A Progression of Drawing Devices

Some time ago, I compared 2:1 devices, which was a new form factor back then. This time, triggered by an experiment with a Wacom Mobile Studio Pro during the last Krita sprint, I want to look into the various drawing devices I’ve used over the years, and which ones worked well, or not.

Four 2:1 devices: three of which came with a pen. From the top, clock-wise: Lenovo Helix, Intel SDP, Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Dell XPS-12

IBM Thinkpad x61t

This was the first device where I could draw with a pen on the screen. I got it in 2007. The pen technology was Wacom, and it worked with Linux out of the box. The pen was a bit tiny, but could be stored in the laptop itself. The screen only had a 1024×768 resolution, which is incredible these days, but it was fine: nobody was creating 4k images back then. The pen was quite accurate, except at the borders of the screen, a familiar Wacom issue. Palm rejection was fine, and it was a very usable little thing. The hinge mechanism was its weak point though: it turned only one way, and one day someone forced it the other way…

X61T in tablet mode

Lenovo Thinkpad Helix

When we were developing Krita Sketch and Krita Gemini, Intel sent us two devices: a Lenovo Helix and a Dell XPS 12. The Dell had a touch screen, but was not pen compatible, the Helix came with a pen, but didn’t have the 2:1 drivers that would switch the device from laptop into tablet mode when ripping it out of the keyboard.

The pen was as tiny as the one in the X61T, and also used Wacom technology. It sort of worked fine, but the device itself always felt cramped when using it for art. Part of that was because the screen was only 11″, part of it because when connect to the keyboard, it didn’t bend back enough, part maybe because it always felt a little slow. It was fairly heavy, too. It ran Linux perfectly well, but not in tablet mode: I never figured out how to make Linux switch automatically between landscape and portrait mode.

The idea was fun, but it was far from an ideal art device, or even a good device for someone developing an art application.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

It was going at a reduced price, and I wanted something with an n-trig pen, to test Krita with. Plus, I was thinking of, you know, picking up drawing again, and maybe learn how to use Krita. I got the lowest-end model.

When I got it, it was running Windows 8, which was a good fit for the device. Better than Windows 10, to be honest. I liked the PDF reader that came with Windows 8, which got replaced by a web browser by now. I liked to use the device to read comics, too, using the Comix reader. But…

For using it as an art device, there were some big problems: there’s a tiny, but noticeable bit of latency between pen and device. It’s even noticeable when clicking on a menu or a button, and very noticeable when trying to draw. I though that was the n-trig pen, or the bluetooth connection, but later on I learned that this might well be Windows. I never even tried to put Linux on it: this device was for testing Krita on Windows with n-trig/windows Ink, and the 64GB ssd was too small to partition.

The pen is thinnish and not too comfortable to hold, more a Bic feeling than a Waterman feeling. Palm rejection while drawing is pretty bad as well, and there seem to be a ton of things that need to be disabled in Windows before things get to a tolerable state, like all the flicks and things.

In sum, it was slow, laggy and burdened by Windows 10 and all its fancy features that only get in the way.

Wacom Cintiq Hybrid Companion

Wacom contacted us in 2013 and offered to donate some devices to the Krita project so we could improve support for them. One of those devices was the Wacom Cintiq Hybrid Companion.

The Wacom Cintiq Hybrid Companion in all its Android 4 glory.


The Cintiq Hybrid Companion was one of the first attempts by Wacom at creating an untethered art device. It felt (and feels) very luxurious: a very nice sleeve, a nice pen case with lots of replacement nibs and a flimsy but pretty stand came with the device. The pen feels great, too.

The device can run independently, and then it runs Android. The Android version never got updated, though, so it’s still stuck at 4. There were a number of interesting art applications included on the Android side, like Manga Canvas. The application I liked best on Android was ArtFlow. I even considered porting Krita to the device, but never got started. Not a big problem… Wacom never made another Android tablet, and Android tablets with pen support are pretty rare these days.

There were, and are, a couple of issues, though. There is a strong parallax effect near the screen edges. It’s smallish and the resolution isn’t very high. It works best when coupled with a big monitor, two windows and two views on the same image. It’s also rather too heavy to keep on your lap, but as a desk-bound thing it’s fine.

When using it with Windows, touch is unreliable, and when using it with Linux, it is pretty hard to calibrate — and somehow, but that probably is a driver issue, after a couple of strokes it messes up the pointer state, and suddenly every mouse move selects or moves windows, even when nothing is clicked and no modifier key is held.

I keep the companion around, and I often play with it and use it as a test tablet, but until the Linux wacom driver bugs get ironed out, I won’t be using it for real stuff.

