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#1 2017-02-04 21:00:25

Registered: 2010-11-08
Posts: 94

So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

Hi guys!

I've been running Linux for years, but only on traditional laptops.
Since the 2013 rise of 2-in-1s, laplets, and whatever you might want to call them, DEs have had sufficient time to become more versatile and adapted to changing user input.
Windows offers their "tablet" mode which enlarges touch elements and slightly alters the user experience.

I have never used nor experienced any Linux distro running on any of such devices. Certain videos demonstrating that running it is indeed possible exist,
but they never show whether the device and its different modes can actually be worked with in a useful manner.
I'd love to see how KDE5, Gnome and likes perform and how they feel like.

Do you happen to know more? Do you own a 2-in-1 and run Arch on it? Please share any information, links, videos, and experience you might have. I'm curious!

Last edited by n0stradamus (2017-02-04 21:01:10)


#2 2017-02-05 01:51:26

From: Alaskan in Washington State
Registered: 2014-08-28
Posts: 66

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

I cannot speak for convertible devices--2-in-1s, tablets, phones, etc.--but my 2014 laptop came touch-screen enabled. I do not use that feature in-practice, but I have explored its functions in the big-three--Plasma, GNOME, and Xfce. They all offered touch-enabled features--I'm not sure what DEs don't--but of those three GNOME was by far the best-featured and easiest to use. All were superior to Windows 8.1 & 10's capabilities in my perception.

As I said, I do not use those features in-practice, but I have aggressive peripheral neuropathy and the day may soon arrive when 'touch' is what I will need to use, and GNOME will most probably be the DE. Which will be sort of sad, since I have re-fallen in love with Plasma. wink

I'll let other Archers share their experiences with the smaller devices.

EDIT: I wanted to add that I am so proud of the Linux community as a whole in addressing the needs of the impaired/disabled/physically-challenged users, such as myself. Thousands of hours have been freely donated to make every person feel a part-of, rather than apart-from.

Last edited by c00ter (2017-02-05 01:56:10)

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn


#3 2017-02-05 17:43:00

Registered: 2015-12-11
Posts: 111

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

I've been running Arch Linux with gnome dual booted with Windows 10 on my HP Elitebook 2740p for quite a while, my Elitebook only has two finger touch and the touch has never really worked all that well in Linux, honestly though the touch doesn't work as well as newer hardware in does Windows 10. Switching from Windows 7 to 10 was a big improvement as far as touch went, touch in Linux works about as well as it did in windows 7... In Linux it's fine for scrolling through Facebook and clicking on links but typing is impossible, it won't calibrate properly and because of that I never really tried to get all the other functions set up, that and it's quite heavy and big to be used as a tablet anyway.... It only works slightly better in Windows and I think most of that comes down to the other functions working automatically and that calibration does work in Windows, that makes a big difference.

This past week I picked up a Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 12 first gen, I'm also dual booting this with Windows 10 and Arch with gnome. I got Arch and gnome installed last night and am still setting stuff up, but this convertible works way better than my Elitebook. I'm still trying to get a few things working like automatically disabling the touchpad and trackpoint when in tablet mode. I've already got auto-rotate working with a script I found in the AUR but my rotation lock button doesn't work, basic touch and pen function were working soon as I installed xf86-input-wacom. I haven't tried the calibration but it doesn't seem to need it, I guess we'll find out when I start typing more with an on-screen keyboard...

There's definitely a few things I'd like to try to get working better or differently, like in my terminal only one finger touch works and it only highlights. I don't have touch and hold and/or two finger tap for right click working in my terminal either. In Chromium, one finger scrolls, pinch zoom works, and two finger tap right clicks, so I'm happy with that. I'm thinking that sadly there is going to have to be a lot of per app finessing to get everything working as I want. Firefox as is in Linux is terrible with a touchscreen but there is a plugin or extension to give more functions, I haven't played around with it much because my touchscreen on my Elitebook never worked well enough to care and I'm also more of a Chrome/Chromium user.

To really use this as a tablet I also have to figure out how to get rid/stop gnome's on-screen keyboard and use on-board instead. On-board is a much better keyboard than what comes stock with gnome. I was never able to get on-board working right on my Elitebook but I never put much effort into it since I couldn't get the touch screen calibrated anyway. I was having trouble getting on-board to come up when needed and go away when not, but that was also the same for gnome's on-screen keyboard. Already even with gnome's limited on-screen keyboard it seems to come and go as needed, if it wasn't such a limited keyboard I'd just use it instead of trying to switch to onboard.

I really wanna grab a surface tablet as I know there has been quite a bit of work done to get them working well in Linux. I think at this point the biggest issue is going to be DE support, I know gnome has been working on it but I think it's been slow going. Sadly, if you want decent touch support out of box I think Ubuntu is probably the best bet. I know they've put a lot of work into Ubuntu touch, but I also have heard it still has a way to go. Overall, this yoga 12 is an amazing difference compared to my Elitebook, I think with a bit of effort it'll work almost as well as it does in Windows 10, but maybe that me being overly optimistic...


