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Linux MPX Multi-touch Alternative to MS Surface 182

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the touch-me-there-no-lower-no-a-little-lower dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Gizmodo has published an article (with video) on the Linux-based free alternative to MS Surface along with a quite interesting interview with its creator, Peter Hutterer. "It may not be as fancy-schmancy as Microsoft Surface or Jeff Han's demos but this video of a Linux-based MPX multi-touch table shows that things are moving full speed ahead in the land of the free penguins. We talked with developer Peter Hutterer, who gave us his insight on the project, the iPhone and the ongoing multi-touch craze." He talks about Jeff Han's work, MS Surface and defines the iPhone as "not the first in what it's doing, but definitely a huge impact" in the field."
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Linux MPX Multi-touch Alternative to MS Surface

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  • MultiMeh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by pohl (872) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:05AM (#19876435) Homepage
    Meh. All this multitouch hype is such a fad. Sure, it's great eye candy, but it's totally impractical. Do you really think that shit is going to scale down to the size of a phone!? Oh, wait...
    • Re:MultiMeh... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pasamio (737659) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:11AM (#19876517) Homepage
      To be honest I use the multitouch trackpad on my Macbookpro all of the time. Two finger tap for right click, two finger drag for scrolling with the usual single finger tap for left click and single finger drag for normal drag. Multitouch in a small sense is something that I miss when I go to another laptop because I instinctively two finger tap trackpads to try to right click. No need to scroll in a special part of the track pad, no need to press a special part for left and right click. Just the gesture anywhere on the trackpad. Thats multitouch for me in action and working.
      • by michrech (468134)

        To be honest I use the multitouch trackpad on my Macbookpro all of the time. Two finger tap for right click, two finger drag for scrolling with the usual single finger tap for left click and single finger drag for normal drag. Multitouch in a small sense is something that I miss when I go to another laptop because I instinctively two finger tap trackpads to try to right click. No need to scroll in a special part of the track pad, no need to press a special part for left and right click. Just the gesture anywhere on the trackpad. Thats multitouch for me in action and working.

        I do the same thing in KDE 3.5.7, but I have my two-finger-tap set for a middle click. I use the bottom and right side of the trackpad for scrolling.

      • by eh2o (471262)
        Just for the record the MBP trackpad isn't really multitouch in the general sense -- it is twotouch, which just a variation on the standard resistor ladder circuit used in sensing single touch. Multitouch requires a big array of sensors.

        • by dubbreak (623656)
          Exactly. The synaptics pad can tell there is more than one finger but it can not give xy locations for multiple points, it doesn't have the sensors to do that and would be significantly more expensive if it did.

          I have a synaptics touchpad in my gateway and use it in a similar manner to the GP, but under linux. Not new tech at all, it just seems the windows drivers for the synaptics pads don't have as many options.

          Of course multitouch isn't new either.. actually using it is. Tactex created a multi-touch
    • by jcr (53032)
      Fingers, schmingers. What I want to know, is when those Linux guys will come up with a table that can read Hollerith cards.

      -jcr

    • by dfghjk (711126)
      What does the iPhone do with multitouch again? Oh yeah, virtually nothing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Multitouch is a lot more than you may at first think. This video [youtube.com] has a really good demonstration of how this can revolutionize the user interface.
      Multitouch is not about dragging around multiple legacy apps at the same time; that is just to keep supporting old software in a seamless matter. What MPX does is it provides an interface which integrates the physical world and a computer far more seamlessly than is possible with a mouse and keyboard.
      That is going to be the big push in IT for some time now, I beli
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kimvette (919543)
      Cool, the hugeasstable [wordpress.com] can now run Linux? Count me in! :)
    • Sure, it's great eye candy, but it's totally impractical.

      Seriously, it'll have a lot of practical problems : There are going to be huge ergonomical questions to be answered.

      Namely the best position to use it :
      - Put it straight up (à la Minority Report) and the user will end with elbow and/or shoulder fatigue, strain and stress-induced injury.
      - Lay it flat on a table (à la Microsoft Surface) and the user will be able to rest his/her hand and wrists *BUT* then he/she'll have to look down (instead of

  • by icepick72 (834363) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:06AM (#19876441)
    It may not be as fancy-schmancy as Microsoft Surface

    I love how the community words stuff, sounds like a child being envious of big brother syndrome. I don't consider Microsoft offerings superior to others, just pointing out the wording and what is sounds like. I hear that kind of stuff way too often. Linux should be comfortable in what it is and not feel the need to compare.

    • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:20AM (#19876601) Journal

      I love how the community words stuff, sounds like a child being envious of big brother syndrome. I don't consider Microsoft offerings superior to others...
      So would I be correct in assuming you're saying: "Microsoft Shmicrosoft?"
    • by garcia (6573)
      Linux should be comfortable in what it is and not feel the need to compare.

      Linux isn't comfortable or not as it's an OS but I disagree with your assertion that the community should be comfortable with the state the OS is in as it's no where near good enough to compete with more polished systems.

      Until the day that Linux is just as easy to use as Windows/OS X and the professional application base is the same, the community will need to continue the push towards greatness. While that day may never come, I can
      • by LingNoi (1066278)
        The year 2000 called it wants its slashdot post back..

        Linux isn't comfortable or not as it's an OS

        Linux is NOT an Operating System it is a Kernel. An operating system is Gentoo, Red Hat, etc..

        Until the day that Linux is just as easy to use as Windows/OS X and the professional application base is the same, the community will need to continue the push towards greatness.

        Just because your personal opinion is that Windows or OSX is "better" doesn't make it true. Just as the opposite is true but based on your lac

        • by nagora (177841) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:35PM (#19877531)
          Linux is NOT an Operating System it is a Kernel. An operating system is Gentoo, Red Hat, etc..

          An operating system controls access to the hardware. Linux is an example.

          Gentoo, Red Hat etc are application suites. Bash is not part of an operating system, it is an application, just like Inkscape or Word, or Emacs

          TWW

    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      Besides the fact that the "fancy-schmancy" MS Surface looked a lot more functional than this MPX thing. Although the MPX demo was probably in an early stage with a normal PC.
      The MPX vides just didn't seem to track the motion as well as the MS Surface video demonstrated. If "fancy-schmancy" means "more responsive", then give me fancy-schmancy any day.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by iluvcapra (782887)

        Besides the fact that the "fancy-schmancy" MS Surface looked a lot more functional than this MPX thing.

        Except the most compelling feature of the Surface, the ability to recognize objects placed on it, was faked for the purpose of demonstration. All the objects placed on the surface had large barcode stickers (called "domioes" [arstechnica.com]) placed on the side facing toward the Surface (and conveniently away from the camera.)

        One also hastens to add that the Surface ran no form of operating system Microsoft sells (or wo

    • He's simply pointing out that Microsoft Surface appears much more polished. I think saying "polished" would have sounded more... professional. But remember Gizmodo's audience is far wider than the Linux community and I don't think people consider them to be so much a part of the Linux community (as in speaking for it).

      Even without comparison to Microsoft there are various things that don't appear polished with this MPX and Linux in general. While I do agree it's often taken too far, I think some level of
    • by Shivetya (243324)
      I read that as

      fancy-schmancy == Ready for the public.

      sorry, but thats the first thought I had...
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@mEULERac.com minus math_god> on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:10AM (#19876497) Journal
    ...that someday soon, we can run Linux on a big-ass table? [youtube.com]

    -jcr

  • Ke? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrBandersnatch (544818) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:14AM (#19876549)
    Im was trying to work out what the big deal is here....there have been multi-touch drivers around for quite a while now and that video on the table looks rather primative compared to what a lot of DIY enthusiasts have running (e.g. overhead projector). Then I realised that the big deal is having multiple input devices for one X session and that the multitouch table is actually getting in the way of that and has the potential to be quite interesting. Anyone up for missile command? :)
    • by langelgjm (860756)
      Right. From the article:

      MPX or Multi-Pointer X is a modification of the X Windows Server that allows multiple input devices to be used at the same time. You only need a normal computer plus any number of keyboards and mice attached to use it. The system lets multiple users to interact with one or various applications simultaneously.

      So this means I can hook up two usb touchpads and do the two-handed flipping thing/finger-paint with both hands at the same time, it seems. To me, this is more interesting than

  • Why not... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by virgil_disgr4ce (909068) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:21AM (#19876623) Homepage
    Build your own multi-touch sensitive display device? It's surprisingly easy:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/EJIXKOEF3ER7VN5/?A LLSTEPS [instructables.com]
  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:23AM (#19876655) Journal
    I felt it would have been better had they used an actual flat-screen touch monitor. The shadows from the projector kinda killed it. Put a decent touch-screen monitor down there and we may have something.

    Also, I don't think it would have taken much to add Beryl for that extra bling that MS can't offer.

    • A traditional touch-screen monitor can only read one touch at a time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ArcherB (796902) *
        A traditional touch-screen monitor can only read one touch at a time.

