PC,' if they are rugged/moisture-resistant enough."

'Not Revolutionary'

Yet the iPad itself "strikes me as just another tablet," Slashdot blogger David Masover told LinuxInsider. "It's not revolutionary, and not even particularly imaginative. It's trying to do a lot of things, and it's doing them all poorly."

Not only that, but "at the end of the day, everything my phone can do that I would otherwise need a separate device to do is one less thing I have to carry, and one more thing that fits in my pocket," Masover added.

"For reading books, an e-book reader has a better screen," he explained. "For everything else it seems to be about, my laptop already does a better job."

In short, the iPad "looks very cool, but it seems like a solution searching for a problem," Masover said.

Similarly: "I still fail to see the point of the tablet format for most cases, so I suspect they will be most useful as e-book readers rather than phone or netbook replacements," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined.

'Like Choosing a Cellphone Plan'

Then again, the sheer number of Linux-based devices expected to come out this year could be a problem, noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"It's becoming like choosing a cellphone plan," she told LinuxInsider.

"When I go shopping and I'm confronted with too many choices, with too many potential 'gotchas,' I know I'm better off waiting," Hudson explained. "Either I don't know enough to make a decision, or the market doesn't 'know enough' to provide me with something I can look at and say, 'Yes, this is just what I was waiting for!'"

'Yet Another Rechargeable Device'

Hudson has no plans to buy a pad of any kind in the near future. Why not? At least 10 reasons, she said:

10. "Steve Jobs says that I want to pay more for one that can't do Flash, can't run most software and runs a phone OS but can't make phone calls."

9. "One more place to have to look to find 'that file I was looking at/working on yesterday'? No thanks."

8. "You can have my keyboard when you pry it from my cold dead hands."

7. "I'm still trying to figure out which smartphone I want, you insensitive clod!"

6. "I was told that those linux pads won't run my antivirus."

5. "I'm waiting to see if it blends first."

4. "Just what I need -- another YARD ('Yet Another Rechargeable Device')."

3. "They just looked at me funny when I asked, "yes, but does it run linux?'"

2. "'It's as good as paper!' Really? Can I make photocopies of it?"

1. "My linux laptop still out-specs them all."

It's possible that "when the holiday shopping season comes around, out of those dozens of new products, there will be one that seems to have my name on it," Hudson concluded, "but at this point, I'm still skeptical."

'Just the Beginning'

There's no underestimating the potential of ARM, blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider.

"These gadgets are just the beginning," he asserted. "By the end of the year, no part of IT will be safe from ARM intrusions -- save, perhaps, the mainframe, and that will come sooner or later."

ARM is "not just a cute chip for cute devices -- it is a better way to compute for many purposes, just as the PC was and thin clients are now," Pogson explained. "Networking makes it possible for ARM CPUs to do anything, and the cost benefit keeps improving. Imagine how many ARM CPUs we could put in a box in comparison to the hair dryers that AMD and Intel produce."

'Intel Will Squash Them Like Bugs'

Whether ARM will get to fulfill that destiny, however, is a matter of some debate.

Linux-based pads, or "Internet in a box" machines, "would be the only Linux machines I would sell in my shop, since they don't look like 'baby laptops' and therefore folks won't expect to plug in their peripherals and have them work like they do with netbooks," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet began.

"But I think Intel will squash them like bugs long before they ever reach our shores," he told LinuxInsider. "They simply have too much competition with the new AMD bulldozer coming up and the new AMD Neo netbook line to let sub-$150 tablets make it to the market."

Amazon's Kindle device "is a $300 niche item -- no threat there," he explained. But "a $100 ARM tablet that does YouTube and runs Firefox? Oh yeah, that's a problem that I have no doubt Intel will try to squash.

"As their payout to AMD and possible antitrust suits in the U.S. and EU show," hairyfeet added, "Intel isn't above playing really dirty to hold onto a market."

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