It’s real: Tablet PCs have arrived. According to a recent DePaul University study, one in every dozen airline passengers is using a tablet PC or e-book reader at any given moment.
Like many of you, I got a tablet (a Nook, if you’re interested) as a gift this last December (thanks Jeanette!). It’s pretty nice. I read Wired on it now, check news, post tweets occasionally. But it’s moderately frustrating that I can’t really do anything worthwhile on this machine.
The problem with tablets is that they are designed for consumption: of movies, books, websites and the like. People want to be productive while on the go. The size and weight of the average tablet is perfect for productivity almost anywhere. But the software isn’t there to support a productive worker.
What if there was a tablet with a real operating system and a collection of software that lived in the tablet (not in the cloud)? What if you could work on a presentation without worrying whether your carrier had an affordable wi-fi connection today? What if you could then use a USB port to plug your tablet into a projector when the time came to deliver that presentation? At under $300, that’s a purchase even a cash-strapped employer could justify. This machine is the Spark.
Due for delivery in May 2012, the Spark is being developed by the KDE Project, the open source development team behind the KDE Software Collection, the longstanding and popular Linux desktop environment. It runs the Plasma Active mobile desktop on top of the Mer operating system, the successor to MeeGo.
Project developers are working on building an app store, but you’ll also be able to use the Open Build Service (OBS) from the openSUSE Project to obtain apps for your Spark. This is the “productive” part of this tablet, as you could run most (if not all) applications that could run on desktop KDE.
The main initial problem with Spark is that it’s not an especially powerful machine. The 7-inch Zenithink C71 tablet has just a 1GHz processor, 512MB of memory, and 4GB storage space. The display is 800 x 480 pixels. One hopes that future models will have a little more muscle. The good news here is that it has two USB ports and a microSD slot to help you get work done!
This is where I should be telling you how you can get this marvelous device, but I’m late. Thousands of pre-orders at MakePlayLive.com last week reached the capacity of machines able to be built by the May release. You can (and should!) still put your name on the waiting list, though.
For more complete information on this device, and the philosophy behind it, reading through lead developer Aaron Seigo’s blog posts on the Spark is really exciting.
The Spark is a beginning. The prairie fire will hit when more people realize that a tablet doesn’t have to be a toy.
What do you think about the Spark, and open tablets generally? What tools would you like to see in the Spark? What problems are you seeing in the tablets you use? Leave a comment!