The cintiq hybrid companion connected to my Thinkpad.

iPad Pro 12.9″

Last year, I was thinking of porting Krita to iOS and Android, both because there’s demand for it and because we might be able to generate some extra income to fund development by having Krita in more app stores. I decided to start with iOS because there just are very few Android tablets with a real pen. I got an iPad Pro, created a dev account with Apple and put the dev environment on the krita-for-macOS-build-macbook-pro. I played with some demo scribble application, but by that time I had begun to really, really, really dislike iOS.

I dislike its flat ugliness, its lack of consistency, its invasiveness, the ubiquity of advertisements in the “free” apps.  I dislike how indiscoverable features can be. I actually bought Procreate for iOS to check out the competition, and this was the first time in years when I had to read the manual to figure things out.

Hardware-wise, it’s a beautiful, if a bit big, tablet. The screen is great. It’s quite fast. The pen is fine as well, if a bit top-heavy, and doesn’t have an eraser end. Charging the pen is ridiculous:

Charging the Apple Pencil. What is the safest place for the cap? (And yes, we’ve got a new table for our living room.)

The available software is weird. I tried OpenCanvas, Medibang, Procreate and Autodesk Sketch. OpenCanvas actually has menus, popup dialogs and everything a desktop application has! Medibang looks quite normal by comparison, but looks and feel more like an Android application than an iOS application. Procreate looks and feels native. It’s all quite usable, and all not quite what I want to use, though.

I’m currently using it to read books on C++ in PDF format (I haven’t found a good CBR or ePub reader for iOS yet…) I still intend to try again to port Krita to iOS, but maybe I’d better sell the thing.

Wacom Mobile Studio Pro

A webshop had a barely-used but seriously reduced price offer for this device. It’s the 16″ model. Pretty much Wacom’s flagship pen tablet, running Windows 10. It comes with a dildo^Wcigar tube^W^Wnew style pen holder, and that’s it. No sleeves, no stands, no usb-c-to-something-useful converter. Even if you want to use it Cintiq-like, you have to buy the Wacom Link converter. For a device at this price level — new it’s more than 3000 euros, that’s a bit mean.

The device itself has its good and its less good points.

Good is the screen: it’s big, bright, high-res and has very good color coverage. Good is the pen: it has a nice weight and with the felt tips feels great when painting. Lots of disk space, choice between Intel and NVidia GPU, also good. Lots of express keys, great.

The Intel Realsense 3D camera never worked,  though: it crashes when starting the calibration app. The screen has a yellow splotch in the bottom-left corner (or top-right, depending on how you’re holding it).

It’s heavy, of course, but, well, that’s normal for a 16″ device, and I’ve found various strategies to work with it held on my lap nonetheless. It does get warm, though, especially when we’ve made any little mistake that makes Krita more CPU than needed.

I’ve used it with Windows 10 for about a year: this works, but I noticed it changed my drawing style. More blobby, rendery, less line work. And I’m now guessing that that’s because this device with Windows 10 has sort of the same problem as the Surface Pro 3: a little bit of latency between pen and device.

Which is weird, because it’s Wacom, so the pen and the screen are directly connected, not the pen to the os through bluetooh. So when we had the house full of artists for the sprint, and David, Raghu and Timothee were playing with the device, and they all declared they couldn’t work with it like this, we first tried to find out whether we could improve it under Windows. Disabling the Windows window compositor made a bit of difference, but David was still disgusted with the feel of the device.

Then we tried to run Linux on it. A year ago, that was still a big problem, and when Aryeom of Zemarmot got an MSP, Jehan had quite a bit of work to make things run. However, we just plugged an Ubuntu 18.04 USB stick in the USB hub, rebooted, added a second USB stick with Krita and everything worked.

And the latency was gone! The next weekend, I put Kubuntu on it (still waiting for the 18.04 based release of KDE Neon), and that works much nicer. Pity there isn’t a good HiDPI virtual keyboard for Linux/X11 — but I can just keep my normal keyboard connected to it when I’m drawing and sketching at my desk. There are some problems still: the touch screen doesn’t work in Krita (where the touch screen of the hybrid companion works perfectly), and synchronizing the rotation of the screen and the tablet doesn’t work yet.

Lenovo Yoga 920

I’ve also gotten a Lenovo Yoga 920 at a discount, but I haven’t done much with that yet. Now that the battery life of the Surface Pro 3 is gone, the Dell XPS-12’s keyboard broken and with the Helix out of commission, I wanted something I could take with me (when I go to Akademy, for instance) that I could draw on. But I’ve had very good reports: good Linux compatibility, no latency between pen and computer and it’s very portable. I’ll be spending some more time today getting Krita up and running on it.

The New Laptop

So, some time ago, I was wondering a) what new laptop to get and b) what to do with Krita on OSX. As for the laptop, I felt I wanted something fast, something with at least 16GB of memory and a largish screen. Preferably with a good keyboard. As for OSX, I felt it might not be worth either mine or the Krita Foundation’s money to plunk down the serious moolah that Apple is asking for their hardware… After all, how many people fall for Apple’s glamourie, in the real world, after all? Especially now that the reality distortion field’s progenitor is no longer among us.

