Low-Price, WiFi-Ready Linux Laptops Coming to US

Mixing two of the hottest tech trends — notebook computers and the Linux operating system — Taiwanese computer maker EliteGroup and San Diego, California-based Lindows have announced the deployment of more than 300,000 Linux-based laptops to the U.S. market.

The US$700 machines — preloaded with Lindows OS Laptop Edition and built-in WiFi wireless capability — are available from the Lindows Web site and at several computer sellers across the United States.

Lindows CEO Michael Robertson said the release “demonstrates that 2004 will be the year of the Linux laptop,” calling the model A535 laptop “a phenomenal product at a phenomenal price point.”

However, IDC vice president Roger Kay told LinuxInsider that at only $100 less than a low-end Windows machine, the Linux laptop might not be as popular as Lindows believes it will be.

“There’s some possibility for having a Linux notebook for the consumer, but I think even the consumer might be wary of a nonstandard system that might not have every application they want,” Kay said. “I’m not sure the notebook form factor in particular is what they’d go for.”

Linux Gets Legs

Industry analyst Bill Claybrook, however, said if a Linux notebook runs well-integrated and useful applications — accessing the Internet, using e-mail and creating documents and other data — it is a “great idea at $700.”

“The only thing about Linux on the notebook or the desktop is it has to be able to provide enough applications so people can actually do something with it,” Claybrook told LinuxInsider. “It’s got to provide enough capabilities for people to think it’s useful.”

Lindows, currently under legal fire from Microsoft over its trademark in U.S. and foreign courts, said the U.S.-bound computers come complete with the Lindows laptop operating system, which features power management, WiFi card compatibility and keyboard shortcuts to browser and e-mail programs.

Mobile Alternative

Powered by an AMD 1400+ processor with 128 MB of onboard memory that can be upgraded to 640 MB of DDR RAM, the Linux laptop has a 2.5-inch hard drive that comes in sizes up to 80 GB. The six-pound notebook, which also has built-in WiFi support and a 14-inch screen, comes with a DVD dual drive, four USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter. Lindows is marketing it as “an affordable choice for mobile computing.”

“Preloading our notebook with a Linux operating system like Lindows OS Laptop Edition is an example of our commitment to our customers to offer quality yet economical IT products,” said EliteGroup general manager of mobile PC business Wilson Lan.

Lindows and EliteGroup of Taiwan — the top nation shipping laptops worldwide, with 18.4 million expected to be shipped in 2004 — is among a variety of technology providers rushing to the mobile market, which now accounts for half of the PC market. The mobile-computing market is generally credited with driving the entire space last year.

Kay said that while some component shortages in notebook parts — such as drives or flat panels — are holding notebook prices steady, mobile computers will continue to drive the PC market for some time to come.

Grand Proliferation of Products

Claybrook, who said the Linux laptop is a solid alternative for users who want to perform basic computing and Internet functions, added that Windows users typically have to upgrade their software at a higher cost than Lindows users, who have access to the company’s Click-N-Run warehouse and installation software.

Kay, however, said he doubts whether users will be lured away from a known, accepted operating system to Linux just because of price.

“I don’t think a hundred bucks is enough to move people off a known platform and get them to a new one, even if it’s got some neat features,” Kay said.

“I don’t think it’s a terrific match,” he added, regarding Linux on the laptop. “But certainly at this time, with the grand proliferation of products, there’s no reason to think they couldn’t sell a few of those, too.”

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