Stephen Fry — one of my favorite bloggers on the planet — has been running a series of columns explaining free/open source software to the world at large, and this week he took on the Asus Eee computer:
The Asus EEE PC perched on my knee combines GNU software with a Linux kernel powered by an Intel Celeron Mobile Processor to produce a very extraordinary little laptop. It weighs less than a kilogram, starts up from cold in about 12 seconds and shuts down in five. It has no internal hard disk and no CD drive. It offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a seven-inch display; wireless, dial-out modem and ethernet adaptors are available for networking and internet connections, three USB ports, mini-jack sockets for headphones and microphone, a VGA out, an SD card slot and a built-in webcam. All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London's West End.
When you press the EEE's power button, the lightning speed and quietness of boot-up tell you that you are in the hands of a solid state flash drive: no vulnerable moving parts and buzzing platters here. Within seconds a tabbed screen will appear on your display: the tabs are labelled Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. A click on each reveals a page containing bright, clear icons that relate to 40 separate applications and half a dozen or so selected web links. The applications include Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird (the Mozilla mail client) and OpenOffice.org, an Open Source suite of applications that allows you to create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. One of the pre-installed web links is to Google Docs, which lets you do the same MS Office compatible work online. This combination of "server side" applications and Open Source software is, rightly, scaring the heck out of Microsoft which is in danger of relying, in a few years' time, on its excellent Xbox games console for income and kudos, its domination of personal computing a rapidly diminishing memory. Well, I'm allowed to dream.