Then I did an interview with CGWorld’s Jim Thacker, about Krita. He’s very much someone from the graphics software world, not the free software world. And he expressed his amazement at my dismassal of Apple. And then my bank account was getting seriously empty, and I had to take a temporary consulting gig to make sure I could continue paying my mortgage. And at the place I’m working now, and in the commuter train I’m travelling on, more than half of the people have Apple laptops.

I don’t know why… And I guess they don’t know why, either. Well, Windows has always been kind of ugly, especially Windows 7 and 10. Windows 8 I really liked, by the way — if you have a touch screen, the interaction design is simple, effective and efficient. Everything is consistent, easy and pleasant. The few metro apps I used, I loved. But, well, Apple. Apparently more people than I was able to imagine think getting an Apple laptop is a good idea.

So, all together, I decided to go and get an Apple laptop, too. Let’s try to make Krita 3.0’s OS X port a first-class citizen! It can only expand our community and make our next fundraiser stronger!

So we got a 15″ Macbook Pro Retina. Not the most expensive model, but it was still plenty expensive. More than a thousand cups of coffee. Here’s what I think of it, after a month or so.

What follows now is part hardware, part software review. I guess I need to state up-front that while I’m a long-time free software person, I’ve never been an Apple hater any more than a Microsoft hater. Or lover. I’ve used or owned three Apple computers before this one.

The first was a Powerbook Pismo I got when Tryllian went broke and the artist department was disbanded. That thing had a great screen, a great keyboard (apart from the missing keys), a great shape and style, ran OS 9 and OS X equally well. I had wanted one of the tiBooks, but they were all broken. The Pismo served me for a long time as a writing machine, as a holiday games, music and photo machine, as a Krita development machine (it dual-booted to Debian). I loved it, and then a clumsy daughter tripped over the power cable, causing it to drop nearly half a meter, onto the floor. It sparked and smoked whenever I applied current to it afterwards, so I discarded it.

Sadness! But when I started working for Hyves, I got a first generation 17″ macbook pro. Still a thoroughly respectable keyboard (apart from the missing keys), great screen, really fast. And using an Apple laptop was sort of inevitable, since at Hyves we were developing a cross-platform chat client for the Hyves social network. Hyves was the Dutch Facebook, by the way. It’s dead now. So was the Macbook Pro, after a year. After a year in my backpack the screen started developing vertical green, red and blue lines. Actually… It was the second device Hyves got me, the first one was dead on arrival. Still, it had a decent keyboard.

At KO GmbH, one of our less well-considered ventures was to develop a WebODF-based app for the iPad. To that end, we got an iPad and a 2011 Mac Mini. The iPad is still with Jos, but after a while, building Krita for OSX also seemed a good idea, so I got the Mac Mini. It’s got a nice amount of memory, 8GB, and the disk is exceedingly roomy, at 1TB. But… The disk is also really slow, and the Krita hack, build, deploy, test, hack again cycle could easily take an hour! Which is the reason I never really did much Krita on OSX hacking since the 2014 kickstarter, when I first ported Krita to OSX.

(The keyboard I use with the Mac Mini, by the way, is more than excellent. It’s a WASD custom-built keyboard, and I bought it for using with the Thinkstation desktop machine. It’s got a penguin key.)

So, time for the fourth Apple computer. My needs were:

  • Fast
  • Large screen
  • Good keyboard

Two out of three isn’t bad… Except for a laptop that costs more than 2000 euros. I got a 15″ Macbook Pro with a 256Gb SSD. For only about 500 euros more, I would have had a bigger disk, and the disk on this laptop is already fullish, what with two Linux and one Windows virtual machines and an OSX build tree or two.

So, what’s good? The screen is really good, sharp, clear, excellent color, unless you turn the brightness down. It’s not as clear and sharp as the Dell XPS 12 screen, but it doesn’t have the Dell’s ghosting problem. And if you turn the brightness down? The contrast goes down and the colors go down and it looks washed out.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a touch screen, which frustrates me, because I have gotten used to direct interaction in the past couple of years. I also don’t get the way Apple uses display scaling, but that’ll come, no doubt. It seems to me that if you just blow up ever pixel to four pixels the result isn’t really sharper, but somehow it is, for text at least.

It’s also fast. It builds Krita faster than my desktop workstation, which is really impressive. And useful, because apart from writing mail, handling bugs and irc, building Krita is pretty much what I do. Oh, and a little coding…

For the coding, I need a good keyboard, and that’s where this laptop falls down.

The keyboard is ghastly. Honestly. The only reason anyone can think it’s adequate is because they are too young to have used really good keyboards on laptops.

