HP TouchPad becomes a low-cost Ubuntu tablet

The $99 HP TouchPad (s hpq) has become quite elusive, essentially selling out in the U.S. over the weekend. Much of the reason is due to what you get for this price: a color Kindle(s amzn) reader that doubles as a great web browser, email manager and cloud device with 50 GB of storage from Box.net. But for the tech savvy, you get even more for your money. It turns out that the TouchPad supports an Ubuntu build of Linux, which adds a whole new dimension to the now tabled tablet.

Brad Linder’s Liliputing blog has a detailed listing of the process of installing Ubuntu on the TouchPad, which was built out over the past several weeks by PreCentral forum users. Since many Ubuntu applications are compiled for x86 (s intc) processors instead of ARM (s armh) chips, like the one in the TouchPad, not all Ubuntu software will run on the slate. For now, Firefox, Chromium, and LibreOffice appear to be working, in addition to TightVNC for remote access to other computers, just to name a few.

That could change over time, however, and it opens up the door to many more potential programs on the TouchPad; at least when it’s running Ubuntu. That’s the other side benefit here: Ubuntu will run on a separate partition, meaning that the device can still boot into webOS as needed.

I’d expect the end result to be too much work for most TouchPad buyers, and I’m not going to take the Ubuntu plunge myself: I have other options for both tablets and laptops, so for me, it’s not worth the effort. But it’s still a neat little project that’s likely to see further development and support, which could add even more value to a $99 tablet.