Deliver us from Microsoft

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday February 2nd 2008 in The Guardian
“Deliver us from Microsoft” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry introduces the open source platform that will see off Windows.

In recent weeks I have banged on about Open Source, expending two articles on Firefox alone. Open Source applications make their code available to everyone. Disagreements and rabid balkanisation within the Open Source community aside, for our purposes the term might as well refer to free software whose licence allows you to share the source code, alter it, use it, do with it what you will.

The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux. I shan’t burden you with too much detail, I’ll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.

I am writing this article on a kind of mini John the Baptist, a system that prepares the way of the software saviour whose coming will deliver the 90% of world computer users who suffer under Windows from the expensive, clumsy, costly, ugly, pricey toils of Microsoft.

The Asus EEE PC perched on my knee combines GNU software with a Linux kernel powered by an Intel Celeron Mobile Processor to produce a very extraordinary little laptop. It weighs less than a kilogram, starts up from cold in about 12 seconds and shuts down in five. It has no internal hard disk and no CD drive. It offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a seven-inch display; wireless, dial-out modem and ethernet adaptors are available for networking and internet connections, three USB ports, mini-jack sockets for headphones and microphone, a VGA out, an SD card slot and a built-in webcam. All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London’s West End.

When you press the EEE’s power button, the lightning speed and quietness of boot-up tell you that you are in the hands of a solid state flash drive: no vulnerable moving parts and buzzing platters here. Within seconds a tabbed screen will appear on your display: the tabs are labelled Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. A click on each reveals a page containing bright, clear icons that relate to 40 separate applications and half a dozen or so selected web links. The applications include Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird (the Mozilla mail client) and OpenOffice.org, an Open Source suite of applications that allows you to create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. One of the pre-installed web links is to Google Docs, which lets you do the same MS Office compatible work online. This combination of “server side” applications and Open Source software is, rightly, scaring the heck out of Microsoft which is in danger of relying, in a few years’ time, on its excellent Xbox games console for income and kudos, its domination of personal computing a rapidly diminishing memory. Well, I’m allowed to dream.

The EEE is far from perfect: system software claims two-thirds of its meagre 4GB of storage, the keyboard is sub-par, the trackpad worse; it seems a shame to boast a built-in webcam and a full field of IM clients, yet be incapable of videochat; the OS, a customised version of Linux, part Debian, part Asus’s own creation, makes downloading outside the bundled software updater uncertain. But these defects are minor compared with the machine’s astounding value and functionality – and to the future trends in computing it heralds.

This is a computer designed as an introductory machine for children or adults, as well as a simple cheap do-it-all machine along the “One Laptop Per Child” model but which is also absolutely ideal as a truly cheap, portable, resilient device to slam into a backpack or briefcase. Everything you could want is there in free, Open Source form. It does not pretend to cater for the power user but, while file management is basic for the average person, tuxheads (Linux experts) can go straight to terminal mode and do their stuff. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, this is a wonderful little friend who does all we need straight out of the box. And it is only the beginning…

© Stephen Fry 2008

This blog was posted in Guardian column

186 comments on “Deliver us from Microsoft”

  1. AxmxZ says:

    Hey, am I first to comment? Ooh, I hope I am! I haven’t even got anything to say – I just want the distinction.

    Первый нах!

  2. OpenSourceFry says:

    Please be aware that much of OpenOffice is simply plagiarized from Microsoft’s R&D effort with funding from Microsoft competitors like Oracle’s Larry Ellison.

    As someone who draws their income from creating software, spending years in the process of not only working with great minds to develop new technology but to make that beautiful, it’s sad to hear that someone who also draws income from the act of creation telling us that we need to bugger off let our income go elsewhere. Perhaps you know there’s an OpenFry in the wings ready to supply paraphrased novels, scripts and columns to publishers for Free and are simply not concerned.

    The real and relative cost of software (like Windows and Office) has dropped in real terms for decades. Under what analysis does this become expensive and pricey? If you want to talk about pricey, and expensive then £200 in a drop-in-the-ocean for the margins of your beloved Apple.

    I applaud the availability of devices like the Asus, but does it have “everything you could want”? No, it doesn’t let me connect to thousands of other devices that might let me (say) do video chat, international telephony, create or share music, or to do voice recognition, or use my handwriting, or load the necessary language modules for non-Anglophone users in a hundred other countries. Heaven forbid that the hundreds of thousands of engineers toiling to make this happen, might get any recognition or payment for this effort. No, let’s just pack in any advancement just to do some cheap point-scoring.