Not only does it still miss Home, End, PgUp, PgDn and Delete (the key Apple labels as Delete is Backspace), the keys have next to no travel. Yes, I get it, thin is the new black. But not when it impairs my productivity. The keys are little black squares of sharp-edged plastic with no shape. And they are also sort of wobbly.

As on Thinkpads, Fn and Control are reversed. Which makes the remarks you read now and then from people who’ve chosen to buy Apple instead of Lenovo because of the Fn key position rather silly.

Because of the lack of Home and End, and because of Apple’s confusion about what those keys should do, it gets really tricky to navigate to the start or end of a line, something which anyone who codes does all the time. You need a different key combination in the shell, in vi, in Qt Creator, in TextMate, everywhere! I am a fast touch typist, but I am having to look under my left hand at the block of Fn, Control, Option and Command all the time to hit the right combination. I still cannot switch between the browser and the terminal and remember the shortcut to move to the next or previous tab, they are different! Honestly, I am not making this up.

The other thing that’s below par, though probably related to the “really fast” bit, is the battery life. Two hours of coding and building will drain the battery down to about 40%. When building in a Windows VM and in OSX at the same time, the charger seems to have a hard time keeping up. I saw the battery drain while it was plugged in. No, I’m not asking you to believe me, I don’t believe myself either.

There are other niggles about the hardware: the laptop gets really hot (again probably related to the “really fast”…), the edges are sharp, the power button is where my little finger expects the delete button. The aluminum case is really prone to scratches, even the plastic zipper of my laptop bag manages it.

But actually, Apple’s design is one reason I didn’t want to wait another six months for the updated model. Just imagine a Macbook Pro that is remodeled after the Macbook redesign, with keys with all of two-tenths of a milimeter of travel! Better live for a bit with an older processor.

Now for the other part of the deal…


The software. OSX. It’s an operating system. Not a particularly brilliant one, but it does run applications. And it’s got a gui with a a window manager. A particularly aenemic window manager that needs extensions to tile windows left and right, but that’s getting “modernized” by making it more like a tablet. In the El Capitan version, it really, really, really wants you to run your applications full-screen. Okay. It’s a bit stupid that from version to version the meaning of the title bar button changes, apparently randomly, too.

What is also quite irritating is the bunch of crap extra applications that take up space and are completely useless to me: safari, garageband, imovie, pages, keynote, itunes and so on. I wonder if I can just trash them…

As a development platform, OSX sucks, too, with limited OpenGL support, huge crippling changes between versions and horrible developer documentation. Oh, and a bunch of proprietary languages and API’s that nobody in their right mind would even consider learning, because they are bound to be deprecated just when they get established.


The short version: I still take the Dell XPS 12 with me on the train most days. It’s slow, small, the keyboard is lacking, and it’s still a more usable computer. If that isn’t a damning indictment, I don’t know what is.

The slightly longer version: the only valid reason to buy an Apple computer is because you need to write software for OSX or iOS, in other words, to provide the people who didn’t have a valid reason to get an Apple with software.


I bought this laptop from a website with a .nl extension. The website was in Dutch. It’s no doubt being maintained by people who live in the Netherlands and pay income tax in the Netherlands. After ordering it, it was manufactured in China, and shipped from Shanghai to Korea, from Korea to Kazachstan, from Kazachstan to Germany, from Germany to the Netherlands. And then to me. I paid VAT in the Netherlands. At no point in the buying of this piece of crap was Ireland involved.

Except that Ireland’s where the bill was ostensibly coming from.

Tim, me boy, you sell a crap OS on a crap piece of hardware and you’re cheating my country of the tax income it needs, which I and the other Dutch people then need to make up, just so you can sit on a pile of cash big enough to make all of Africa into an affluent continent. If you were an honest dealer, my tax burden would be lower and my laptop would, presumably, be better. And so would the world. Time to think different?

Which laptop?

All the old hardware I kept from my KO GmbH days is, well, old, and dying. The Thinkpad’s hinges are breaking, the Dell XPS 12’s has a really small screen and is too slow for development work, the Thinkstation desktop machine has been throwing compiler segfaults for a year now. I’ve got a bunch of Intel Software Development Platforms, which are interesting laptops, but without battery life. And the Surface Pro 3 is a test device, not suited to develop on either. Even the Dell monitor is slowly losing what little contrast it had.

But what to buy?

I need a good keyboard, a good, largish hi-dpi screen (to check whether Krita handles that okay), at least 16 gb of memory and a big, fast disk. I have multiple checkouts of Krita, I build million+ lines of C++ code projects all day long, run virtual machines and, well, Krita likes lots of memory as well.

