the state of tablet software in linux

I bought a Lenovo X41 tablet two weeks ago. I got it for a number of reasons- ease of note-taking, improved interaction with professors, just needing a new machine anyway, etc. I knew going in that the state of linux tablet software was sort of poor, but after more investigation I’m surprised at how poor, and perhaps more troubling, how fragmented and nearly stagnant it is.

There are a variety of notepad-type tools. Jarnal came with the tablet, and is pretty damn good, except for the handwriting recognition, which is passable with training, but not great. Unfortunately, it appears that there is no active development, so we get what we get. Gournal is around, and looks pretty solid, though I have not actually used it yet. Xournal looks to be both cool and actively developed, at least for now, though it is not as sophisticated as Jarnal (no handwriting recognition, primarily; I have great faith that gocollab will make the collaboration part trivial soon ;). Maybe Xournal will be my first review for Quim’s new project– I’ve been using it every day for two weeks now and am pretty happy with it. None seem as polished as their Windows counterparts at first glance, but they are decent, and Xournal may be picking up steam. Sadly, Xournal appears not to be part of edgy, so I’ll likely have to break my no-compiling rule for another app (currently only gimmie is cool enough for that.) (If tomboy allowed scribbling into notes as well as typing, I’d wet my pants with joy, by the way.)

Unfortunately, for notepad-like tools to become really, really useful, they need handwriting recognition. More unfortunately, the more interesting-looking handwriting recognition/stroke-based text entry projects all appear to be dead in the water. GPE’s rosetta hasn’t had a significant commit in 16 months; mallum’s cool-looking xstroke replacement hasn’t had one in 11 months; and herzi’s HRE work got very little interest at fundable. This is a shame- I wish I had some clue about the ‘why’ to this problem- I’m guessing some combination of low demand and high skill barrier, but don’t really know. (Is there some project out there I don’t know about?)

There is at least some push in the keyboard area- obviously GOK is powerful, omnipresent, and under development. Frankly, though, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get going, and it apparently disabled my pen at one point! I’m intrigued by Ubuntu’s ‘OnBoard‘ project, and it looks nice and ‘Just Works’, though I’m curious why it isn’t just a GOK mode- just too radically different in aims? The laptop shipped with xvkbd, which works, once you figure out the trick :)

It doesn’t appear possible with any of these tools (either keyboards or stroke-recognizers), at least that I’ve seen, to use them in a maemo-like mode, where tapping on an input field brings up a text entry tool. Maemo’s behavior in this respect is so obvious and intuitive that I’m shocked I haven’t seen it elsewhere. It should certainly be in every linux tablet setup.

Anyway, I do think that tablets are going to become more popular, especially once text entry gets solved. Hopefully I’ll be along for the ride :)

[Coolest non-obvious feature I’ve seen on the windows side, by the way? Onenote will record audio and tie that to your notes, apparently, so that you can ask ‘what was being said when I wrote this?’ and get back that audio section, to use to polish/expand on your notes later. Very nice hack.]

[PS. I really hate WP’s text editor’s handling of white space. Does anyone know if there is a fix for it?]