#4 2017-02-05 17:51:13

Registered: 2015-12-11
Posts: 111

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

Something that might end up being an issue on my yoga is how small everything is at 1920x1080, my Elitebook only did 1280x800 so everything was plenty big enough to tap and click. I know there are ways to adjust how big everything is without changing resolution or dpi. I think a lot of that will have to be done in gconf/dconf it'll probably end up making gnome look awkward but it'll probably also make it a lot more touch friendly.


#5 2017-02-05 20:56:03

Registered: 2013-12-01
Posts: 1,035

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

The Linux kernel handles touchscreen input just fine. The question that you meant to ask was 'Do any DE/WM's have good touchscreen support?'

Last edited by slithery (2017-02-05 21:01:15)


#6 2017-02-06 01:15:29

Forum Fellow
From: Between Thailand and Singapore
Registered: 2009-03-17
Posts: 6,927

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

Now this is an interesting thread, as I've never used a touchscreen laptop/convertible before (the only touchscreen I own is on my smartphone). Wonder how well/whether the tiling WMs would be able to use touchscreens well (can imagine something like easystroke helping in that regard).

Allan-Volunteer on the (topic being discussed) mailn lists. You never get the people who matters attention on the forums.
jasonwryan-Installing Arch is a measure of your literacy. Maintaining Arch is a measure of your diligence. Contributing to Arch is a measure of your competence.
Griemak-Bleeding edge, not bleeding flat. Edge denotes falls will occur from time to time. Bring your own parachute.


#7 2017-02-23 13:34:36

Registered: 2015-04-27
Posts: 9

Re: So just how good is Linux on touch devices?

A bit late in my reply, but I wanted to add my personal experience about this.
User Experience in Linux on touch devices is, in my experience, disappointing at best.
Let me explain what I mean:

First of all, I use Linux from 1998/99, with Slackware 7, and switched entirely on Arch in 2012, so while I'm not a newbie, I'm not a seasoned veteran either.

I own a Teclast X98 Plus, which is by itself only part of the "terrible" experience, for this thread I'll leave out any mention about drivers and kernel support.
Focusing on interface only, the X98 has no keyboard, one USB only (not host, but usable as host with an OTG cable), HiDPI screen (2048x1536 IIRC), bluetooth and wifi card, it's an x86 Intel Atom device, so it's (IMO) the perfect tablet for Linux.

Let's start by saying that the only DM that lets you use an onscreen keyboard at login is SDDM, and even with it you must hack in an old QML theme, since it's an old and unsupported theme.
I think that I could have written a greeter for LightDM, but I stopped trying before getting there.

I tried some DEs on it, trying to have a nice touch-only desktop, and some of them come pretty close.

  1. XFCE4 is the one which is best used completely without a keyboard, using OnBoard or Florence when you actually need a keyboard, the major choke points about XFCE4 are:

    1. PROs:

      • Compositing works even on the low-spec Intel GPU.

      • xdashboard provides a nice touch-compatible (and completely unsupported) application launcher.


    2. CONs:

      • You cannot resize elements on screen, making strings and panel elements (only the ones that you can't resize with the panel) almost unreadable or unclickable.

      • The logic for auto-maximizing windows is application-dependant, and you'd need to alter every single .desktop file to add the switch.

      • If you want to use non-maximized windows, grabbing resize handles with fingers, on most themes is like shooting while blindfolded.



  2. KDE5 (Plasma) is another that comes very close, if it wasn't for the strain it puts on the slow GPU, solved once you disable compositing:

    1. PROs:

      • It lets you specify ONE rule in kwin to maximize almost all windows.

      • It has a couple of settings that allow you to scale fonts and buttons to be able to tap them with fingers.


    2. CONs:

      • I don't know why, but Florence doesn't like Plasma, the only onscreen keyboard I've been able to use was OnBoard.

      • Resizing non-maximized windows is worse than on XFCE4, even when using a large borders kwin theme.

      • Sometimes it simply won't get a click from tapping on the touchscreen, I don't know if it's a Plasma bug or a Xorg one, but it happens only on Plasma.

      • No eye-candy, with compositing disabled you can't even have a simple fade-in when you open applications.



  3. GNOME is in my opinion completely unusable on touch devices:

    1. PROs:

      • None, you must like GNOME very much to be trying to use it on a touch-only device.

      • Actually one can be found, the default theme with its top bar interface (I forgot what it's called) eases some of the pain using the GNOME applications, too bad you must ditch it for an older theme that scales elements


    2. CONs:

      • You cannot resize any element on the screen, the only way is installing an old and unsupported GTK2 theme, which breaks GTK3 applications.

      • You cannot open the dashboard to launch applications, and tapping on the "Applications" menu is pretty difficult on a HiDPI screen.

      • Resizing non-maximized windows is worse than with XFCE4, but more consistent than with Plasma.

      • I haven't been able to find a way to auto-maximize windows, though I admit I stopped trying because the experience was terrible because of the other points.



IMHO tiling WMs are best on this kind of interface, but as of now, none of them (I tried i3 and awesome) has a true touch-only interface, and I couldn't configure them for a completely keyboard-less usage.


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