        Then we should break from tradition. [multi-touchscreen.com]

        I'm sure cash is a limiting factor at this point, however.
    • On a related note, I quite liked that when the user used the "paint" app and selected green, and then painted a load of green, their arm turned green too... it was like the vitual-table-top-world extending into reality.

      ...sort of!
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:31AM (#19876719) Journal
    It's kind of neat and all, but aside from the Star Trek TNG factor, what practical uses could anyone really put this to? If it's on a flat horizontal surface, it's sort of wasted space (after all, I can store stuff on a tabletop!) If it's on a vertical surface, then typing becomes a raging PITA (unless typing will become obsolete/replace with something else to express thoughts and work?)

    Maybe it's just me, but I'm not seeing any widespread practical use for this critter outside of some extreme niches (e.g. kiosk or limited industrial or medical machine interfaces).

    /P

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
      Storage? How often do you store things on the surface where you use your computer?
      • Storage? How often do you store things on the surface where you use your computer?

        Easily... I can jam paper items that need attention under the monitor (e.g. bills), the bucket o' caffeine (say, a 20 oz. bottle of soda or cup of coffee) sits somewhere next to the keyboard, blank CDs/DVDs, geek sticks, etc etc etc... clutter items all, but in the current setup, none of it blocks my view of the screen, or hinders my typing on the keyboard.

        Stuff like that.

        /P

      • Lean manufacturing/office principals say you don't... store anything on table tops!
    • by Tabernaque86 (1046808) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:24PM (#19877413)
      Any company that has a drafting department should love it. Just develop a CAD program so you can work on a drawing on an actual "page" that could be displayed at 24"x36".

      Also, save the CAD file to a PDF, e-mail it to the client, and he can view the drawing package in full on their table, "Red Line" it/mark it up, save it, and e-mail it back.

      Considering a package can run from ten to a hundred drawings, this potentially saves a ton of paper and other resources.
    • by jotok (728554)
      An inclined surface would be neat, like a draftsman's table.

      About the only practical application I can think of would be to sit there and putter around with Analyst's Notebook.
    • 1) virtual multichannel soundboard (each slider and knob is represented on the screen; slide as many as you want as simultaneously as you want). Works for lighting boards too. The advantage? You can have a multiscreen soundboard and group according to instrument groups/etc. and be able to be at an optimum listening spot with your 1lb tablet rather than way in the back listening from behind a noisy immovable board. Actually, any time you have multiple interfaces to manipulate in a time-critical fashion y
  • by kebes (861706) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:34AM (#19876761) Journal
    You know what makes the video demo in TFA more impressive that the Microsoft Surface demos I've seen?

    This demo uses real applications! It's easy for MS (or whoever) to throw together a video of someone using a neat interface. You see all kinds of slick animations of photo-libraries and data being automatically uploaded to cellphones. The problem is it's probably all fake--the visual equivalent of a mockup. Basically they are showing you the way they *hope* it will look at work. If you look at some of the older Vista demos (before it was released) you'll see alot of mockup video that was never realized into actual code.

    In this demo, they actually start by using Google Earth and scrolling through webpages. The fact that they are using real applications is much more impressive. It makes me believe that they may have something functional in a reasonable amount of time. It also shows that they are thinking about it as an extensible platform that can run generic software, rather than something locked-down that will only run approved code (i.e. just a really big PDA interface, rather than a novel way to interface with existing computer hardware and software).

    • I can finally touch my pr0n.
    • by dave420 (699308) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:59AM (#19877089)
      How is it impressive? The microsoft demo showed a mobile phone being put on the table, it being recognised, and files being sent to/from the device. That's not been done before in such a fashion. Having google maps on a touch-screen isn't new in the slightest. It's not integrating anything new. The MS device had a whole different bunch of applications shown on it. As it can be so much more than just a desktop - a new way of interacting with a computer - showing it acting as a desktop is a bit short-sighted and uninspired :)

      Or do you think MS were somehow incapable of getting google earth to run on a computer? Because that's the only assertion you've made that, if true, would make this offering "more impressive" than that from MS. Or, maybe, these guys didn't have the ability to make new applications, and had no choice but to use some really basic stuff somoene else had made, that's been knocking around for years?
      • by rAiNsT0rm (877553)
        Sorry, but you've totally missed it. Let me try to enlighten you. This is special because it is multiple inputs *simultaneously* and the framework to allow new apps and devices to be created and work together in ways never before possible. "Surface" uses a few cameras for input, which have a finite (and relatively low) number of inputs that can be tracked.

