I have been holding off posting more information filtering through from the EEE camp until now. Most people are already aware that the 900 Series will be the second generation of the proven EEE brand from Asus. It uses the same form factor with some key differences in the hardware. Firstly, Asus have added a bigger (8.9″) at 1024×600 resolution TFT screen which is a welcome upgrade from the fairly anemic 700 series. On top of this, the screen will feature a touchscreen panel (previously added by a talented hardware hacker) despite Kevin Lin (VP Sales at ASUS) previously going on record dismissing the rumours that ASUS were looking into a touchscreen version. It is also likely the CPU will be upgraded although nothing concrete has been announced as well as rumours of GPS functionality in the future.
Not only that, but it appears multitouch, a technology highlighted by its wonderful implementation on the Apple iPhone, is also going to feature on the second generation laptop. This is likely to be limited to zooming in/out on photos as well as some page browsing tweaks. Apart from that, the 900 Series of EEE PC will also feature more flash memory (8 and 12Gb models being announced) as well as a hefty pricetag increase. According to ASUS, the RRP is likely to be around $500 when it starts to ship in a couple of months time.
Unfortunately, if what happened with the first generation EEE PCs repeats itself, we are likely to see the price tag of $50-80 more (especially in the UK and Europe.) The issue that concerns me here is that it slips out of the ultracheap ultraportable niche and starts to go head to head with cheap machines produced by the likes of Acer, Fujitsu Siemens and others. Whilst these machines are generally dreadfully underpowered, it is likely to dampen interest in the EEE 900 series which would be a shame.
UPDATE: An excellent video review from CeBIT2008 of the new EEE PC can be seen here.
Briefly I would also like to mention the EEE ‘desktop’ PC which has been rumoured for a while. Engadget are running a story with some leaked pictures purporting to be the EEE desktop, although ASUS have not confirmed such a product range is even in development let alone released any rough specifications. As an early prediction, I do not think these ‘slimline’ desktops will do particularly well. Laptops were a different story, they presented ‘light’ mobile computing without the encumbrances of price and weight. In a market filled with low power desktop PCs, the only thing that could make the EEE desktop systems competitive (and desirable) would be a crazily low price tag (~£100, maybe £160 tops) because otherwise they are simply trying to take a slice of another niche market which already has some hungry wolves circling.
In a somewhat strange move, Walmart announced that, despite selling out stock of their pilot gOS systems, they would not be reordering stock. This effectively means Walmart have shelved the idea, officially citing too little interest. This is a huge shame as what Linux desperately needs on the desktop is some degree of representation. Who better than a major national retailer?
Of course, there are other issues not often considered. Whilst a well configured linux distribution is generally far more hardy than a Windows system, tech support is a key issue. Retraining people to deal with a fringe group of users is likely to be a cost retailers would not happily swallow. This is compounded because these cheap linux desktops are literally that, cheap. This means (I assume) the product margins would be much thinner than traditional desktops. It would be a shame if this is goodbye for popular, mass adoption of Linux PCs and with any luck it is just a temporary stumble. PC World are still selling EEE PCs at incredible rates and with the new 900 Series EEE pc around the corner as well as other exciting F/OSS systems like the cloudbook PC.
If anything, working part time in retail for the last few years has shown me the incredible jump in the number of laptops (and sublaptops) being sold over traditional desktop PCs. This has been reflected in part by the astronomical interest in the EEE PC compared to the more casual interest that was paid to the gOS PC. If the desktop market is over-saturated or in decline then inevitably it will be bad news for any new products unless they completely revolutionise the market. Lets face it, the adoption of Linux on the desktop hardly comes close to being this, especially compared to the advances Apple keep making. Outside of tech blogs, casual geeks and developing nations, the interest is minimal at best with Joe Public preferring to stay safe with that he or she knows.
Saying this, the possibility of explosive growth for Linux on the portable (or ultraportable) is good. The EEE pc has not succeeded because it is a linux laptop. It has sold hundreds of thousands of units because it is cheap and ultra-small. The fact that it runs linux has almost been pushed to the background. I do however hope this emerging market for cheap, F/OSS powered systems market expands quickly in the coming months and years, to quote Betruger, “Wonderful things will happen here, just stay out of my way…”.