The Best Linux Distributions for Touchscreens

Last Edited: October 31, 2018 | Published: January 7, 2018 by

The Best Linux Distributions for Touchscreens

Touchscreen laptops are all the rage these days, and each month we see more and more 2-in-1 and convertible laptops hit the market. Now all of these laptops are powered by Windows 10, which has been optimized to provide both a traditional desktop experience as well as a touchscreen experience that is much more in line with a tablet. Even in desktop mode, Windows 10 is pretty easy to use with touch. But what if you don’t want to use Windows 10?

Linux is, of course, your main alternative to Windows on a PC. This operating system is free and open source and there are hundreds of different versions, known as distributions for you to choose from for your laptop. But which one of these are optimized to work with touchscreens? That’s what I hope to answer for you today. Today we will look at a few of the best Linux distributions for touchscreen laptops so you can choose the right version of Linux for your touchscreen laptop.

A Few Things You Should Know

Before we get into discussing specific Linux distributions, there are a few things you need to know.

  1. First, pretty much any Linux distribution will work with the right GUI, but there are some that are designed to work better out of the box.
  2. The setup will take a little work. No Linux distribution is designed and optimized for touchscreen without a few tweaks and software additions on your part.
  3. Your mileage may vary. In the end, it will come down to the type of laptop you have and what drivers and support are avaiable for your particular hardware in Linux.

Remember, sometimes things take a little more work on Linux to get right, but it’s so worth it. In the end, you will get the satisfaction of setting it up and I’m betting you will learn a thing or two along the way, and learning something is always a good thing. Just don’t give up. There are tons of resources online that can help you along the way. If you are lucky, you may even find a specific guide for your device, and that will make things much easier.

It’s All About the GUI

At the end of the day, it really all comes down to the graphical user interface. It is here where all the commands for both your mouse and keyboard as well as your fingers are controlled. The great thing about Linux is that you can install almost any GUI on any version of Linux.

In my experience, there are two graphical user interfaces that work best for touchscreens. They are:

  • Gnome 3
  • Unity

Gnome 3 has been around for quite some time now and is very mature and stable. It includes an interface that is built with touch in mind while still working great in a traditional keyboard and mouse setup. It’s also found as the default GUI on many different distributions, so any of these would make a great option for you.

Unity, on the other hand, is the graphical user interface designed by Canonical for Ubuntu. These days, Unity is pretty mature, and quite sleek and stylish. However, its days may be numbered, as Canonical has announced it is moving back to Gnome in future releases. But they do say Unity will continue to be developed, so that is some good news at least. That being said, Unity is one of my personal favorites when it comes to touchscreen GUIs out there, and one I believe you will all enjoy using.

Best Linux Distributions for Touchscreens

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at a few distributions that will work great on your touchscreen laptop.

Fedora

Fedora is one of the most advanced Linux distributions around today. Strongly affiliated with the Red Hat group, Fedora is often a test bed for new software. Because of this, it often features cutting edge technology. But it does emphasize open source code only, so you won’t find any proprietary drivers included with it. That doesn’t mean you can’t install it yourself. Fedora includes Gnome 3 right out of the box, so you won’t have to worry about manually installing it, and it includes all the software you need for a good touchscreen experience, minus some swipe gestures.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu has long been criticized for the Unity desktop, but if there is one thing that Unity does do very well is touchscreens. The design of the graphical interface was made for it. On top of that, Ubuntu is one of the most popular and feature-rich Linux operating systems available, and many credit Ubuntu with popularizing Linux and bringing it to the mainstream more than any other Linux distribution has managed to do. With its rich features and great support for third party software, you will be hardpressed to find a better option for your touchscreen laptop.

Debian

Debian is one of the most stable Linux operating systems available today. Heck, it’s the distribution that Ubuntu is built upon. Without Debian, we would never have Ubuntu. The great thing about Debian is its customization. Using Debian you can install Gnome 3 or Unity on it, whichever you prefer, to gain that touchscreen interface you want. At the same time, it doesn’t contain the bloat that Ubuntu has, so if will run much better and much more efficiently. This is great for older laptops that have touchscreens or even an aging x86 tablet that you want to repurpose.

Another Tool You Should Consider

Multi-touch gestures is almost a must have if you want a seamless, cohesive experience when using your fingers for navigation. While Gnome and Unity do a good job optimizing the look and feel to be very touch friendly, sadly they lack multi-touch and gesture support out of the box. For that, I recommend grabbing Touchegg. Touchegg is a multi-touch gesture application that runs in the background. It allows you to setup your own gestures and multi-touch commands, and customize them in many different ways. For a complete touch experience on Linux, i recommend grabbing this application right after you complete your installation. While you can tweak all the settings yourself, there are tons of config files floating around the Internet to help you get started much faster.

Parting Thoughts

While I wish I could give you a specific distribution that will just work right out of the box without any work, I just can’t. That being said, there are a few distributions in existence that will work better than others. The ones in this list provide you with most of what you will need for a decent touchscreen experience on your laptop. However, for best results, you may need to tweak a few drivers and settings here and there and you will definitely want Touchegg.

With a few tweaks and the addition of a little software, you can create an amazing touchscreen experience using Linux. By installing Linux on your touchscreen laptop, you get all the power and security of Linux while getting to keep your amazing touchscreen interface. So why wouldn’t you want to?

Have any of you out there tried to create a good touchscreen experience in Linux? If so, what was your experience like? What tools did you use to get the job done? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

About the author

Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing for LaptopNinja where he enjoys talking about everything tech.


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