I could buy a Mac… It would help porting Krita to OSX. But it would also mean using a Mac. I’ve done that before, but I didn’t like it. The keyboard shortcuts are all wrong, the window manager is aenemic and the whole platform goes out of the way to patronize its users. Plus, Macbooks don’t have separate home, end, page up and page down keys, and there still isn’t even a backspace key. And, expensive as Macbook Pro Retina’s are, they don’t even come with a touch screen, which is a convencience I’ve come to really appreciate. And the processors available now are a generation out of date.

I could buy a Dell. An XPS 15, or a Precision. I would have a really good screen, an up-to date-processor and 16 gb of memory. So far, so good. But all these workhorses have the same keyboard as the XPS 12, which means, no Home, no End, no PageUp, no PageDown. Look, dear laptop manufacturers, I’m editing all day long. I need to zoom through my text. That needs those four keys!

I could by a Lenovo. No, scratch that. Lenovo has squandered whatever good will they had by dropping build quality year over year. Every new Thinkpad is worse than the previous generation. The keyboards have all the keys, though. The screens are often really dim, have really low contrast. And those breaking hinges… And, except for a gaming laptop, no configuration with more than 8GB of memory, no Hi-DPI screens. Even the X1 Carbon doesn’t seem to go to 16GB! If it did, I might still be tempted, despite the hinges, because it’s at least got the home, end, PgUp and PgDn keys.

I could wait and buy a Surface Book. It might be a bit small, but it has most keys (weirdly enough no Ins key, which I actually use a lot), but the screen’s aspect ratio is pretty good. I’m just worried that it, being so thin, won’t be able to stand all the compiling I’d be doing. On the other hand, it’s got a pen, which is pretty useful for me. No word on when it will become available, though…

So, what I need is Lenovo’s keyboard, Dell’s processor, screen and memory, Microsoft’s pen and the ability to run OSX for porting Krita…

Fun with a Surface Pro 3

Micosoft’s Surface Pro 3 is, or should be, pretty much a perfect sketchbook device. Nice aspect ratio, high resolution, pen included. Of course, the screen is glossy and the pen isn’t a Wacom. But when it was cheap with the keyboard cover thrown in for free I got one anyway — as a test device for Krita on Windows.

In the end, hardware-wise, it’s nice and light, it just looks good, the keyboard doesn’t feel too bad, actually, and it’s got home, end, page-up and page-down keys, a trick that Dell hasn’t managed. The kickstand is rather meh — it’s sharp, hard to open and doesn’t feel secure on my lap. Still, not a big problem.


I can handle Windows these days, even Windows 8. It’s OSX that I truly despise to work with. However, when I got home and switched it on, I got my first shock… After the usual Windows setup sequence, not only did the device refuse to install the 70 or so critical updates, any and all https traffic was broken!

Turns out that the setup sequence picked the wrong timezone, and that in turn broke everything! Now, I might be a bit of an idiot, but I knew for sure that I had chosen Netherlands as location, US English as language, US English as keyboard. And besides, if your average Linux distribution can automatically set the right timezone, Windows should be able to, too! Since then, I’ve used the restore option a couple of times, and it seems to be really hit and miss whether the setup sequence understands this set of choices!


So, I restored to blank and started over. This time it did install everything. So, I installed the N-Trig wintab driver, Krita X64 2.9.0 and gave it a whirl. Everything worked perfectly. Cool!

Then I tried some other software, and when we released 2.9.1, I restored to blank, installed 86 updates and Krita 2.9.1. Now the 64 bits version of Krita didn’t work properly with the pen anymore: no pressure sensitivity. That’s something others have reported as well: the 32 bits version worked fine… Now N-Trig releases two versions of their drivers: 32 bits and 64 bits, and they claim that you need to use the x86 driver with x86 apps and the x64 driver with x64 apps, but… No matter which driver is installed, x86 Krita and x86 photoshop CS2 work fine. I don’t have any other x64 based Wacom-based drawing application to test with, but all of this sounds very suspicious.

Especially when I noticed that on their other wintab driver download page, they will send you to a driver that fits your OS: 32 bit driver for a 32 bit Windows, 64 bit driver for a 64 bit Windows. I’m not totally sure that the N-Trig people actually know what they’re doing.

And then I tested Krita 2.9.1 on another Windows 8.1 device with a more modern (1024 levels of pressure) N-Trig pen. With the 64 bit driver both x64 and x86 versions of Krita had pressure sensitivity. But… The driver reports the wrong number of sensitivity levels, in one place it claims 256, like the old pens, in one 1024, so Krita gets confused about that, unless we hack around it.

Still, this must be an issue with the drivers installed on the Surface Pro 3, and I haven’t yet managed to make it work again, despite a couple of other wipes and reinstalls. Copying the drivers from the Intel N-Trig laptop to the Surface Pro also doesn’t make a difference. Installing the Surface Pro 3 app doesn’t make a difference. I guess I’d best mail the N-Trig developers.

