Obviously Steve Ballmer is not going to announce HP's first offering in the "slate" category (it's a tablet, folks, but if he feels the need to call it a slate, whatever) running the latest Linux distribution made for MIDs, netbooks, and, well, slates. Unfortunately, by simply shoehorning the Windows 7 interface (albeit a great desktop/notebook UI) into an interesting and relatively novel form factor, the announcement of HP's slate was just a big yawn.
Let's think about the iPhone vs. Windows Mobile interfaces. Windows Mobile looks remarkably like a little version of Windows. The iPhone, however, may have the underpinnings of OS X, but has a unique interface truly adapted for the form factor. Similarly, for anyone who has ever used Moblin or Ubuntu Netbook Remix, an interface that capitalizes on the size and touch capabilities, as well as the intended uses of the device is mighty refreshing, assuming users can get past the it's-not-Windows factor.
Educationally, the Slate has a lot going for it. Small and light, multi-touch enabled, and relatively inexpensive, this could be another bit of useful 1:1 goodness coming out of CES. However, in addition to a Windows interface that is poorly suited to a novel, but increasingly important form factor, touch-optimized educational software is not only hard to come by, but can be expensive.
On the other hand, the use of Ubuntu opens up these slates to a wide variety of free educational software with a growing body of touch- and stylus-enabled software. Add to that (or, more correctly, subtract from that) the licensing cost of Windows 7 and suddenly these tablets get cheaper, more robust in terms of software offerings, and easier for digital natives to use given a more appropriate interface for the device and suddenly a somewhat disappointing device becomes far more compelling.
I'm convinced, as are most other tech bloggers, that the tablet form factor is here to stay. This is a good thing. However, what we really need are interfaces that exploit the tablet rather than highlight its compromises. Moblin and NBR are mighty fine places to start.