Acer, the world's third-largest PC maker, believes that Linux software is a key to the low-cost laptop computer movement and hopes to create a community around the devices, a top executive said.
Several of the new low-cost laptops announced recently come either with Microsoft Windows XP or with a Linux OS, and other Linux programs. Acer, for example, developed One Page, a homepage for the laptop that pops up before the OS loads so people can start navigating through their computer more quickly. One Page offers quick access to music, messaging software, games, the Internet, and more.
"We really need to continue our journey on Linux," said Jim Wong, senior corporate vice president at Acer, in an interview. "We can develop it more and we will try to develop alliances with more partners. Linux is a lonely word. We need to try to create a community," he added.
The call to develop a Linux community around low-cost laptops appears to be a swipe at Microsoft.
The Linux push in low-cost laptops highlights the battles PC makers face with Microsoft to persuade it to keep supporting Windows XP, an OS the software giant would like to retire in favor of Windows Vista. Vista is a problem because it requires more expensive components than XP, which would raise the price of a low-cost laptop.
Linux is cheaper for several reasons, including easy hardware requirements and there is no license fee paid for the OS. Microsoft doesn't like to lose ground to any software rival, and has worked hard to make XP as available as possible, even tweaking the OS to run on the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's XO laptop. Despite the efforts, an XP license still makes such laptops more expensive than Linux models. In addition, some companies have complained about Microsoft rules requiring them to use XP only in notebooks that fit certain requirements, such as limiting the biggest screen size to 10 inches and not allowing touchscreens.
Acer on Tuesday launched its first ever mini-notebook for the low-cost space, the Aspire one. The US$399 to $499 mini-laptop is aimed at people who want an inexpensive, convenient mobile device they can take anywhere and use to surf the Internet wirelessly.
Other Taiwanese companies are working with Linux. Asustek Computer (Asus) offers both Linux and Windows XP versions of its popular Eee PC, the device that kicked off the trend to commercialize low-cost laptops. The company expects to sell 2 million Eee PCs with the Linux OS this year.
It's also trying out its Express Gate Linux software in some laptop PC models now and will put it in all laptops in the future. Similar to Acer's software, Express Gate bypasses the OS at start up and goes directly to a start-up screen offering direct Net access, game playing, or access to music or other files in just five seconds.
In Asustek's F8V laptop on display at Computex, Express Gate was running with the Windows OS.
Taiwan's Micro-Star International (MSI) is also offering a Windows XP version and a Linux version of its low-cost laptop. The Linux version of MSI's Wind mini-laptop, at US$399, is much less expensive than the $499 Windows XP model.
Acer is banking on Linux for a lot of its Aspire one sales. The mini-laptop only carries Linux right now, but a Windows XP version will be available by the time the laptop launches in early July, Wong said.
"But in our marketing, our main message to users is about Linux because the experience is more real, it is more vivid," he said.