For now, it’s irritating as heck that I can’t run the 64 bits version of Krita on the Surface Pro 3.


OpenSUSE 13.2 boots on it, and the pen even moves the cursor around. No idea about pressure sensitivity because while the trackpad is fine, the keyboard doesn’t work yet, so I couldn’t actually install stuff. Google
suggests that kernel patches might help there, but it’s the pen that I care about, and nobody mentions that.

As a drawing tablet

A good artist can do great stuff with pretty much everything. People can do wonders with an ipad and a capacitive stylus with no pressure sensitivity. I’m not much of an artist. I used to believe I could draw, but that was twenty-five years ago, and is another story besides. But I spent an evening with Krita 2.9.1 and the Surface, to get a feel for how it differs from, e.g. the Wacom Hybrid Companion.

The screen is glossy and very smooth. That’s not as nice as the Companion’s matte screen, but the high resolution makes up for it. It’s really hard to see pixels. But… Every time you touch the screen with the pen, it deforms a little bit and becomes a little bit lighter. That’s pretty distracting!

The pen also lags. Not just in Krita, not just when painting, but when hovering over buttons or menus, the cursor is always a bit behind.

There’s no parallax, which is really irriting on the Cintiq. There’s also no calibration needed, the pen is accurate into the deepest corners. That is pretty awesome, especially since it lets me use the zoom slider with the pen. The pen really feels very accurate. In Krita at least: in Photoshop CS2, it’s very hit and miss whether a quick stroke will register.

The tablet itself is nice and light, the form factor pretty much perfect. I can hold it in one hand, draw with the other one, in portrait mode, for quite some time. Try that with a Companion!

The hybrid companion doesn’t get hot, though I heard that the Windows companion does. The Surface certainly does get hot! But the heat is located in one place, not the place where I held the tablet, it was only noticeable because I rest my hand on the screen while drawing. Note for other Surface users: disabling flicks in the control center makes life much easier!

For Krita

I have had reports that the virtual keyboard didn’t work from a Cintiq Companion user, but it works just fine for me on the Surface. I can enter values in all the dockers, sliders and dialogs in desktop mode.

As for the N-Trig pen, we support pressure sensitivity, but the two buttons are weird things and I don’t know yet how to work with them. Which means, no quick-access palette, no quick panning yet.

In any case, we need to do a lot of work on the Sketch gui to make it as usable as, e.g., Art Flow on Android. Heck, we need to do a lot of work on Sketch to bring it up to 2.9! But a good tablet-mode gui is something I really want to work on.

The 2:1 Form Factor

At KO GmbH, we did several projects to show off the 2:1 convertible laptop form factor. Krita Gemini and Calligra Gemini are applications that automatically switch from laptop to tablet gui mode when you switch your device. Of course, one doesn’t get that to work without some extensive testing, so here’s a little collection of devices showing off all existing (I believe) ways of making a laptop convertible:

There’s rip’n’flip, as exemplified by the Lenovo Helix, and arguably by the Surface Pro 3 (which its own twist, the kickstand). There’s the bend-over-and-over-and-over model pioneered by the Thinkpad Yoga (but this is an Intel SDP, not a Yoga, all the Yoga’s are with other ex-KO colleagues) and finally the screen tumbler of the Dell XPS 12.

Every model on the table has its own foibles.

The Helix actually doesn’t do the 2:1 automatic switch trick, but that’s because it’s also the oldest model we’ve got around. The Helix basically has only one angle between the screen and keyboard, and that’s it, and it’s fairly upright. The keyboard is pretty good, the trackpoint is great, of course. In contrast to all the other devices, it also runs Linux quite well. The power button is sort recessed and really hard to press: it’s hard to switch the device on. The built-in wacom pen is impossible to calibrate correctly, and it just won’t track correctly at the screen edges. As tablet, it’s nice and light, but the rip’n’flip thing is flawed: doesn’t alway re-attach correctly.

The Dell XPS 12 is one of the nicest devices of the four. The screen rotation mechanism looks scary at first, but it works very, very well. It’s a nice screen, too. The keyboard is ghastly, though, missing a bunch of essential keys like separate home, end, page-up, page-down. The powerbutton is placed at the left side, and it’s just the right thing to play with, mindlessly, while thinking. This leads to the laptop suspending, of course! The device is heavy, too, too heavy to comfortably use as a tablet. As a laptop, except for the keyboard, it’s pretty good. Linux compatibility is weird: you can either have the trackpad properly supported, or the wifi adapter, but not both. Not even with the latest Kubuntu! There’s no pen, which is a pity…

I cannot talk about the what’s in the Intel SDP system, because that’s under NDA. It’s got a pen, just like the Surface Pro 3, and it’s nice, light and a good harbinger of things to come. The form factor works fine for me. Some people are bothered by feeling the keys at the back of the device when it’s in tablet mode, but I don’t care. Tent mode nice for watching movies, and presentation mode sort of makes it a nice drawing tablet.