  3. bosteen says:

    Also a proud Eee PC owner – just wanted to say that video chat can be done on the little guy after all.

    Skype 2.0 (beta) can be installed and run – Go here and download the Xandros package: http://www.skype.com/intl/en/download/skype/linux/beta/choose/

    Go to the work tab, and open the File Manager. You should be able to find the file you just dowloaded and I think double-click to install or right click to bring up a menu, where one of the options is to install it.

    There is a caveat: Skype and the Eee PC don’t see eye-to-eye as to which one of them should turn on the camera, so you have to do it yourself (a webcam burns through a battery’s juice in a similar way to wifi, so it’s turned off by default)

    To automate this process of turning it on for Skype and turning it off after, you have to tinker in the innards, I’m afraid, but this post summerises the process fairly well:

    http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewtopic.php?pid=15722#p15722
    (Reproduced here for annotation)

    Pressing Ctrl-Alt-T will open a terminal window
    Type in the following, pressing enter after each line:

    sudo su
    cd /usr/bin
    mv skype skype-bin
    pico skype
    [At this point, it should look much different because you have started the editor, 'pico'
    type in the following:]

    #!/bin/sh
    echo 1 > /proc/acpi/asus/camera
    /usr/bin/skype-bin
    echo 0 > /proc/acpi/asus/camera
    [Now press Ctrl-X, answer Y to the next question, and maybe confirm the name 'skype' as the filename]

    [You should be back on the commandline again. One last line to put in and you are home free!]
    chmod +x skype

    You can now close the terminal window (click on the top right ‘X’ icon, or type exit into the terminal)

    Clicking on the Skype button in the Internet tab should a) open the shiny new Skype 2 and b) turn on your webcam.

    When Skype 2.0 is released officially, this work will be done for you in an update, I’d suspect. This work is only for you early adopters :)

  4. Matthieu says:

    > The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux.

    Call me a nitpicker but I would have said Linux and Apache. The Apache serves more pages everyday than McDonald serves hamburgers. The whole internet could have a little “Powered by Apache” logo in a corner.

  5. orzr says:

    For goodness sake, someone give him a MacBook Air and cure him of this insanity.

  6. Martin in Korea says:

    Look, are Microsoft and Windows really that dreadful?

    My main desktop is Ubuntu, I regularly advise laptop-buying friends to consider Macbooks, I have been responsible for medium-sized businesses basing their servers on FreeBSD and any computer I happen across lacking Firefox rapidly acquires it.

    However, Windows works fine whenever I use it, Office is a rather fine set of applications (can’t comment on 2007) and a goodly proportion of Microsoft income ends up in one of the world’s more effective development charities. I know they’ve played hard in business, that security has been shoddy and that innovation has not always come from within, but that seems like a fairly predictable and not too heinous set of charges to pick up over a few decades when a business has, let us not forget it, transformed the face of personal computing.

  7. nebbo says:

    I think I’m in love. I’ve been wanting a laptop again after mine gave up the ghost a year ago, and this may be the one. Must test drive soon…

  8. Flookwit says:

    Oooh! Does sound nice. And I am rather fond of Linux even though installing Ubuntu on my PC wiped the hard drive and all my data from Windows, which it shouldn’t have done, but heh, Spring cleaning. (Ubuntu’s so pretty I can forgive it).

  9. robertas says:

    Mr. Fry you really must detest Windows if you are calling in the help of John the Baptist… I (obviously) had the wrong idea you considered all of that tosh… :) Software savior honestly, only you Mr. Fry… but you know what?
    Despite your geeky ways and that fence in your arm, I am still rather fond of you :)

  10. Christa says:

    If only all the software I’m using was available for Linux, I would switch and never look back again. For some time I had two partitions on my laptop – one with Ubuntu and one with Windows. I was using the Linux partition for my doings online etc. and the Windows partition for everything else.

    And Ubuntu was so much faster and safer.

  11. [ICR] says:

    I’ve yet to see a general purpose Linux distribution be as easily usable to the casual end user as Windows or OS X is – there’s still a lot of work to be done before it takes over the desktop and to be hounest I’ve not seen a huge amount of movement forward in the past few years.

