Low-Cost Computing Leads Linux Desktop Charge

Wednesday Jan 30th 2008 by Matt Hartley
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Sometimes revolutions come in modest packages. After a lengthy wait, it appears the low-end PC is leading the way for mass acceptance of Linux.

Linux adoption up until now has been rather staggered, to say the least. "Joe Average" has yet to show any sustaining interest in Linux. And yet in 2007, this began to slowly change.

After a long-fought battle for Linux desktops adoption, we’re seeing a new breed of Linux PCs filling a unique need – offering a simple to use, easy to maintain computing option for the masses.

A niche within a niche

The idea of low cost computing is hardly a new concept, yet low cost computing with lower cost of overall ownership is not something that has seen much success. Perhaps for the first time in history, we have truly viable alternatives to the problematic Windows PCs. An alternative that does not cost a mint to purchase outright.

The common user Linux desktop path was initially paved by the likes of Linspire and later on, Xandros. Today, we see Xandros making a strong appearance on one of the smallest Linux-powered notebook computers to date, the ASUS Eee. And while in many regards Linspire pioneered the low-end Linux PC for casual consumers, they still have yet to show anything "concrete" within the notebook sector.

This will hurt them in the long run as Ubuntu, Xandros, and another Ubuntu variant, gOS, all have managed to overtake Linspire in the news rather suddenly due to their success with notebook computing.

What casual users clearly want from Linux computers

Users want results, not marketing-speak or some hard-line Linux user's stance on niceties of software politics.

Offering an alternative to this type of hassle is largely what has driven Ubuntu to success. It’s also why PCs that offer an Ubuntu variant, known as the gOS, have bucked all predictions with record breaking sales. But gOS is not alone here. No, Linux needed to be brought onto compatible hardware to become palatable to the mainstream market.

And this is where Everex came in.

Early on, when Everex opted to use gOS, the two parties wisely littered the PCs with various Google applications in all the right places so that retailers would have a difficult time keeping these PCs on the shelves. The result? It worked with users everywhere. Retailers such as WalMart sold out almost overnight.

But one company made famous for their work with motherboards had been working a project that made the gOS towers look like small potatoes. The company behind this history making product release is known as ASUS.

Like Everex, ASUS struck gold by using a customized Linux distribution that quickly caught the eye of advanced users and new users alike. ASUS cheated in a sense however, as the company has been marketing their notebooks as pre-loaded with Xandros Linux, yet also as being XP compatible. Clever as this is, it certainly does not firm up a strong ASUS commitment in the eyes of many Linux users, myself included.

But all of that aside, Everex and ASUS have managed to break through into a new market of users who previously would not likely have given Linux the time of day. In short, the gamble to attract casual Linux users is working.

But ASUS is not alone here. Everex appeared again with a partnership made with Zonbu that in my opinion, brought more overall value to the Linux notebook world for those who need a simple managed solution.

Zonbu's Everex notebook and the ASUS Eee

Then out of nowhere Everex comes back with a notebook of their own, this time using the Zonbu approach to pre-installed Linux. Unlike ASUS's approach with Xandros Linux, the Zonbu method is to make the PC completely idiot proof. This means the software is pre-installed, and cannot be removed or upgraded until the Zonbu service allows it to be.

Additional benefits include:

• Subscription computing. Subscribing to a payment plan much in the same way as you might with your mobile phone carrier, customers can save on their computer purchase along with gaining additional, subscriber only features.

• Redundant, off-site backup of your data. Imagine being able to take your notebook, toss it into a lake, call Zonbu for a replacement, only to find that your data is there, safe and sound? The idea may sound like science fiction. I call it science fact – Zonbu is doing this with Amazon's S3 servers.

On the flip side of what some might consider a successful idea, the biggest issue with the Zonbu Mini and their own Everex-powered notebook computer is a general lack of market attention. Because Everex has by and large missed the mark of the more advanced computer user with these Zonbu offerings, Everex was generally left in the dust.

Understand, I have tested the Zonbu notebook myself; it is great. However it is not going to touch the same type of user that ASUS has gone after with the small form factor enclosed around the Eee. And so, Everex responded accordingly with the announcement of a competing notebook product known simply as the Cloudbook.

Enter the Everex Cloudbook

The immense success seen with the gOS on Everex tower PCs – and Zonbu's own notebook offerings hitting home with the an entirely different group of users – allowed Everex to compete with ASUS and their Eee notebook series.

Unfortunately, it seems that Everex missed their target release date of January 25th, 2008. The official reason on the matter is that the Cloudbook release date has been bumped to February due to "system patching." Despite this, I have a feeling it will see the same excited reaction as the ASUS Eee did when it was initially released.

Which brings us to where I believe Linux PCs in general are headed. Future Linux adoption is with those looking for cost effective, value-based computing solutions. The only areas yet to be ironed out is whether users prefer a full-sized notebook like we see with the Zonbu notebook or something a bit more portable, such as the Eee or the Everex Cloudbook.

Those fine points aside, desktop Linux is here. Regardless of what various Windows using pundits might otherwise have you believe.

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