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Canonical Adds Multi-Touch To Ubuntu

The release of uTouch brings multi-touch to Ubuntu Linux, from the kernel to the application layer

Canonical on Monday released the first version of uTouch, an open source multi-touch stack to be integrated into the company’s Ubuntu Linux.

The release is the first major push for Canonical to bring touch interaction, of the kind now familiar on smartphones and tablets, to Ubuntu, considered one of the most user-friendly versions of Linux. The stack integrates elements from the kernel through to the application level, Canonical said.

Canonical worked with Linux kernel developers and, which develops a version of the X Window System widely used on Linux, on drivers and support for missing features, the company said. Canonical itself contributed an open source gesture recognitionengine and defined a gesture API that applications can use to obtain gesture events from the uTouch gesture engine.

Integration Efforts

The work began with Ubuntu release 10.04, with efforts to get additional touch hardware supported in the Linux kernel, Canonical said. This included the Dell Latitude XT2 and HP tx2 tablets and Lenovo T410s laptops. The stack will be part of the “Maverick Meerkat” release of Ubuntu, version 10.10, set for release in October. The stack is released under the GPLv3 and LGPLv3 licences.

“We’re currently targeting the Dell XT2 (a tablet which Dell has been selling in various versions since 2009) as a development environment so the lucky folks with that machine will get the best results today,” said Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth in a Monday blog post announcing the launch. “By release, we expect you’ll be able to use it with a range of devices from major manufacturers, and with add-ons like Apple’s Magic Trackpad.”

Shuttleworth said the design team has extended the use of multi-touch to allow sequences of gestures, rather than simply single movements.

“Rather than single, magic gestures, we’re making it possible for basic gestures to be chained, or composed, into more sophisticated ‘sentences’,” Shuttleworth wrote.

Enabling Applications

One of the challenges to getting multi-touch fully working on Linux machines will be enabling new and existing applications to use the technology – something that will depend on the efforts of the open source developer community, Shuttleworth admitted.

“It would be awesome to have touch-aware versions of all the major apps – browser, email, file management, chat, photo management and media playback – for 11.04, but that depends on you,” he wrote.

For the initial Maverick release Shuttleworth said he expects many applications based on the GTK+ toolkit will support gesture-based scrolling. Users of netbooks will also have access to window management features with Ubuntu 10.10 via the release’s Unity netbook interface, Shuttleworth said.

Multi-touch interfaces first gained wide use with smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone, and more recently have been integrated into tablets including Apple’s iPad and Dell’s Streak.