  12. Joe D says:

    While I hate to disagree with you, Stephen, I’m somewhat skeptical of the claim that everyone will be using Linux in five years. I heard the same claim five years ago. Don’t underestimate MS’ ability to woo software developers with killer specialist apps: my own personal excuse for not moving over full time is that gIMP is nowhere near up to the standards of photoshop (unless you suck at Photoshop).

    Now, if Google could make a server side picasia with half the features of PSCS3…

  13. Panja says:

    My friend just bought one of those tiny little laptops the other day. I was quite excited to then see you writing about them here! I was playing around with one at the store and I couldn’t get over how small they were. I also couldn’t help but think that I’d get a cramp in my hands if I had to type on it for any extended period of time, so kudos to you for doing it!

  14. CraigB says:

    I have been saying this for years to people:

    “Linux (or any *nix distributions) for servers, Mac OS X/Windows for workstations/desktop”

    After working in IT for so many god knows what years, this is still true nowadays.

  15. Crusader says:

    Just recently I was admiring my sister’s macbook; it seemed like it was breathing! *gasps for air* I fell asleep watching the light going on/off close to the rhytym of a heartbeat. It does’t really carry purpose, does it? (Unless it is, in fact, to make people fall asleep) It’s to make it more human? This alone made me consider buying one, not the technology built inside of it or whether it’s prettier and more reliable than any Microsoft/Windows built machine. Does that make me superficial? But I am a woman, afterall :-P
    Also laptops use a fraction of the amount of electricity one PC is capable of consuming (good to consider in our modern world) that not being too hard to tell just by looking at the enormous factory one PC pretty much is; I live in a 25m2 flat and the PC takes about 15m2 of it! I just thank my invisible god that my electricity bill is fixed. So I can only assume this new invention is even better – electricity- wise. Which should be considered, when buying a new computer, as one of the most important softwares. Huh. I’m really going green with this, aren’t I.

    Aaanyway. This all sounds very fascinating, this column about ASUS, and I give a lot of value to Mr. Fry’s colums/opinions when time is due for me to get a new computer. Thank you!

  16. Paulie says:

    ” I’ll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the
    next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.”

    People have been saying similar things like this, i.e. dissing Microsoft for the best part of 20 years. I can almost guarantee this won’t be happen. Apart from Linux appearing in single function “applicances” like televisions, PVR’s etc it will not be taking over from Windows on the desktop anytime soon, if ever. Though I can see with more computing moving into the “cloud” the desktop OS will be less important in the future which will be a blow to Linux as well as Windows and Apple.

    I am an IT pro and work with Microsoft client and server products at work and at home daily, and though I’ll be the first to moan about their unpredictable and unstable behaviour just when I don’t need it; the time I have spent at weekends and the evenings trying to workaround or troubleshoot glitches in their software – the competition is no better.

    I use Linux on a daily basis also in the form of CentOS, Ubuntu, Backtrack and multiple “appliances” and they all have their quirks and peculiarities. I also have an EEEPC on my desk which is fine for most browsing on the Internet though it does struggle with some heavy flash and graphical sites, though I use it mainly in ommandline mode. It could be useful for a child to use, the webcam is of surprisingly good quality. I would recommend people wait for revision 2 of the machine which is due out in the next couple of months, however.

    There is some world class open source software but I wouldn’t run my business entirely on it – do you really trust running a patch on your OS that has been cobbled together via a disparate set of bedroom-programmers that you have
    no comeback to. Of course not all open source software is like this as there are professional companies providing support for professional quality products. But it is a minefield trying to find a reliable outfit that you know are going to be in business long enough to keep your software running for it’s full lifecycle.

    Fan of Stephen Fry that I am, I have read all his books etc, I always find it confusing how he eulogises about Apple as if they were a bunch cute and cuddly hard-done-by-geniuses and not a multi-billion dollar company out to make as much money as they can just like Microsoft. I don’t like to say it but he can sound like one of those open source bores one meets from time to time who see Bill Gates as the devil incarnate. Apart from this small aberration I agree with nearly everything he says.

    If open source was truly that great it would be dominant software available – we are not all taken in by Microsoft’s marketing hype. And remember that Apple has some of the most “closed source” software on the market which truly locks you in to the way they want you to work.

  17. JohnnyW says:

    Hmm. At this late point I don’t think that any operating system is ever likely to supersede Windows. For all it’s flaws over the years, it did at least create industry standards that would have otherwise been battled over, argued, changed and ultimately confused the consumer (Toshiba vs Sony, anyone?).

