Spark, free-software Linux tablet, to ship in May

More details are coming about Spark, the free-software Linux tablet, but enthusiasts will have to wait until May before they can get their hands on one.

Say hi to Spark, the first free software, Linux tablet.

Spark, the first free software, Linux tablet is due to arrive in May 2012.

Aaron Seigo, one of the KDE's lead developers, and a leader of the Spark free-software Linux tablet development effort, has reveled more about the Spark, including, alas, that the Spark won't be available until May 2012.

Seigo explains, "We have a lot of pieces to coordinate, and not just technical issues like the OS image and the content add-on store, but things like packaging design, manufacturing, shipping, import, retail channel coordination. So far we're on track, but I don't want to offer a more precise date than 'May' until we pull the trigger on production."

When it does roll down the production line, Seigo says, "the Spark will be available for order online worldwide. We will be focusing primarily on Europe first, but we will be able ship worldwide from day one. We are looking for retail partners elsewhere in the world: USA and Canada, South America, Australia, etc. to make it easier to procure." Pricing will be around $260 or 200 Euros.

As had been speculated, the Spark will be built around the Zenithink C71. This is an inexpensive tablet with a 1GHz AMLogic ARM processor, Mali-400 GPU, 512 MB RAM, 4GB internal storage plus SD card slot, a 7? capacitive (16x9) multi-touch screen with 800 x 480 resolution, For connectivity it uses 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity. It also has a 1.3 MPixels front camera, built-in microphone and stereo speakers. In addition, the tablet will come with 2 USB ports, a microSD slot, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

It will not, have in the first production run, 3G or GPS. Both will be supported by the system's Linux operating system.

The Spark will run Mer, the community continuation of MeeGo, an embedded Linux. On top of Mer, the Spark will use KDE Plasma Active for its user interface (UI). Plasma Active runs on the traditional Linux desktop stack, including the Linux kernel, Qt, and KDE's Plasma Framework. The UI uses Plasma Quick, a declarative markup language. This, in turn, is based on Qt Quick, an easy to use interface software development kit and framework.

If you're a developer and you want to write for Spark, Seigo recommends QtQuick for applications targeting the Spark. There are also KDE libraries, including the Plasma framework, on the device. However, Spark is happy to support non-Qt apps. I play Battle for Wesnoth [a popular fantasy strategy game] on mine. ;) Developers will have access to the add-ons store as well, so getting your apps to Spark users will be dead simple."

You will not be able to run Android applications on Spark though. Seigo notes though that "It is theoretically possible to package a Dalvik [Android's Java virtual machine] runtime for Plasma Active and make it available on the Spark. No one has attempted this yet, but it would make for a killer project."

Programs for the Spark will be available, said Seigo on "the standard Mer repositories as well as the Open Build Service. However, that's not overly person friendly (unless that person happens to be technically adept and familiar with Linux), so we are providing an add-on store from which people can easily download and install books, applications, desktop widgets and services ... with more to be added with time." Developers will be able to sell their programs to end-users on the Spark application store.

If you want to run the Spark operating system on other platforms, you can do that as well, but that's not the Spark's team goal. Seigo explains, "There are images for Intel based tablets as well as nVidia Tegra 2 and other ARM tablets available, and you can help by getting involved with the amazing Mer project. It is our hope that Spark will ignite interest in other vendors as well who will pick up the opportunity to increase the diversity of options. Yes, we're looking to grow what would traditionally called competitors. We see them as co-conspirators. ;) Welcome to the world of Open."

I'm a little disappointed that we won't see the Spark until May, but I'm still hopeful for the project. Seigo hopes that his next blog posting on Spark will be to announce the pre-order Web site. I hope so too.

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