The Surface Pro 3 is rather new. I got it as test system for Krita on Windows. It’s the lowest spec model, because that makes the best test, right? I can use the thing on my lap, with the kickstand, but only if I put my feet up on the table and make long legs… The n-trig pen is sort of fine… It’s accurate, there’s no parallax as with the Cintiq or Helix, the pressure levels are fine, too, for my usage that is. But because it’s a bluetooth device, there’s a noticable delay. It’s a bit as if you’re painting with too thick oil paint. I never remove the keyboard cover, which, btw, is perfectly fine to type on. It feels a bit tacky, folded back, but not a big problem.

So that’s it… Four convertible laptops, three have trouble running Linux at the moment, but then, I should do more testing of Krita on Windows anyway. It’s where 90% of Krita’s user base is, it seems. I’d like the Dell way of converting best, if the device weren’t so heavy as a consequence. The Helix convertible never gets turned into a pure tablet in practice; that seems to go with the rip’n’flip design, because the same holds for the Surface Pro 3. The back-bendy type of convertible is just fine as well…

New laptop!

When we started KO GmbH I proposed that the default laptops for our company would be thinkpads, with a choice between small or big, depending on people’s needs. My first company Thinkpad was a W500 — 15″, 1900×1200 screen. It was my main development workstation until I got an additional desktop machine, but even then, I used it a lot.

It always had one big problem: the screen simply wasn’t bright enough. And when it aged, the screen problem became worse. It could take up to an hour for the backlight to warm up until the screen became properly readable, and I often had to move windows away from the right-hand side because that always remained darker than the rest.

And then the unbelievable happened. The right hinge snapped! Thinkpads are famous for being sturdy enough that you can pick them up by the screen, no matter the size of the laptop. I didn’t do that, but even so, the metal hinge thingy inside the plastic of the screen broke and forced the plast of the screen apart — and then the screen didn’t stay upright anymore without some kind of support.

Time to get a new Thinkpad…

I got me a T430, because I’ve got the desktop with a big screen now to do development, and the W500 really is too big and clumsy to travel with. I didn’t want to go with an X230 because, well, my eyes are bad and those screens are just too small.

Today the T430 arrived. I swapped the disk from the old laptop and I was ready to go. Pretty much everything works fine, that I can see. Wifi (except for a bug, I think in OpenSUSE, where I need to disable and then re-enable the wifi support to make it work, same problem occurred on my W500, so it might even be a local settings issue). It’s fast, the screen is bright and the resolution at 1600×900 not too bad. It’s not too heavy, there’s plenty of memory and the CPU is well capable of compiling Calligra, and it doesn’t get too hot in the process.

There are two gotcha’s that I haven’t solved yet: the fan is always running, and OpenSUSE doesn’t seem to have the thinkpad packages you can find for *buntu that can handle that. That needs a bit of investigation.

The other gotcha is the keyboard. Lenovo has decided to go with the flow and use a flat, separated keys style keyboard. It’s not horrible, but it’s worse than the old style keyboards. And they changed the layout… No longer the escape key over the F1 key, no longer the top-right island with insert, delete, home, end, pgup, pgdn. For some reason, the prtsc button now is placed between right alt and right ctrl. This will take more time getting used to. Not cool, Lenovo, not an improvement!

Recommending Hettes

So the twins needed a new laptop. Their previous laptops dated from 2007 and were broken in various ways. They had been making do with some netbooks, but that didn’t really made them happy. But both have got a job now, one is assistant in a butcher’s shop, the other in a delicatessen. So, flush with money they asked me to help them choose a good laptop that would run OpenSUSE. Yes, they know Windows, have used it at school, and prefer KDE.

I’ve got a sort of Lenovo-only policy which hasn’t failed me, ever since our Dell 5150 laptops turned out to be such lemons. The Acer and Toshiba laptops we’ve had were just as bad as Dell. Lenovo it was.

So we were looking around for nice models and checking whether there were any reports about Linux compatibility.

Then we found Hettes. They had the laptops we wanted, with OpenSUSE pre-installed. Wow! Maybe a little bit more expensive than finding them at the cheapest webshop, but then, to have everything working out of the box, that’s worth something. So I told my daughters to buy there and I would pay that trifling difference. Of course, then one of them wanted a model that wasn’t yet available in Europe…

So I’ve had plenty of contact with the people from Hettes. They told me that the other laptop was going to be a bit delayed because they had found a way to improve the wifi driver, which means that they actuallyt test what they sell!

This week the laptops arrived, and the twins are totally happy. Both models work perfectly, out of the box. The red E325 has a gorgeous screen and, very cute, the dots on the i of “thinkpad” glow red. More importantly, all the hardware works, OpenSUSE was ready on them.