    At least Vista does everything it should, but the future of simple portable devices (which could well be the future of computing) could open the door to a whole new world and set of standards. Quite interesting, thanks for point that out Stephen!

    Fingers crossed you’re right!

  18. Mosh says:

    I have to say I agree with ICR and was about to post as much when I read their comment. I’m testing Ubuntu at work at the moment (6.06) and, much as the desktop is intuitive it has a long way to go before it’s as user-friendly as Windows. Installing and un-installing programs, for instance, is not a simple task.

    Where it scores highly is in it’s use on low-end hardware. Vista is a big, huge, evil monster with no obvious purpose than to push people further along the upgrade path and allow MS to expire their certified support in the usual fashion (two generations of OS without a re-examination and your MCSE is revoked). XP is still, in my view, an excellent OS for pretty much anyone to use. Yes, it’s still “buggy”. Yes, it crashes from time to time. Yes, it gets hacked and targeted by viruses. But it’s easy to use, and – if you know someone who’ll help – it’s easily secured. Plus you can get so much free software for it because of its popularity.

    Ubuntu is a great creation, but – as with other Linuxes – it needs a lot more work and a much bigger user base to compete with MS. Sure, for a business machine and an office desktop replacement I’d consider it. But as soon as you start needing certain applications as Joe D mentions, you’re stuffed.

    OpenOffice is fine for simple conversions from MS Office, but by no means perfect. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to put it down as I use it on two of my machines – but if the MS version starts to get complex, don’t expect OO to be able to cope all the time.

    Likewise, Google Docs has some size limits and is very basic in comparison. Again, I do use it and I think it’s great being able to click in GMail to view a spreadsheet, Word doc or – more recently – presentation. But it’s a long way from coping with a multi-page spreadsheet with external references, hidden cells, scripts, macros and several thousand rows of data.

    Linux is already a threat to MS, but not on the desktop. On servers, it seems to be creeping in. On portable equipment, it’s definitely taken a hold – look at how many palmtops use some form of Debian, compared to the number using portable Windows versions. It’ll be a while yet, though.

    Oh, and get well soon, Stephen. Sorry to hear about the arm and the x-rays made me shudder!

  19. Flookwit says:

    Joe D – “You suck at photoshop” Hahahahaha! Like the link. Somehow I missed those on Youtube, where have I been? They have set me a chortling!

  20. marysiak says:

    I was recently informed by a more tech savvy person that I should reinstall my windows os every six months to keep everything running smoothly and that not doing this is probably why my computer currently seems to take about quarter of an hour to do anything. I was horrified. Reinstalling is always a journey of epic proportions and usually leads to the loss of some vital piece of data or software as well as taking up a minimum of three days. Why can’t operating systems just work?

  21. Paulie says:

    ” I’ll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.”

    People have been saying similar things like this, i.e. dissing Microsoft for the best part of 20 years. I can almost guarantee this won’t be happen. Apart from Linux appearing in single function “applicances” like televisions, PVR’s etc it will not be taking over from Windows on the desktop anytime soon, if ever. Though I can see with more computing moving into the “cloud” the desktop OS will be less important in the future which will be a blow to Linux as well as Windows and Apple.

    I am an IT pro and work with Microsoft client and server products at work and at home daily, and though I’ll be the first to moan about their unpredictable and unstable behaviour just when I don’t need it; the time I have spent at weekends and the evenings trying to workaround or troubleshoot glitches in their software – the competition is no better.

    I use Linux on a daily basis also in the form of CentOS, Ubuntu, Backtrack and multiple “appliances” and they all have their quirks and peculiarities. I also have an EEEPC on my desk which is fine for most browsing on the Internet though it does struggle with some heavy flash and graphical sites, though I use it mainly in commandline mode. It could be useful for a child to use, the webcam is of surprisingly good quality. I would recommend people wait for revision 2 of the machine which is due out in the next couple of months, however.

    There is some world class open source software but I wouldn’t run my business entirely on it – do you really trust running a patch on your OS that has been cobbled together via a disparate set of bedroom-programmers that you have

    no comeback to. Of course not all open source software is like this as there are professional companies providing support for professional quality products. But it is a minefield trying to find a reliable outfit that you know are going to be in business long enough to keep your software running.

