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Ubuntu Linux 10.10 Meerkat Poised to Get 'Touchy'

Multi-touch Interaction

  • August 16, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner
The next version of Ubuntu Linux aims to support for multi-touch as part of an effort to expand the Linux desktop user experience, potentially bringing the sorts of interactivity popularized by devices like the Apple iPad to tablets and netbooks powered by Ubuntu. But the plan isn't to stop with Ubuntu alone, according to the distribution's founder, Mark Shuttleworth.

Ubuntu 10.10, codenamed "Maverick Meerkat," is currently in development and scheduled to debut officially in October. When it does, it will include the new, open source UTouch framework, which Ubuntu's backers say will offer a type of user experience that's thus far been absent on Linux devices.

"We're very excited about multi-touch as an interaction model and we think open source should be at the cutting edge of interaction design and innovation," Shuttleworth told InternetNews.com. "This is one of the big things that has been missing from the Linux desktop and we're very glad that we can help to make it a reality."

The new multi-touch support in Ubuntu 10.10 involves work at multiple layers of the desktop stack. Shuttleworth explained that touch hardware has to be enabled at the kernel level, while above that, Ubuntu developers have built frameworks and APIs for the processing of the raw data that a multi-touch interface generates with user gestures. Then at the application layer, Ubuntu developers have built APIs for applications to hook into the multi-touch system and understand those user gestures.

To pull off the feat, Shuttleworth said Ubuntu developers have been working with others in the Linux community, including the X.org X Window community and Red Hat developer Peter Hutterer.

"We've been working with Hutterer to help him define the protocol that is the underlying element for multitouch," Shuttleworth said. "Based on the protocol proposal that he made, we've contributed an implementation of that protocol."

Ubuntu also developed other pieces of the multi-touch stack, including technology that enables raw touch data to be converted into a stream of gestures. Shuttleworth explained that Ubuntu is aiming to extend the entire multitouch experience with new usage concepts like the idea of "gesture composition," which he described as combining a sequence of gestures to create a new action.

"So rather than create ever more complex gestures, we're focused on user experience and we're mapping sequences of events," Shuttleworth said.

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