A tale of two tablets

June 16, 2012

On Monday, Microsoft is supposed to make an earth-shattering announcement in Los Angeles in a press conference so secret that not even the press knows where to go yet. Apparently, they’ll find out where they need to go on Monday morning for this ultra-mega-super-secret “announcement.”

My bet is that they’re buying Nokia. After all, they’ve already planted one of their executives as Nokia CEO, who essentially and for all intents and purposes scorched the Nokia earth below his feet and trashed the company, making it ripe for the picking.

Of course, there’s an outside chance, too, that the conventional wisdom may be correct and they’re going to be releasing their own tablet with Windows 8, which is what the New York Times thinks.

Or Microsoft is merging with Canonical to become Canonisoft. OK, so maybe that’s a stretch.

But I digress. Regardless of what happens in Los Angeles on Monday — tablet or Nokia, or both — let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it has to do with one or both of these two topics.

Buying Nokia? Yawn.

Tablet? Oh, good luck with that. Sarcasm alert: Redmond is a hallmark of product quality and customer service. But seriously, if the tablet is as bad as the software Microsoft has put out for the last, oh, generation or so, coupled with their customer service which is the gold standard of awful, arguably releasing a new tablet with Windows 8 could be one of the biggest disasters since the Hindenberg.

Meanwhile, since we’re on the topic of tablets, let’s come up the coast a bit from the shrouded mystery of Los Angeles to sunny Berkeley, California, where ZaReason is busy putting together the final touches on their own tablet. If the activity in the IRC channel is any indication, they’re pretty close to having something ready for prime time fairly soon.

I had a chance to use the Android version of the tablet — rumor has it that the ZaReason tablet is being engineered with Ubuntu OS in mind — since I was entrusted with some of the ZaReason hardware that was shown at the joint ZaReason-CrunchBang table at Linux Fest Northwest.

Truth in advertising: I’m not a tablet guy by anyone’s definition of the phrase. But that said, many folks are drawn to the smaller form factor, and if that works for you, you should give the ZaReason tablet serious consideration once it’s released. It’s a solid machine, and the Android version we got to display at LFNW was met with a lot of enthusiasm by those attendees who are tablet and Android aficionadoes.

Also, when the ZaReason tablet is released, chances are it won’t be in some sort of secret press conference. And it won’t have Windows 8.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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  1. Colonel Panik
    June 17, 2012 at 7:44 am

    That ZaReason tablet with Android 4? WANT.

    I have heard that some people, well, at least that one guy
    in Felton, CA, don’t like small form computing. Tablets, even
    phones that act like a computer have a place. That place
    may be the hands of young people with good eyes and nimble
    fingers. From the demonstrations I have seen the tablet is one
    hell of a tool for many things. I saw interactive text books on a
    iPad and they were so incredible, like walking into tomorrow.
    Have you seen the docking stations that let you use your phone
    or tablet to power a full size screen and keyboard? Perfect.

    The Free Software Guy remembers the days of a computer
    box that weighed north of 50 pounds and a CRT (that is the
    kind of monitor we used in the late middle ages) that was
    also as heavy as a Buick. Running that hardware would
    spin up your electric meter to warp speed. Now those phones
    that everyone but Larry and I have will run with more power
    and do it on milliwatts instead of kilowatts. The future is way
    better than the past.

    Larry has predicted that Microsoft will or won’t do something
    on Monday. He may be right. Quote from above “Yawn”
    The Colonel has also looked into the coffee grounds and will
    make this bold prediction: Someday LtFSG will use a tablet
    style computer and enjoy it.

  2. jspaleta
    June 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    It looks like from the reviews I read that Zatab is single core ARM. Which seems a bit unfortunate to some extent. You won’t be able to use it in an Ubuntu on Android configuration. I think UonA potentially has some market traction. it would have been great if ZaTab supported tha configuration for dev-centric folks to poke at the UonA implementation.

    i wonder if you’ll be able to dual boot it instead.


    • June 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Well, to read the uncharacteristically high volume of traffic between Earl Malmrose and other developers on #zareason dealing with the testing and development, it looks like they have their hands full. Much of this development came, naturally, after UDS.

      • jspaleta
        June 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        okay… im not sure how pace of development is relevant. UonA explicitly requires dual core..to my understanding..as U’s userspace running ontop of the Android kernel side by side with the Android userspace…like a super crazy Android App on steriods. The concept uses the second core explicitly and an external hdmi framebuffer with the idea you can plug your Android device into a dock and you get access to a full U desktop while the main device display still is running Android’s ui. It…fascinates me. Its the sort of functionality that would actually make me want to buy a fancy smartphone or tablet..knowing I could use it as a desktop as well. Even if its a U. desktop…(until I hack it to be something else of course)

        I haven’t seen Canonical mention UofA for anything except multi-core Android targets so far. As it stands I’m pretty sure the first gen ZaTab can’t support the concept because the hardware is single core.

        The Zatab can of course support Ubuntu as a stand alone pre-install option. I’m pretty sure the ARM chip they are using falls within the existing ARM builds Canonical does (unlike raspi which uses an older ARM series that C doesn’t provide build support for)

        That being said I look forward to seeing ZaReason offer both Android and Ubuntu as pre-install options at purchase time. I hope they feel comfortable providing some metrics as to the popularity of both options on the same tablet hardware after some months of customer purchasing. I think ZaReason would provide probably the fairest opportunity for U and A to go head to head for consumer dollars. Given the choice between the two to be preinstalled on exactly the same hardware which would you buy? It’s a question that we’ve never had a clear answer to because generally vendors pick an OS for the hardware and go with it for a product’s lifetime. ZaReason will be giving people OS choice on tablet hardware and that’s pretty cool.

      • June 17, 2012 at 9:35 pm

        ZaReason has been evaluating SoCs for years now, and none of them met our requirements until now. The ZaTab is built around the Allwinner A10 SoC. This isn’t the most advanced chip around, but it offers good performance, great battery life, excellent value, but most of all it is by far the most open SoC on the market.

        So open in fact that you can download the sources and compile them yourself, before the tablet is released:


        Ubuntu isn’t very well suited to tablets at this point. We’ll offer it as a preload option, but I don’t expect many people to select it. That should change this fall. Both Kubuntu Active and Edubuntu are working towards having tablet-optimized builds for the 12.10 release date, and the ZaTab is one of their targetted devices.

      • June 17, 2012 at 10:08 pm

        Thanks for straightening that out, Earl.

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