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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Leapmotion on Linux: hitting the ground running

Leapmotion is an imaginary (in that it doesn't exist yet) but impending device that could possibly shape the future of interface. Since the creation of computers, wiring, CLI, GUI, and WIMP interfaces have all changed the way we defined our user experience. Look to any science fiction novel made after the 20th century, and you will find that the interfaces are floating masses of plasma, interacted with by the will of a user's fingertips in thin air. This technology is not far off, and its future looks especially promising for Linux compared to other commercial ventures.

A bit about Leapmotion
Leapmotion is a device that reads input from an infrared sensor about the environment around it. With an onboard CPU, it flushes out the noise and triangulates movement, with the precision of 5 milimeters. This processed movement data is send to the (proprietary) driver which executes commands from the input. Pretty nifty, especially for businesses where interaction with a computer would be a cumbersome job (think: Hazmat suits) and consumers that want a taste of the future.

Where Linux comes in
Linux has been the short end of the stick where third-party and commercial support are concerned. Canonical has changed that, especially over the past year (2012), and it's taboo to NOT have Linux support. The SDK is fully compatible with Linux, it will have supported kernel drivers, and it will also be used on embedded Linux devices (Android especially).

Gobs of Drama
 There has been an ongoing debate on LeapMotion's Linux page about whether or not to Open-source the driver. Advocates say that open source "supports itself" and "ensures that the technology won't end up in the landfill, but rather in the pantheon of human knowledge". However, senior members of the LeapMotion forums aren't nearly as understanding.

Some of the members advocating proprietary drivers refused to distinguish between gratis and libre for the sake of their argument, using childish retorts such as

 "all Linux users are so cheap they wouldn't give you a cup of coffee for a year's worth of software" -- FadingFast

"free open source" don't make much sense" -- flaredOne


"I guess it is because people can't "touch" software (hate that name there is nothing "soft" about it), and as such they believe even though people spend their lives creating this that they are some how entitled to have it for free and deny the creators of it any profit (not to mention a salary)."--FadingFast

These are not paid members of the LeapMotion development team. But according to some of the users in the forums, the team developing the Linux drivers is making it exceedingly difficult to develop FOSS drivers via reverse engineering, especially due to the "Wall of Silence" and mathematics involved in such reversing.

How the team feels about FOSS is a moot point. They are providing facilities for use on Linux before release, being generally very nice to the Linux community (they even have a subforum for Linux, how nice), and offering support for when a Linux user needs help. The way that the senior members took up arms is still inexcusable, however.

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