Open-PC: A Piece of Junk, or Got It Where It Counts?

It’s a rare day indeed that doesn’t see some new computer technology or other roll out of the starting gates, but when that technology is called the “Open-PC,” Linux Girl can’t help but sit up and pay attention.

Sure enough, the Open-PC is billed as the first PC for everyday use “built by the Linux community for the Linux community,” and it uses only free software. The energy-efficient machine uses “100 percent free drivers,” and phone and email support are included in its 359 euros price, as is a donation to the KDE project.

Also featuring an Atom N330 1.6GHz dual-core processor, 3 GB RAM, a 160 GB hard disk, an ASRock mainboard and a 250-watt power supply, the alluringly titled PC is due to be available at the end of February.

‘I’d Rather Get a Mac’

Slashdot bloggers were among the first to pick up on the exciting news early last week, chiming in with more than 450 comments by Friday. Their verdict? The Open-PC may not be the answer to Linux geeks’ prayers after all — at least not in its current form.

“The prices approach the price of Apple hardware,” noted Anonymous Coward, for example. “I’d rather get a Mac and run Linux on an open source VM.”

Similarly: “I’d rather get an ASRock Ion 330 for over 100 quid less,” agreed fuzzix.

And again: “I wanted to buy a Free PC, but I couldn’t afford it,” quipped Anonymous Coward.

‘Better Than Paying the Windows Tax’

Indeed, the message was remarkably consistent among the Slashdot crowd. Yet given the frequency with which drivers are held up as a sticking point that prevents broader Linux adoption, Linux Girl couldn’t resist digging a little deeper. Is there *no* chance this thing could help advance the Linux desktop?

“Anything is better than paying the Windows tax, although I wish they had come up with a cheap regular PC as well as the low power one,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

The enthusiasm only went down from there.

“The price is awful,” said Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “That’s (US)$500, and you still need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc, so throw in another $150 for a ‘desktop’ with terrible performance.”

‘This Will Go Nowhere Fast’

For the same $500, one could buy a dual-core 2 GHz laptop, Hudson told LinuxInsider, “so the ‘monitor’ is included, as are the keyboard, webcam, mouse, speakers, b/g/n wireless, and even a UPS … Oh, and more RAM (4 gigs) and a bigger hard disk (250 gigs). And this is including the Microsoft Tax for Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.”

For less money, in fact — “about $450 — anyone can get a MUCH better machine,” Hudson asserted.

In short, “this is something that will go nowhere fast, and anyone who does buy one will be disappointed with the performance,” she predicted.

‘Video Will Be Just Painful’

“That is a ripoff,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet agreed. “Look at the specs!

“I’m sure most won’t even notice that this is the Atom that does NOT support multimedia in hardware, so video watching on this thing will just be painful,” he told LinuxInsider. “The Intel IGP I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, as I’ve found that getting them to even draw a decent-sized desktop display is like watching someone hang wallpaper.”

Compiz, meanwhile, “would probably be just awful,” he predicted, and — finally — “for less than that you could buy one of the AMD Neo-based netbooks, which is also low power, and thanks to AMD opening up their specs should be just as ‘free’ with the exception of the wireless, which you may need to use the classic NDISWrapper for, I’m not sure.”

‘It’s Not Truly Open’

Indeed, the Open-PC is not even as open as it sounds, Slashdot blogger GNUAlmafuerte told LinuxInsider.

“The openpc is nothing,” GNUAlmafuerte asserted. “It’s regular hardware, with regular free software, in a regular casing, assembled by three kids in their garage.

“It doesn’t have an open Bios, so it’s not truly open,” GNUAlmafuerte added. “I don’t know why it keeps receiving media attention. There are computers with THE SAME SPECS being sold by Dell.”

The machine “reminds me of when companies would put their older and out-of-date hardware in a box and slap Linux on it,” hairyfeet said. “Having an underpowered and expensive netbox slap Linux on it really doesn’t do Linux any favors.

“All in all, I would say this is just another company trying to make profits on underpowered cheap hardware by sticking a ‘FLOSSie’ banner on it,” hairyfeet concluded.

Why Not ARM?

The use of Atom for a non-Windows system makes no sense, Slashdot blogger Robert Bradbury opined. Rather, ARM would have been a much better choice, he told LinuxInsider.

“ARMs are designed from the outset as open platforms,” Bradbury explained. “They license a design, rather than a chip based on proprietary hardware/factory capabilities.

“Given the ’emergency’ upgrades to IE & MAC OS in just the last couple of days, one can see the problems that closed source (software or hardware) causes,” he pointed out.

‘The Details Will Cause Failure’

Then there’s the fact that “matching a 250W power supply with an Atom processor is insane,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. “Anyone wanting a machine with similar capabilities can do much better.”

It is “good that the OEM is considering FLOSS and choosing hardware with FLOSS drivers, but they could have chosen ARM and been much more competitive on price,” Pogson asserted.

So, while the Open-PC may be a good concept, “the details will cause failure, I am afraid,” he predicted. “There is no particular price advantage with the components chosen.”

In the long run, then, “I doubt that this will have much impact on Wintel or FLOSS,” Pogson concluded.

A Higher End

Of course, whether this particular PC succeeds or fails may be beside the point, at least when you take the project’s goals into consideration.

Using surveys to collaboratively decide on the machine’s key specs — and delivering a tangible, FOSS-based product just six months after the project’s launch — are nothing to be sneezed at, whatever your opinion of the result.

Linux Girl looks forward to seeing what the Open-PC project will produce next.

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