Monday, October 18, 2010

A Visit with System76

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting Carl Richell and part of the System76 crew in their Denver offices today. Pictured to the left is their very sweet Starling NetBook. I became an instant fan, due to the sleek good looks, a fantastic keyboard, and a flawless installation of Ubuntu. Carl also showed me the Starling EduBook, which I completely fell in love with. There's a charter school in Colorado that bought a whole mess of these guys, and the kids at school adore them... and how could they not? A rugged, easy-to-use Linux netbook with Edubuntu installed on it? Total win.

Before getting a device, personnel, and facilities tour, Carl and I talked shop: uTouch, the future of multi-touch in Linux, Unity, Ubuntu on a plethora of devices. You know, the usual good stuff. I asked him what he'd like to see in Ubuntu that he feels would be necessary to totally rock out the tablet experience. His list of top picks echoes the sentiments of many people with whom I have had similar conversations. In no particular order, the list goes something like this:
  • fully-working auto-rotate
  • a great on-screen keyboard
  • browser, music, video, photo, and document apps -- all with a user interface designed for touch
  • the ability to deliver and play games
  • a sweet note taking app that integrates with email
  • TV remote control support
Much of this is already scheduled for discussions in UDS sessions next week :-)

Carl's excited about UDS and the continued conversations that will take place there. As am I. But I also can't stop thinking about that Starling NetBook... I'm going to be replacing my ailing AspireOne with System76's gorgeous offering...


  1. Hi, in the list of top picks, there are several areas I would like to add. First, the keyboard should fully support multiple international inputs out of the box, including Chinese/Japanese/Korean handwriting recognition (China is a huge market, currently dominated by Android products, which support this). Second, note-taking app should support natural handwriting (regardless if it is handwriting recognition, or if the computer does not semantically recognize the text). Third, the note taking app should also sync or be tied in with a great instant messenger, not just email. For that matter, it would be great if I could tweet my handwritten notes, or post them to facebook or a blog (me menu integrate too?) Fourth, smooth animations and consistent transitions are a must to tie the platform together. Fifth, all this has to run fast, with no hicups or stuttering. Sixth, the platform needs a specific developer kit with easy tools to get people into the game fast and making great programs that take advantage of touch and other new Ubuntu features fully. Seventh, make sure to leverage the translation community with app developers, so they can get their apps translated into as many languages as possible and sell to as many users as possible. If you can add these to what you want to accomplish, you will have a smash hit on your hands.

  2. Is System76, as a _profitable_ OEM, going to be paying Canonical for engineering services, as a _yet to be profitable_ software engineering company, to make fixing these list of things a high priority for Canonical staffed manhours for Natty?


  3. Jef,

    1) That part of our conversation was casual, and was an expression of opinion.

    2) You know quite well that any deal negotiations with any vendor is not a topic for public discussion, until both parties have come to an agreement.

    3) Your choice of the verb "fixing" probably isn't the most accurate; "creating" or "adding" would have applied more sensibly to the majority of items on that list.

    4) Our users' requests and interest are always a high priority for us. (I'm assuming I don't need to point out the obvious caveats of requests vs. engineering availability...) As stated in the blog, these items have not only been brought up by other users, but many have UDS sessions for them; all will be discussed at UDS.

  4. Anonymous10:31 AM

    I want something like a netbook but with a less crippled processor in it, I think. My Aspire One is nice, but anything but fast.

    Or, if it's going to be a slower processor, at least it could be an ARM :-)

  5. Duncan,

    I take it from your statement that negotiations are ongoing in this case, which I will take it upon myself to view optimistically as good news. I look forward to the Canonical press release trumpeting a contractual agreement like was made when Google contracted for Canonical engineering help with ChromeOS.

    Though I'll keep asking the question as time and opportunity permits to keep tabs on the evolution of the business relationship. Because noone seems to take the time to write the press release when contractual relationships dissolve (again as in the case of Canonical's involvement with ChromeOS)


  6. Jef, It's probably best, in general, not to make assumptions.

    Also, it might be worth noting that both at the beginnings and endings of legally defined relationships between corporations, there are very often measures put in place that prevent one or both parties from disclosing information. Things are usually no more insidious than the usual legal processes and setting up of safeguards.

  7. Duncan,

    Insidious? Of course not. It's never been my intent to suggest that secrecy of business agreements are by their nature an insidious or any any way a malevolent construct. Viable long term business relationships that flow consumer cash back to software developers are a great thing regardless of the competitive market pressures parties are under to keep the existence of such agreements secret. But just because I understand that such pressures exist, doesn't mean I'm not interested in seeing business relationships talked about.

    So I'll keep asking about business relationships when its contextually relevant none-the-less with the knowledge that I'll get a no comment 95% of the time. I'm nothing if not persistent.