    Fan of Stephen Fry that I am, I have read all his books etc, I always find it confusing how he eulogises about Apple as if they were a bunch cute and cuddly hard-done-by-geniuses and not a multi-billion dollar company out to make as much money as they can just like Microsoft. I don’t like to say it but he can sound like one of those open source bores one meets from time to time who see Bill Gates as the devil incarnate. Apart from this small abberation I agree with most of the things he says ;)

    If open source was truly that great it would be dominant software available – we are not all taken in by Microsoft’s marketing hype. And remember that Apple has some of the most “closed source” software on the market which truly locks you in to the way they want you to work.

  22. Peter Hollo says:

    Actually, the Skype Linux client now supports video chat in the latest beta. I haven’t had any problems with it crashing or anything, but the quality will improve in the non-beta version. So lack of video chat isn’t entirely their fault.

    The screen looks a little small for me though (what with those big speakers taking up a fair bit of the space where the screen would be) and 4GB is rather tiny! Even twice that much would help…

    Dear Stephen,
    Just letting you know you’re my hero :) And even moreso now that you’re writing these terrifically geek-savvy articles on stuff that’s rather dear to my heart. Love the “blessays” too. Please keep it up.
    Thanks!

  23. cowens says:

    See, I always thought of a John the Baptist machine as a headless server (preferably with water cooling).

  24. melat0nin says:

    Stephen,

    I applaud your championing of Open Source, but you can hardly say ‘deliver us from Microsoft’ without some mention of Apple (the second largest closed-source proponent, from the consumer’s point of view) and their ultra-closed source business model. It’s not really fair to vilify only Microsoft when they are far from the only philosophical enemy of F/OSS, even if they are the biggest one.

    Still, as I said, raising awareness of F/OSS can only be a good thing!

  25. fr3ak says:

    Nice to see an unbiased and honest mini-review of the EEE in the national press, especially coming from someone like Stephen Fry.

    If anyone is interested in this unique little device, then there are 13,000 helpful owners and users at http://forum.eeeuser.com/index.php , and http://wiki.eeeuser.com/ contains a handy wiki of useful information and guides.

    It’s truely a breakthrough in price/performance in this size of pc, and for the non-penguin loving people out there – it will quite happily run Windows Xp / Vista (Asus even provide instructions on how to do it in the manual).

    Hope to see some of you new eee users in the forum soon. Just tell us that Mr. Fry recommended you ;)

  26. mr.kemp says:

    Mr. Fry,

    It’s a pleasure to read about your Open Source advocacy. I am a teacher in London and we are using Open source more and more as a way to engage kids with ICT and helping to stop them becoming thieves in the digital sense of the word. I can highly recommend theopendisc and the openeducationdisc as ways to introduce people to Open Source, less scary than downloading distros There are several other projects out there doing similar things. Keep up the good work.

  27. quixote says:

    I’m one of the very tickled owners of an XO of One Laptop Per Child fame. So I have to point out that it was only once OLPC came out with a (total cost of) $400 laptop that suddenly Asus found it in them to price theirs at, amazingly enough, the same price.

    Everex is also coming out with the Cloudbook and a phenomenal, no-compromise list of specs Any Day Now. Also based on Linux. Also a few hundred dollars.

    Microsoft now is like IBM in the 1960s. Nobody thought then that their dominance in computers would ever fade. Microsoft, like IBM, may continue to be a big rock out in the bay or it may wind up submerged — hard to tell at this point — but the tide is coming in. Linux in its Ubuntu guise is at least as easy to use as Windows, it’s there for the taking, it doesn’t get in the consumer’s way, it’s safer.

    The *only* thing it isn’t is pre-installed. That’s changing with things like the Eee. Once that barrier is breached, then, as Stephen says, it’s really all over but the shouting.

  28. Al says:

    Great article, very fun to read.

    BTW, I am an Eee owner myself (typing this on it as we speak) and with some twiddling, it is possible to get the webcam to work in Skype for video chat. It appears as though the video-supporting Linux version of Skype wasn’t ready yet when the Eee was released, and it now is. I think if you look in the software updates program, there will be a newer Skype to download, with video support. (Even before this came via an update, online advice from others allowed me to directly install the newer Skype for Linux.) I use Skype to video chat with my girlfriend when either of us is traveling (she has a MacBook with a webcam in about the same location on the computer).

    Also, it’s possible to add more software repositories to the Eee, to make it easy to add more programs. I’ve loaded various additional games on mine. Visit the forums at eeeuser.com for that and much more info.

