Alternative Tablet OSs
It seems like everybody is making a tablet these days, sparking talk of alternatives to iOS and Android (and, for that matter, RIM’s PlayBook OS and Windows 8, which will be a hybrid OS for either mobile devices or traditional computers). Here are six other OSs for tablets, which are in varying stages of existence: two in usable form, the others are being worked on now or have been speculated to be in the works.
Last year, HP launched the TouchPad tablet, which ran this OS, the successor to Palm OS. Critics felt the tablet hardware was a littleunder-powered, but generally liked webOS. The TouchPad didn’t sell as quickly as HP would have liked, so the company pulled the plug, and slashed the price of the TouchPad to $99 (down from $499) to clean out remaining stock, whichcaused a buying frenzy. Since then, HP provided updates to webOS, but was giving mixed signals about the future of the platform. Finally in December, HP announced that the OS would be open-sourced under the name Open webOS; its code is set to be released in September this year.
Are we the only ones who’ve wondered what’s going on with Ubuntu? Recent version of the Linux-based OS have gone through controversial changes to its UI that have riled Linux purists and confounded many of the Ubuntu faithful. Recently, a menu-lacking GUI was announced. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, announced in October 2011 that future versions of Ubuntu would be designed so that the OS could be used not only on desktop PCs and notebooks but also smartphones and tablets.
You’d think that Chrome OS running on tablets would cause confusion in the market with Google’s other -- and far more popular mobile OS -- Android? Yet the company appears to have been working to possibly bring their cloud-oriented OS to tablets. It’s been well over a year since they unleashed Chrome OS on lightweight notebooks dubbed Chromebooks. Over the past year, Google has quietly slipped code into Chrome OS that would accommodate for touchscreen interactivity. (Maybe this is so the OS can be used for future Chromebooks that have touchscreens.) However, there has not been any indication yet that Google or their hardware partners plan to sell a tablet that runs Chrome OS.
Here's another project to create a tablet OS from the code of a web browser -- in this case, the one that runs Firefox. Unlike Chrome OS, there doesn't already exist a "Firefox OS," but Boot to Gecko is the closest thing. This is the Mozilla Foundation's project to create a mobile device OS with an emphasis on HTML5 and other open web technologies. It is currently in the early testing phase, and is being designed mostly for use on smartphones, but it looks like it would be easy for Mozilla's developers to readily adapt it for tablets.
The Mer Project launched in October 2011 to continue developing the MeeGo OS in the open source community. MeeGo was announced in February 2010 to merge the development efforts of the mobile device OSes Maemo and Moblin. Maemo was created by Nokia, and Moblin was an Intel OS. In September, both companies decided to go their separate ways, so work on MeeGo ceased. Mer appears to be in a usable form, as it is tied to an actual tablet: The Spark has a 7-inch screen and will be released sometime this year in Europe for 200 euros. Plasma Active, a variant of the KDE desktop GUI, runs on top of Mer on this tablet.
But wait -- the story of MeeGo isn’t over. The development community behind MeeGo is moving on to make a new mobile OS called Tizen, which is supported by Intel and Samsung. Tizen is planned for not only tablets but in-dash auto systems, netbooks, smartphones and smart TVs. It won’t be a direct continuation of MeeGo, though -- Tizen won’t use much existing technology from current MeeGo code. It is instead being built from scratch and (like what is being discussed for Mozilla’s tablet OS) with an emphasis on HTML5. For now, not many details have been let out about Tizen, but an early look at its code and SDK were released in January 2012.
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