        It has nothing to do with Google Earth, or any application shown in the video. This is not just about multi-touch, it is about an almost infinite number o
    • Aye.

      1. It shows the power of X.
      2. It works within and "extends" existing frameworks.

      This makes it way cooler than .

      With MPX, you're starting from all of the tools of "legacy" X, and all your "legacy" applications work.

      X development is getting very exciting; and MPX and/or Compiz are just two examples of this.
    • by weicco (645927)

      There is variety of tools to record such demos and replay them and no-one would notice the difference. I've done some demos myself because I really didn't want to make live demos everytime some customer visited our website :) We even did one demo where we were supposed to show how files move through IPSEC tunnel and how system is able to roam between LAN/WLAN/Dialup at the same time. Well, everything worked for about minute or so, then the system crashed and had to be rebooted. Our clever marketing droid bl

    • rather than something locked-down that will only run approved code (i.e. just a really big PDA interface, rather than a novel way to interface with existing computer hardware and software).

      When did this conversation switch to talking about the iPhone?
  • by LoudMusic (199347) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:51AM (#19876965)
    Are these table displays going to be the first need for arbitrary window rotation? We'll be having people sitting on all sides of the display - eventually someone will want a window squared to them, but they won't be squared to the table. Does this cause difficulties with rendering the content?

    Everything should be vector drawn, so theoretically it shouldn't be a problem. But it will require pretty high resolution to keep from getting too fuzzy of text. At least that's how it seems to me.
  • I wish everyone would STOP acting like Microsoft owns multi touch technology. Microsoft has just come out with a WORSE implementation of it then Microsoft and others have done. Cameras? Not a MULTI TOUCH screen?? Yeah if you had actually read the Surface announcement, it actually uses a camera technology versus having a actual multi touch surface liek the iPhone uses.

    On the other hand, I think this has to be a record with a new technology getting Linux support. It used to be you'd have to wait a while
    • by dave420 (699308)
      MS uses cameras because it does a lot more than just recognise people touching the screen. It can recognise mobile phones being put on it, different materials/objects/etc. That can't be done with a touch-sensitive screen at the moment, but it can be done with cameras. Using cameras and not an integrated solution has meant the MS offering does stuff no other has done yet. The iPhone needs a person's hand to operate, whereas the MS demo can do everything the iPhone's input device can (and, indeed MPX), an
      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        the MS offering does stuff no other has done yet
        ..and when I can use the MS offering for myself instead of relying on some marketing videos then I will begin to believe it.
      • also remember they created that "triangle" based color optical code for Xbox cameras. that would be related. The camera reads the device code thru the table surface. They also are using IR cameras to measure "finger pressure" on the surface. It's quite clever. In some ways much cheaper because the surface is "just" a sheet of glass, not a special electrical surface... easily replaceable in commercial environs. The processor overhead is way too much though...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Foerstner (931398)
      Of course not. Everyone on Slashdot knows Apple invented multitouch for the iPhone.
    • That is called optical multitouch. It is a widely accepted implementation that Jeff Han has been giving some pretty good demonstrations of.

      Those are not just "cameras", either. Surface uses Diffused Illumination, which involves infrared light being shined upwards. The cameras pick up the infrared light and use that for shape recognition.
      This technology has been implemented successfully in many places, and there are many open forums discussing them. It's quite simple to do so yourself, in fact! (There is a D
  • by djupedal (584558) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:58AM (#19877083)
    MS 'Surface' is an array of cameras that motion-detect. The cameras are below the surface and they are responsible for all proxy work done between user and the system.

    There is no interaction with the 'surface' other than to prescribe a boundary layer (zone) for the cameras to baseline.
  • by edxwelch (600979) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:02PM (#19877131)
    Did anyone notice in that video that he had to click couple times to get some of the widgets to activate?
    Maybe the mouse still has some advantage?
    • ..even though this is supposedly a multi-touch demo the guy was just using just one finger on the display for 90% of the demo!
      • by ookabooka (731013)
        Probably because 90% of applications are only designed for 1 continuous input device (a mouse).
    • It's not the specific hardware that we should be focused on, but the software interface that drives it. Your comment is the equivalent of mud slinging on the original X display at AT&T because the mouse button was a little flaky, or the little wheels were grubby and needed to be cleaned.
      What we need is a way to translate touches into meaningful input to existing and new applications. Don't get hung up on the buggy-ness of the hardware interface at this point. If we can standardise the OS interface, and
  • Is there an ETA till something like this will be in consumers hands? And I dont mean $10k for business only, but being able to buy something for home use.

