It’s the beginning of September as I write this, a hot humid day as summer is winding down and the trees and plants begin their glorious transition to their winter states. This means I’ve been dedicated full time to making touch input work in Ubuntu for just over a year.
It’s been long, slow work.
The confusing thing about touch input is that it seems to work a lot of the time. That is, it works for a given definition of “works”. Touchpads on laptops sometimes have magic scrolling at the edge or appear to provide right mouse clicks when tapped with two fingers. Buttons get clicked from touchscreens. People are mostly happy.
Problem is, there is no comprehensive strategy to get touch interfaces working well, in a predictable, consistent fashion. By comprehensive, I mean across hardware and software. All hardware and software.
Kids today (and I apologize for using that time-worn phrase but hey, it’s apropos) don’t realize how much time and effort the Windows-style desktop mouse-and-keyboard input paradigm took to evolve to the point where it just works. The way IBM PC users just laughed at the Macintosh with its rodent, and later the Mac folks ridiculed Windows with its multiple mouse buttons. The serial vs. bus mouse, the serial vs. PS/2 keyboard, Apple’s ADB and later USB efforts (who needs USB? it’ll never take off). Well, it’s a whole nother ball game now with touch input.
Canonical has been driving an effort to make touch input just work, at least on Ubuntu, called uTouch. Although hardware is beyond our control, we’re working vertically from kernel drivers, through gesture recognition, into toolkits like GTK and Qt, and finally in applications themselves. Our goal is to make the technology just disappear, but until we’re there I’m going to be using this space to talk about all the little bits and pieces that have to be put together to get to where people don’t have to think to use their new devices, they just work.