I would recommend this shop to everyone who wants a laptop, desktop, tablet or netbook with Linux pre-installed. Great outfit!

What are tablets for?

Intel was nice enough to hand out exo-pc tablets to people at the Desktop Summit. I didn’t queue up for one, since I already got a brace — and seen as geek toys, they’re not even that desirable. The wetab I took to the MeeGo conference was a geek magnet, but those days are over for this hardware.

But remarks I’ve heard around suggest to me that people are mistaken about the purpose of these machines, and even about the purpose of the tablet UX it’s running. Not all tablets actually are created for the same purpose, but from what I’ve seen, no tablet is actually made to be a productivity tool.

For instance, the iPad is designed to bleed you of dollars or euros, a few a day, maybe ten or twelve euros a week. It’s a boring device where the big draw is the app store. Every app is a bit boring by itself, and after playing around a bit, you tend to want something new. Say… Another app, or a bit of media like an eBook or music file. Or a comic. So you go to the app store and spend a little money, not enough money to think about. Less than a beer in a cafe (unless you’re in Helsinki)… It’s a very good device for that purpose. The way it seduces you is by being very nice to hold and inviting to play with, but boring enough that you need something new for it regularly. And when you’ve got a few dozen apps, it becomes very unattractive to move to another platform and lose your “investment” — because they do add up, those nickels and dimes.

The WeTab is sort of the same, but instead of bleeding you, it’s intended to bleed advertisers. The huge scrolling pinboard is intended to be sold square by square to content/advertisement providers who can place a little app that can continuously show information you might find useful along with advertisements. You’re seduced by the information to take in the ads. The applications on the WeTab are secondary, in my experience.

Intel’s tablet UX has, basically, as its purpose to get you to buy a tablet with an Intel CPU. To that purpose, they have created an interface that shows the average user what they probably want to see: a quick look at their music collection, video collection, the noise their social network is making and a bunch of favourite webpages. For that, the concept is perfect, even if reminiscent of the plasma netbook interface with its columns in some ways. The version of their UX on the exo-pc’s is pretty old, there are newer images on the MeeGo website. I think that the Intel tablet UX is actually quite good and quite useful for the kind of user it’s intended for.

But the exo-pc is a developer device, meant to make it easy for people to test their new multi-touch enabled MeeGo application. And the tablet UX is not meant for developers… People complaining that the terminal doesn’t have a virtual keyboard are really missing the point. The terminal is useful if you attach a usb keyboard so you can execute a few commands to install your app. For that, I think it’s really good enough. All rise to the challenge of multi-touch apps on Linux!

I’m baffled…

We’ve got two Lenovo C3000 laptops around. Both run the same version of Kubuntu — neither runs Windows any more. They have a GMA950 graphics chip and a 1025×768 LCD panel.

All pretty standard stuff, so I cannot understand why some time ago Menna’s laptop started thinking it has a 1280×800 panel. It has, like its sister, a 1024×768 panel. Menna forgot to tell me when she first had the problem, so I don’t know when it started. The really strange thing is that even after I shut it down, already on startup the laptop is wrong about the panel size: the bios screen is 1280×800. And there are no options to fix this in the bios.

it’s hardware… Maybe I should replace it, but it feels silly to buy a new laptop when the old one still works.


I’m sometimes tired of hard and software, too… When my Vista laptop boots and refuses to connect to my wifi network — the little wifi light is on, but no network, or when after coming back from suspending it won’t recognize my password (the same that I can login with when freshly booted), or because the fingerprint reader isn’t supported. Or when the screen goes black for three seconds before it asks me for the admin password. And when the Photoshop CS3 demo complains it cannot install until I close firefox, I get tired. I despair when OSX gives me an update and suddenly the whole machine won’t boot anymore and I have to reinstall Leopard. Or when a friend upgraded to Snow Leopard and discovered he cannot play wma files anymore after the update. I have to admit that OSX’s kernel panic screen is nice and multilingual, but I wish I didn’t have to see it every month or so. And what’s with the vertical green and blue lines the screen on my top-of-the-line Macbook Pro 17″ shows? It’s not pretty. And when KDE’s plasma’s task manager keeps crashing or moving all the tabs to the right-hand side, instead of left aligning them, I sigh. Like I did when I find out I have to reboot my N900 every week otherwise the memory gets filled up by the microblogging service that Mauku runs.

Basically, no hardware and no software ever works correctly. All software and hardware sucks, and most of it sucks equally bad. I make an exception for vim, of course, but the only reason other software seems to be less sucky is because I haven’t discovered what makes it suck yet. Well, back to doing something about it and getting Krita under 40 known bugs now.

(And now the Photoshop CS3 demo complains it wants at least a Pentium4, Celeron, Core Duo or Core2 processor, on a Core2 laptop…)