The iPad's Linux competition

I get all the excitement about Apple's iPad. Even if it is just an iPad Touch writ large, that would be enough to make me want one as well. But the $499 price tag gives me pause, and I'm also not crazy about Apple's locked-door policy toward developers and their iPad applications. That's why I've been looking forward to the other cheaper, more open, and Linux-based tablets.

Now that the iPad is being shipped, it's becoming clearer who's going to be shipping Linux-powered iPad competitors first. You can expect to see a flood of Google Android devices coming to the world from many of the Taiwanese computer vendors. These will include tablets from Acer, Asustek, BenQ, and MSI.

Yes, I know that earlier this year, Acer said that they weren't going to compete with the iPad. They fibbed. You can expect Acer and many other OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to be showing off their Android Linux-powered tablets at the Computex show in Taipei in early June. You'll see these Linux iPad clones in stores by the 3rd quarter of 2010. You can expect these to be available in the $299 to $399 price-range.

Before those arrive, you may see Marvell Technology's iWonder available in online stores. Despite the embarrassment of having the first pre-production models show up displaying upside-down Android logos. With an expected price of about $100 though this Android-based tablet with its 10.1-in. screen and USB ports may well overcome its early stumble.

What may be the most interesting Linux-powered iPad-like tablet is OpenPeak's OpenTablet 7. This forthcoming device will be powered by Intel's new 1.9GHz Moorestown CPU. This means that the OpenTablet should be a good deal faster than the Apple iPad's 1GHz A4. In addition, since the Moorestown, the latest CPU in the Atom line, is designed to be power-efficient the OpenTablet should be able to give the iPad a run for its money in battery life.

Paul Krzyzanowski, the CTO of OpenPeak, tells me that under the hood, the OpenTablet is running Moblin Linux 2.0, the Moorestown CPU build. And, in a real change from how the Apple iPad doesn't handle Flash at all, instead of KDE or GNOME, the OpenTablet "entire user interface runs on Adobe Flash 10."

Linux developers should be able to build applications for this platform without too much trouble, since the OpenTablet's "Flash applications may invoke class modules that are written in C/C++" and its "application hosting framework controls the loading/unloading of applications." I can also see the OpenTablet doing well in businesses since "The system is fully managed with a device management system client that allows the server to monitor the device, provision the device, and send notifications (e.g., firmware updates or domain-specific messages such as peak pricing notifications for energy)." That means that, unlike the iPad, it should be easy to manage OpenTablet in a corporate network.

Besides being a very interesting device in its own right, OpenTablet may be showing us a vision of the future. We already know, for example, that Google and Adobe are working together to bring the Chrome browser and Flash together. From there it's an easy jump to see more iPad clones using the Chrome operating system with Flash interfaces appearing.

So, while yes, I'm certainly excited about the iPad too, I think we're quickly going to see at least a dozen Linux-powered iPad like tablets showing up before the year's end. Let the competition begin!

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