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Linux in Lilliput

Linux in Lilliput

"The vast majority of us can do with smaller and cheaper computers," said blogger Robert Pogson. "It's obvious to anyone that a smartphone is a PC for most purposes, and all we have to do is add a larger screen, a keyboard and printing to do just about anything possible with larger more expensive PCs. I have no doubt that the future holds mostly all-in-one PCs with everything in the keyboard or mouse."

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
11/29/12 5:00 AM PT

Well half a year has passed since Linux Girl last wrote about the invasion of the tiny, Linux-powered PCs, and she's delighted to report that the trend has shown no sign of slowing down.

No indeed!

"Tiny $57 PC is like the Raspberry Pi, but faster and fully open" is one headline that recently appeared, for example.

"Meet the PengPod, a 'true Linux' tablet starting at $120" is yet another.

There's no end in sight to the march of these diminutive, FOSS-powered devices, in other words, and Linux Girl wants to make sure the world sees what's going on. After all, it's nothing short of a revolution!

'The Trend All Along'

The Slashdot crowds are already all over the topic, of course, but Linux Girl took it upon herself recently to spread the word down at the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge.

"Computers getting smaller has been the trend all along, so anyone who thought there was a stopping point at laptops is a bit mistaken," opined Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien.

"My first computer was a mainframe," O'Brien explained. "My first personal computer was relatively large for the capabilities it gave me (it was an XT running DOS). We had 'luggables,' then portables, then laptops, then netbooks, tablets and phones, and now even smaller computers."

That's all good, but "the other point we need to keep in mind is that cutting down on the amount of rare earth elements we use, the amount of electricity we use to run them, and the amount of toxic waste we generate is good," he pointed out.

'A Smartphone Is a PC'

Indeed, "small cheap computers have been a theme of mine for years," chimed in blogger Robert Pogson.

"The space, resources and environmental damage associated with old-style ATX PCs has long been obsolete," Pogson explained. "We don't need that except in a few cases of very high throughput or huge storage."

Rather, "the vast majority of us can do with smaller and cheaper computers," he asserted. "It's obvious to anyone that a smartphone is a PC for most purposes, and all we have to do is add a larger screen, a keyboard and printing to do just about anything possible with larger more expensive PCs.

"I have no doubt that the future holds mostly all-in-one PCs with everything in the keyboard or mouse," Pogson added.

'The Digital Divide Has Been Crossed'

Moore's Law has "obviously brought us to this day when IT can be freed from the enormous costs of maintaining large, expensive, thick clients," Pogson explained. "Wintel has fought this tooth and nail, but Intel hedged its bets by supporting GNU/Linux, more or less.

"Even M$ is now looking at ARM, a smaller and cheaper CPU," he added.

"By cutting out the Wintel monopoly-pricing that has burdened IT for decades, using */Linux on ARM, we escape the ludicrous situation where the CPU and the software licenses are 90 percent of the cost of hardware," Pogson said.

That, in turn, means that "the digital divide has been crossed," he added. "Education can now afford to incorporate IT just as the world does at home and at work. Young people have a lower cost of entry into the world of IT and small businesses and emerging economies are on a more level playing field in the global economy."

Bottom line? "It's all good," Pogson concluded.

'There's a Compromise We Can Reach'

"Tablets with true Linux would be great," opined Gonzalo Velasco C., a blogger on Google+.

"I think they would open the door for users to get what they want from FLOSS, and what Android (even not being Apple or Microsoft) doesn't offer: real freedom to mess around with your system in the hardware you have paid for," he explained.

"I am not a tablet person, myself -- I'm more likely to buy some truly amazing mini computer, like the Raspberry Pi or the incredible 'PC on a USB stick' and similar to get real power. I have enough low power with my netbook, I'm afraid."

Still, "I think there's a compromise we can reach somewhere in between economy (both of energy and money) and usefulness (that means CPU power)," Gonzalo Velasco C. concluded. "But so far, those are really amazing inventions."

'Linux Is a Good Fit'

Similarly, "it should be interesting to see what sort of innovations will arrive in the future, since having an embedded processor is available cheaply to even moderately skilled hobbyists," noted consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

And again: "This is one of the areas I've always said Linux is a good fit," agreed Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "After all, you don't have to worry about drivers getting broken (because it's embedded and therefore won't be getting updates or new devices like printers plugged into it) and because it's a 'one off,' it can be custom built from the ground up to run quite well on the device."

The only real problem hairyfeet sees for Linux in this niche is Android, he told Linux Girl.

'I'd Choose Android'

"I have a feeling for every Linux mini you find you'll end up with a dozen Android mini devices, simply because more people will know the Android name and be familiar with the layout and UI, thus more likely to buy when they see the green droid vs. the fat penguin," he explained.

"I've already seen several sub-$100 netbooks running Android on ARM chips, and if we don't see the same rise in the mini plug PCs of Android, I'll be quite surprised," hairyfeet said. "After all, Android ICS has a VERY pleasant UI, it has hundreds of thousands of apps, you get to have it free just like Linux, but can take advantage of the marketing muscle Google has put into Android.

"I know if I were to choose a plug PC for a member of my family and was given a choice of an Android or a Linux, I'd choose the Android without a second thought -- it'll have more apps and be better supported."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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