    I already have some uses for it and would love to develop for such a system.

    • Its not quite at consumer level but its certainly available at the enthusiast level. Have a look at http://www.instructables.com/id/EJIXKOEF3ER7VN5/ [instructables.com] or a search for "multitouch diy".

      I'd estimate thats its currently possible to put together a large (42" or greater) version of one of these with 1080p (display) resolutions for under $800 EXCLUDING the cost of a PC. With some clearer hackery you could probably get the sensor resolution up to higher than that.

      If I currently had the space for one Id be building
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:53PM (#19877765)
    is that you're hunched over them. If used for extended periods of time, the result is terrible back problems.
    • by *weasel (174362)
      You mean like everyone used to do with traditional desktops? (and students, artists, draftsmen, etc notably still do today)

      Sure, if you drape yourself over the desk it can be a pain. Similarly, if you slouch in your chair while reading slashdot you can develop horrible back problems too. But if you sit up straight it's no problem with either configuration.
      Tilt a tabletop display like a draftsman's table and it's even easier to avoid back problems.

  • Not to rain on anyones parade but this is why MS have the patent claims. Every time someone innovative comes out or a new idea the open source community makes their own version. Like it or not this will infringe on patents. It's because of stuff like this MS may have a real aargument in court even if the Linux fanboys say other wise.

    Disclaimer : I am not a MS fanboy, I run Ubuntu but this is a valid point people keep forgetting.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by seandiggity (992657)
      "Every time some[thing] innovative comes out or a new idea the open source community makes their own version."

      Microsoft is not an innovator, and never has been (the history speaks for itself). Microsoft gets credit as an innovator because of its incredible power, gained through dirty business tactics. The same could also be said for many (most?) corporations.

      This touchscreen technology has been in development for a long time, before Microsoft even looked at it and long before the vaporware announcement of
  • Ethernet (Score:2, Funny)

    by Aleksej (1110877)
    But does it have Gigabit Ethernet, which Microsoft® Surface® does not have (Why Why is M$ saving $10 from a $5000-10000 computer?)?..
  • by streak (23336) on Monday July 16, 2007 @02:58PM (#19879533) Journal
    Everyone keeps forgetting that TouchTable, Inc. [touchtable.com] already sells a 'multi-touch' table with a real application (that is actually being used!).
  • I tried on Digg to explain this more clearly to the R-tards who just say: "...but, MS Surface..." and "...iPhone..." and can't understand the significance of what they are seeing... it was a waste of time, hopefully it won't here.

    This is not the same as Surface. Surface uses cameras to "see" the inputs, there are a finite (and low) number of inputs they can track simultaneously. Same with the iPhone, it can only track two inputs.

    This is a complete framework to allow new and unique inputs to be created and t

  • Okay, who wants to build me one of these, and how much do you want for it?

    In all seriousness, though, it would be nice to have one of these doo-dads for less than 'expensive'...

    I suppose running one on top of a flat TV is impossible, for some reason? Everyone seems to want to use projectors...
  • can it be replicated in Linux?

    The one thing that I thought was "remarkable" about Microsoft's Surface demo was that the machine seemed to recognize that a wireless device had been placed on the surface and interacted with it. Now, obviously "seeing" a wireless device itself isn't that remarkable. But knowing which one was a particular blob on the 'screen' seemed fairly magical. Anyone have an idea how that was done?

    The rest of the stuff cool, and I'm sure that whomever can afford those toys will enjoy them,
    • But knowing which one was a particular blob on the 'screen' seemed fairly magical. Anyone have an idea how that was done?

      It's one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect. The devices that it can recognize have barcodes or dotcodes on them, which the cameras can see and easily decode. In this way it knows that a certain blob is a given device.

    • How is that remarkable ?
      My pc can recognise my mobile phone and sync to it when the phone is in my pocket - I think they call it Blootoot or something....
      • by dave420 (699308)
        It's remarkable because your PC doesn't say "your phone is in your top-left pocket, on its side, facing away from you". The MS surface demo showed the computer recognising the phone AND knowing where it was on the table (ie which "blob" was the device in question).
  • The video shows a front-screen configuration, and according to TFA the technology used in order to recognize distinct users has some conduction requirements or something to that effect-- makes me wonder if it will in fact support rear-screen. I find front-screen and the associated shadow-casting on these sort of displays far from optimum, and of course is impractical on a vertical wall.

    Also, I'd like to see an open implementation that is less-dependent on what detection technology is utilized-- somethin

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