Ultra-mobile PC using gOS Linux
January 8, 2008 -- Everex was founded in 1983 in California and has an interesting past in graphics cards, hard drives, tape backups and early PCs. In 1993, Everex was acquired by a Taiwanese company, dabbled in Windows CE devices (including the FreeStyle Palm-size PC), then switched to more mainstream notebooks and desktops. Ever interested in new technologies, products and form factors, in January of 2008, Everex announced the Everex CloudBook, a rather unconventional notebook running the gOS, a Linux distribution based on the very popular Ubuntu Linux. Somewhat liberally using the term, Everex calls the CloudBook an Ultra-Mobile PC even though it's a clamshell and not a small tablet as are the "official" UMPCs that follow the Microsoft-mandated form factor.
The CloudBook has a footprint of 9.1 x 6.75 inches and is 1.16 inches thick. It weighs just two pounds. Mobile computing historians have seen this size machine before in the Windows CE-based "Jupiter" H/PC Pro handhelds around the turn of the century (like the HP Jornada 820 or the NEC MobilePro 800). There are also some "real" Windows-based micro notebooks in this class, none of which ever managed to become mainstream products.
Everex seeks to change that by using a different approach. The CloudBook uses an ultra-low-voltage 1.2GHz VIA C7-M processor, a chip that would struggle to run a modern Windows implementation and especially Windows Vista. However, Linux has far fewer resource requirements and has no problem at all running in a VIA-powered notebook with 512MB of DDR2 RAM (1GB max) and a 4200RPM 30GB PATA hard disk.
But don't think the CloudBook is totally basic. It does have integrated 802.11b/g WiFi, a 10/100 LAN jack, two USB 2.0 ports, audio in/out, a DVI-I port for digital video, a 4-in-1 memory card reader and even a 1.3 megapixel webcam. Its 4-cell Lithium-Ion battery is said to power the CloudBook for up to five hours. The display measures seven inches diagonally and uses the 800 x 480 pixel wide format. For navigation there is a touchpad, though you can, of course, plug in a mouse.
Everex chose the gOS assembled by Los Angeles-based Good OS LLC. gOS is described as "an alternative OS with Google Apps and other WEB 2.0 apps for the modern user." It's based on the Ubuntu 7.1 Linux distribution but replaces the usual KDE or Gnome user interface with the more streamlined and memory-efficient "Enlightenment" desktop. What you get with gOS is all the usual free software, but also nicely packaged access to emerging "Web 2.0" applications from Google. The web-based apps include Google Mail, News, Calendar, Maps, Docs and so on. Those are web-based applications that often save data on a Google servers instead of, or in addition to, locally. Desktop software includes the OpenOffice suite that can create Office-compatible files, as well as the Firefox browser, email, graphics, a music and video player and lots of utilities. To learn more about gOS, which you can also download for free and install on any machine, go to the gOS website.
Everex will sell the CloudBook through Walmart which is already selling very inexpensive Linux-based Everex desktops. It will cost US$399 and become available on January 25th, 2008. John Lin, the general manager of Everex, said, "With the launch of the new CloudBook our vision remains the same: Provide mainstream users with their favorite applications wrapped in a no-compromise, low-cost, consumer friendly product."
It should be interesting to see how well the CloudBook does in the marketplace. Being sold at Walmart is a tremendous advantage due Walmart stores being practically everywhere. The US$399 price is certainly lower than the list price of almost all Windows notebooks, but bargain hunters can often find something in that price range at chains like Office Depot, Staples, or Office Max.
The bigger question is whether non-computer-savvy customers will take to Linux or shy away from anything not running Windows. Linux is rock-solid, totally free, and there is free software for just about everything. Getting used to that concept, and the fact that everything is downloaded rather than installed via a CD or DVD (the CloudBook, of course, does not have an optical drive), requires a bit of an adjustment. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer