Opinion: Year of the penguin

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Opinion: Year of the penguin

It’s taken the confluence of several disparate but connected events to create the perfect breeding ground for desktop versions of Linux to finally flourish.

Firstly, credit where it’s due, Apple’s decision to switch to a Unix core proved that you didn’t need to be a geek and/or a master of the command line interface to enjoy the benefits of Bell Labs’ near 40-year-old gaming platform. You could now watch the pretty pictures with the click of a mouse and have no need to know what was under the covers of MacOS X.

And of course, credit to über-geek Linus Torvalds for rescuing Unix from the litigators arguing over who owns which bit of what was once basically free anyway. Your correspondent purchased the full source code for Unix, on magnetic tape of course, for US$1 back in 1980.

You were allowed to do that then if you worked for an academic institution and Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education qualified. (For the academic trivia buffs out there, KCAE is now part of UTS, which was itself previously known as NSWIT. Expansion of acronyms is left as an exercise for the reader.)

But it was penguin-loving Linus who engineered the return to freedom of the judicially-enslaved Unix. It wasn’t long before the obvious strengths of Linux were deployed in back room servers – along with all the other ugly sisters of the operating system family.

Nice and dependable, doesn’t stay out too late catching viruses or crashing the whole server though the nearest Windows. But way too ugly to appear alongside pretty desktops like WinXP and MacOS X.

Even after the plentiful application of lipstick to Linux, desktop users remained unconvinced and stuck with the familiar, although blatantly porcine and promiscuous WinXP. And then Apple made another move, this time in hardware, which inadvertently accelerated the eventual acceptance of desktop Linux.

Apple’s Mac Mini and iMac boxes showed that you didn’t need a tower of power taking up all the room under your desk, belching heat like a simmering volcano with fans roaring like a Lear jet on final approach.

What was needed to complete the picture was another vendor, one that would take the lipstick-enhanced Linux and shovel it into compact low-price no-frills computing appliances.

ASUS stepped up to the challenge, firstly by almost single-handedly inventing a new category of computing now known as “netbooks”, and then following it up with a paper-back book-sized desktop and an all-in-one iMac-style monitor with embedded computer. Of course, to get this show airborne rather than just cruising up and down the runways, they needed Intel to ship its long-awaited Atom CPU.

Now the world will soon have available true low-cost computing with zero-cost software in three different form factors to suit almost any situation. Of course, you can also run WindowsXP on these modern miracles of miniaturisation but why would you bother?

Surely the next item on the ASUS agenda must be a one-unit high rack mountable server version, and since there’s no optical disc in any of the ASUS offerings, who will be the first vendor to offer a NAS box with a shared Blu-ray drive hidden inside? Just the thing for whole of office updates for the hordes of Eee PCs.

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