    Neither of these were necessary things to highlight in your review; don’t mean to imply that. I think covering the specific out of box experience is quite valid.

    And you are spot on, I think, in that we will all be running some form of open software OS within a few years.

  29. mia_eeh says:

    Hej mr Fry!!

    I like my windows laptop I do everything on it watch movies, talk to friends my brother, read intressting blogs… ;)
    I have thunderbird and firefox too Don´t piss on my computer! I don´t like linux or mac I´m a windowschick…

    And I have to thank you for reading “harry Potter” to mee it loses a lot in translaition too swedich and i love hearing the britich accent…

    puss på kinden Mia from sweden

  30. Rioting_pacifist says:

    mia_eeh:
    sure there is little need to go through the hastle of changing OS for the hell of it, but on the next computer you buy you might want to save £200 by not buying windows + office, and when your laptop gets old, you might want to use it as a DVR with mythTV?

    For the average user there is no motivation to switch, well apart unless all your geeks switch and they cant help you anymore…I know i now palm off any questions that cant be solved by install OO/FF/VLC/GIMP/Amarok to another friend.

    BUT for the Power user well the codefree tweaking of linux by far beats what you can do on windows,e.g using a wii mote to control a 3D desktop (on a duel moitor system) with a mac like dock, Or using those red/blue glasses to have windows pop out from the screen. As for people that can code, well the fact you can look at what your favorite software does is surely going to help!

    Rant:
    “I’ve yet to see a general purpose Linux distribution be as easily usable to the casual end user as Windows or OS X is…”
    Have you used linux mint? It would also be nice if you could define usable, every person has a different way of using a computer, its very hard to progress in an area where the targets arnt clear! Do you want everything to be drag and drop, do you want only 1 mouse button to be useful, do you want popups explaining what your doing (how about 3 per action)?
    By defualt i found all ubuntus as easy to use as windows, to prove this point ive left my mum (who knows nothing about computers) a kubuntu setup and shes not complained once! Then i tweaked my kubuntu to the point were working on a windows vista machine is painful:
    why do i need to click in a window to scroll in it? thats not very usable.
    what about changing volume? clicking on the volume icon is a bit of a pain too.
    You sir are either a troll or believe microsoft FUD

    As for microsoft doing alot for personal computers, ill acept that they used to do something, but since gaining thier monopoly they have done very little, it took mac os x to kick them back into action!
    End rant

  31. DalekClock says:

    I find Windows to have immense trouble loading some simpler applications like the built-in calculator, which I often find takes slightly longer than my Ubuntu system loads FireFox on weaker hardware. This is considering that most of the software installed on my Windows system I never use, and I only keep it all because the uninstaller won’t work.

  32. Steve Howard says:

    I’ve been looking at the EEE for the last few months. Looks like a nice budget solution for the non-conformist.

    But for the business or power user, it is no good. That could change, but we’ve been told Windows is Dead, Long Live Linux for the better part of a decade … with no noticable effect. Anything that is going to replace Windows is going to have to overcome the innertia of millions of Corporate and Institutional installations that cannot simply coose to nip out and buy new equipment, new OS on a whim.

    On the other hand, in the MOBILE world, there is still no consensus on the OS of choice for our pocket computers (phones!). There is a steadily growing corner of that mobile space that is occupied by Linux machines. Then there is Google’s new Android project. Both compete against PocketPC, Symbian and others. For the consumer, all this choice is great, but for the developer and the IT professionals, the unification and standardisation that Windows brought to the desktop computer is largely a Good Thing.

    Maybe in 5 years we’ll ‘all’ be using Linux, or Symbian or whatever on our mobile devices… but I’m pretty sure we’ll ‘all’ still be using Windows on our desktops.

    But once our pocket computers are powerful enough to make desktop OCs obsolete, who knows what will happen :-)

  33. braintrustkid says:

    My boss and our internal IT support guy both have an XO from OLPC and we all were tickled pink by them. I will have to pass along this latest news to my fellow tech gadget geeks. Thanks for the tip, Sir.

  34. Scraps says:

    Just got my Eee a couple days ago, and for my purposes — a PDA with a keyboard, basically — it’s just about perfect. I wish it had an address book and calendar, but I can make text documents suffice. And it has nicely sensitive wireless reception. Plus it’s a great conversation piece.

    Mine is a 2 GB machine, but I’ve installed a 4 GB memory card. The memory card slot does help with the storage issue somewhat.

  35. bashley says:

    Anybody who decries Linux as universally not ready for the consumer has not actually used the EEE. I’ve been working with microcomputers since 1979 and the EEE was absolutely the smoothest out-of-box experience I’ve ever had. Everything *just works* even moreso than my Mac experiences. For an example, start up the music manager and then plug in your ipod.

    The EEE isn’t the end game, it’s a harbinger. Early adopters such as Stephen and I will serve to spread the glow and it will be some time in growing, but grow it will. Of course, subsequent models will be cheaper, more capable, and even more useable. Take a look at the new Everex Cloudbook – same form factor and price, but with DVI output, 30G hard drive, faster processor, longer battery life than the EEE. The trend is being established.

    I think 5 years might be optimistic, but I’m glad to see that Stephen reads the tea leaves and stands up and calls it.

  36. While it’d be nice if this were to happen, there is a ridiculous quantity of legacy Windows-only software out there. MS spends a surprising amount of time simply making sure that new versions of Windows work with rather obscure applications.

    By the way, it might be worth having this blog take OpenID logins, as well as its own login system. It’s quite inconvenient to have to have passwords for every second blog, and I believe there are now decent WordPress OpenID plugins.

  37. AlexS says:

    What a great article. Thanks so much. It’s a little like finding out that two of your friends already know and like one another.

  38. pabuenos says:

    First of all excuse me for my awful english, but I’m trying to improve it! Well… I barely agree with Crusader (even though sometimes I think how all this things can help bring us happiness)…

    (K)

  39. zmower says:

    I gave one to my 8 yo son for xmas. He has found it very easy to use, although his main use for the machine so far is playing flash games on nickjr. I’ll buy one for myself when they bring out a 10″ screen version. You’ll be very happy with what you get for the price, believe me.

    I have added a large set of packages for mythtv-frontend from Debian stable (yes, I admit it; I’m a tux-head). There are bound to be Debian packages that don’t install but it’s a good place to start. (As is http://www.EeeUser.com)

    I have to agree about the webcam software though. There’s ucview which seems to be only good for recording clips and taking pictures. And there’s an update to skype which adds video. But no real stream-to-the web type software. I’m looking at hacking on mjpg-streamer unless anyone else has a suggestion?

  40. Like this PC, you might be interested in the Everex CloudBook (http://www.everex.com/). It’s a similar micro-laptop that comes loaded with an Ubuntu derivative called gOS that has Firefox and lots of Google applications.

    Another interesting concept is the Bug Labs PC (http://buglabs.net/) where you get a simple base unit that you can attach hardware modules to (such as GPS, a camera, touch screen, etc) and it has it’s own Java stack with a framework to develop applications that use these modules.

    Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to say what a pleasant surprise to see how well you know your stuff in the world of Open Source (a world I am a member of). My girlfriend and I are big fans of your work (I myself am especially a fan of Saturday Night Fry and QI). I’ll definitely be subscribing you your feed!

  41. martin wellbourne says:

    Great article Stephen, delighted to see you are a Eee PC user, but I wish I shared your optimism on the Asus EEE Pc leading the Linux charge into desktop dominance. Asus will be releasing this technological marvel with a Windows preinstallation, having scared M$ into a hefty OEM discount, I believe, very soon. This is a shame because the default Xandros installation is pretty good for Linux noobs. Its also highly extendable and will quite easily run in full desktop mode with a few tweaks and the Debian repositories can be added pretty safely, giving access to a vast amount of software at the click of a sudo or synaptic.

    If you want Skype 2.0 running with webcam support you can follow this “how to” here http://wiki.eeeuser.com/howto:installskype20beta

    For all the latest eeepc mods, hacks and news, you might find the great eee pc wiki useful· http://wiki.eeeuser.com/

    Have Fun!

  42. taras says:

    The Eee is indeed superb – and if you are even just a bit techy you can install a different, and better-supported, operating system on it (for example, Ubuntu). I’ve had one since day one and been delighted with it.

    However, despite the speed at which Linux is becoming more acceptable as a desktop OS, I doubt Windows will have lost so much of the market in 5 years’ time. The default Eee PC operating system is actually a Windows-ised version of Linux called Atheros (the company which maintains it is funded by Microsoft). Asus are set to release a Windows-based Eee PC. You could even say that the main Linux window systems (KDE and Gnome) are heavily influenced by Windows and OS X in just about everything from the graphics schemes to window layout.

