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Linux wedges itself into notebook motherboards

© January 2009 Anthony Lawrence

ASUS motherboards and some others are imbedding Splashtop Linux in flash to give an "instant on" option with web applications ready to go: Firefox, Skype etc.

This is obviously appealing, both for the quick access access to the web when you are out wandering with your notebook, but also for security concerns when you've joined an open network at some coffee shop.

Obviously a firmware based OS can be still be hacked and apparently some of that has happened already. Joining open networks will probably always carry some risk.

More important, I think, is that this will give some people their first exposure to Linux. That's both good and bad: it's good that they'll get to see that Linux is simple and non-threatening, but it could be bad that the app versions are out of date. Their browser is based on Firefox 2, for example. The user can't upgrade that; you'd have to wait for a firmware update for the motherboard to include something newer. That can also lead to security issues.

There will also be the issue that many users won't realize that they can use this to check mail, either because their company doesn't have a webmail interface or because they have something like Exchange where the webmail needs IE. There are web based services like Mal2web.com that would allow that access, but many users may not know to look for such services, so they won't use the Splashtop at all.

They could also get their company to upgrade to a better mail server like Kerio that provides webmail for almost any browser platform.

Overall, I think Splashtop and others like it are likely to help Linux acceptance. I would think that most users would realize that something built into flash like this isn't going to be as full featured as a full OS install. I think it might be helpful if there was some notice that mentioned that and if they included bookmarks for some useful links like the mail2web sites.

Of course there will also be a fair pile of users who won't even realize that this is Linux. From a security point of view, that could be dangerous also - known exploits could exist and these folks might never hear about them at all. Maybe the Splashtop folks should have the browser home page go right to an information and firmware updates page? Maybe they already do: the only way to see what Splashtop really looks like is to own a machine that uses it - I wasn't about to buy a new notebook just for this post!

Splashtop lists Blackbox as their window manager; see their open source components page for more.

There's probably going to be a lot more of this. It can only get better.

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Thu Jan 8 00:32:17 2009: 5098   BrettLegree

That's right - it can only get better.

Exposure, experience, education will all help. I've been showing people at work that Linux works perfectly on our standard laptop (Ubuntu, via the Wubi installer so I don't have to repartition the drive and tick off IT too much...)

And last week, while playing around with the laptop, my wife asked me why I had put an Ubuntu sticker on it. I was explaining it to her and she said, "I'll never use Linux", so I said, "Well, you're very active on the web - Facebook and so forth - you probably already *have* been using Linux because a lot of stuff is hosted on Linux servers."

...of course she said "Geek!" and walked out of the room :)

I've been called worse.

Thu Jan 8 12:46:21 2009: 5099   TonyLawrence

Admit it: you know she's right.

Thu Jan 8 12:59:26 2009: 5101   BrettLegree

Yeah, you're right. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but it's for the best :)

Thu Jan 8 14:29:42 2009: 5102   BigDumbDInosaur

Better she called you geek instead of a few other appellations. <Grin>

Thu Jan 8 14:32:26 2009: 5103   BrettLegree

Heh heh, I've been called a few of those once or twice before!

Thu Jan 8 18:32:32 2009: 5107   MikeHostetlerm

Does anyone else see the irony of having to use IE to access Webmail?? I've been telling people for years that Exchange is over=priced junk, this is just another piece of evidence.

I think the Splashtop notebook is a grand idea. most people only deal with the web anyway.

Thu Jan 8 18:36:36 2009: 5108   TonyLawrence

Apparently Microsoft misses the irony.

But Microsoft tends more to creation of irony than ever undertstanding it.


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