Research and Development

Smartboard on Linux - Test Results

Smartboard participated in the project later than other with a short quick notice, so we couldn't give it as much time as for others. Here at Opinsys we are most familiar with Smartboards as our customers have been using them for some time. Having a test whiteboard outside production systems gave us a chance to test the hardware and newest software throughly. SB680 uses resistive layer on the whiteboard to recognise touch, so it can be used with the accompanying pens or finger. The test hardware didn't have loudspeakers, so those weren't tested.

Smartboard and linux

SMART Technologies has been longer with linux than the other manufacturers and the software quality is noticeably better and it is more polished than others. Many of the earlier problems and missing features have been fixed with the newest update in March. There are now also deb packages available for Debian/Ubuntu that were missing before. The software is available both in Finnish and Swedish.

Software installation package includes device drivers and Notebook software. There were no other steps needed after installing to package to get it working in test systems. Smart software the only one of the tested that didn't have issues when installing on normal workstation or in LTSP chroot image. Others have a lot to learn in this respect.

Calibration is activated either from menu or through icon in the panel. In dualhead configuration it worked nicely and the correct display is selected by pressing spacebar.

Using Smartboard is straightforward. The whiteboard resembles physically a ink drawing board and it comes with four pens with different colours. The software picks the colour by sensing which one of the pens is picked up. There is also a physical eraser. Beginners should have no trouble getting used to using different pens and to clean the board with the eraser. Smartboard software has also a nice feature when a pen is picked up when Notebook software is not running - the software takes a snapshot of the desktop and allows one to write directly on it. When pen is placed back, normal desktop resumes.

Smartboard's latency is not the best of all tested boards and the cursor on the screen lags a bit behind the pen. When drawing it doesn't loose track, so even if it takes half a second or a second to catch up, the drawing follows the pen or finger. Hardware resource usage was not a problem, but using flash objects and video files there was a slowdown.

Only technical problems with the Smartboard software were quite relaxed file permissions. They can cause problems in multiuser environments where users can edit files they shouldn't. File permissions problems were quite minimal to some of the other packages, though. There are more details in the end of the article.

There were some random problems during testing, but we couldn't reproduce them. At least once the whiteboard stopped responding - touch wasn't recognised, calibration didn't activate and onscreen keyboard couldn't be opened. After rebooting the machine everything worked normally again, so the real cause of the problem remains a mystery.

The last version of Notebook software has support for handwriting recognition. Feature is still incomplete and many Finnish language words weren't recognised correctly. There's no Finnish selectable in the configuration, so we had to use German, which may have caused some of the problems. There's also an annoying bug that places the last letter of the word on a different line. Promethean's handwriting recognition did work better.


+ Linux support and packaging are polished
+ Can be used with fingers without the pens
+ Dualhead support works nicely

- Handwriting recognition has problems
- Latency is sometimes annoyingly large


Here are some of problems we noticed in the Smartboard software:

  1. Notebook's handwriting recognition doesn't work well in Finnish language. Last character is always placed on a separate line.
  2. Creates some globally wriable files and directories. This is not a good practice in multiuser environments. User home directories or read-only global files should be used instead. Files: /etc/xdg/SMART Technologies.conf, /etc/xdg/SMART Technologies/SMART Notebook.conf, /opt/SMART Technologies/common/data, /opt/SMART Technologies/common/data/.mp.1.1.dat, /opt/SMART Technologies/common/data/.vp.1.2.dat
  3. Installation packages create start files under /usr/share/applications, but the files are not listed in any of the smart-* packages
  4. Binaries and directories have spaces in name

-Antti Sokero (Technical work by Juha Erkkilä ja Veli-Matti Lintu)