    Corporate software producers such as Microsoft and Apple invest heavily in creative people to come up with the ideas that push innovation. The evidence to date – in the form of ripping off almost every feature of Microsoft and Apple’s OSs – is that the Open Source community can’t match the creativity of the OS design professionals.

  43. castalla says:

    ……

    “All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London’s West End”

    Well, it’s way beyond my means, as is the outing in London. It represents a quarter of my monthly pension, after 30 years in academia and 2 heart attacks … I’m stuck with a 10 year old Windows box! Food before bytes, I’m afraid.

  44. Mad Malc says:

    Whilst I share your view that Linux will be the operating system of the future, I’m not entirely sure that it will be the result of Linux being a superior operating system.

    I say that as a personal champion of Linux and a moderator on a Linux forum.

    The real reason that Linux will become the operating system of choice is really down to the awful decisions of Microsoft.

    In an Era of ‘Green’, it used to be called austerity, the launching of the rather inaptly named ‘Vista’ whose mass adoption would require the filling of countless land fill sites with perfectly serviceable computer equipment.

    This is a system which is such a hungry beast that a previously serviceable personal computer can only extract the responsiveness of an expiring sloth from it.

    So, I agree Linux may be the future, and Opensource is definitely the future, but only because Microsoft has missed out on the trends.

    I can’t see Microsoft finding a way back either, for to do so would be to perhaps hear a clarion call to excavate those personal computers from the landfills that couldn’t run the hungry beat called ‘Vista’, in order to run the latest greatest offering ‘humble pie’.

    Mad Malc

  45. bashley says:

    Anybody who decries Linux as universally not ready for the consumer has not yet used the EEE. I’ve been working with microcomputers since 1979 and the EEE was absolutely the smoothest out-of-box experience I’ve ever had. Everything *just works* even moreso than my Mac experiences. For an example, start up the music manager and then plug in your ipod.

    The EEE isn’t the end game, it’s a harbinger. Early adopters such as Stephen will serve to spread the glow and it will be some time in growing, but grow it will. Of course, subsequent models will be cheaper, more capable, and even more useable. Take a look at the new Everex Cloudbook – same form factor and price, but with DVI output, 30G hard drive, faster processor, longer battery life than the EEE. The trend is being established.

    I think 5 years might be optimistic, but I’m glad to see that Stephen reads the tea leaves and stands up and calls it.

  46. AxmxZ says:

    All right. I had nothing but my glee to contribute in my first comment, but this time I come bearing something relevant to the conversation:

    http://blimptv.blogspot.com/2007/11/vista-sucks.html

  47. olifox says:

    I agree that it’d be great if we were all using a non-Microsoft platform at home, but I honestly don’t see it happening.
    Microsoft are a large investor in Novell, now a Linux oriented company (Suse) and sponsor of the OpenSuse project. Eventually I see Microsoft either completely swallowing Novell and re-branding Suse as Windows, or forking the OpenSuse codebase and going with that (in an Apple-FreeBSD style move).
    Compatabilty with legacy Windows applications will come via virtualisation, and this will give Microsoft what they’ve always aimed for – a kernel suitable for embedded devices, pc’s and laptops, all the way up to mainframes.

    Google pretty much have this already (the Android mobile phone SDK and Linux in their datacenters), and MS know that they’re falling behind every day.
    I can’t decide whether this would be a good or bad thing for Linux, but I honestly thing it’s the only way MS will be in the operating system game in the not too distant future.

  48. Crusader says:

    Was it Dell that provided new laptops with XP because of all the complaints about Vista? How brilliant idea!
    There’s not a computing bone in me to state the least, but I do know how to install internet connection, bloody hell! Did I feel myself stupid when I tried to do just that with a friend’s laptop, USB modem (which she then had to change into wireless modem because of the compatibility issues) and Vista? *hugs her XP*

  49. ricegf says:

    @quixote: “The *only* thing it isn’t is pre-installed. ”

    It is now. You can buy Ubuntu pre-installed on desktops or laptops from the largest direct computer retailer (Dell at http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/linux_3x?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs) or the largest mainstream retailer (Walmart, at http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=7754614 for desktop and http://clumpc.com/?p=9 for an ASUS EEEpc-like laptop).

    Note that the Walmart machines use gOS, which is actually an Ubuntu derivative. A significant number of Linux distributions start with Ubuntu, in the same way that Ubuntu starts with Debian. It’s called open source. ;-)

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