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Insanely Great Linux Devices?

Insanely Great Linux Devices?

I'm waiting for Linux's Steve Jobs to arrive.

You know what I mean? A person who can take this technology and turn it into some amazing consumer products. "Insanely Great" products.

"Insanely Great" was what Steve demanded of his engineers at Apple when they created the Mac together. "Insanely Great" meant that it was so advanced it was easy. It was better than anything the competition was doing by far.

Linux is capable now of being used to build insanely great machines. I know it is. I've seen what so many people are doing with Linux; I'm convinced of it.

But to do so will require a complete change of mindset.

For example, I recently reviewed the book Linux Toys: 13 Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment by Christopher Negus and Chuck Wolber (ISBN 0764525085). In it were a bunch of really cool, nerdy projects like building a digital video recorder, or a digital jukebox, or digital picture frame display out of old computers running Linux and free/open source software.

Another really neat project was to build a full featured voice mail system with multiple mailboxes, the ability to check your voice mail over the Internet, and automatic e-mailing of voice messages to your e-mail box.

The only problem was that they were all cobbled together with whatever parts happened to be lying around; they took hours to build; and they took pretty deep knowledge to make them work. (Of course, if you're a computer nerd like me then that's just a pretty decent way to kill a few hours over a weekend...)

Regardless of how clunky they may be, they are still all actual, working devices. They're consumer electronics with advanced features, but primative form and style.

But now combine these ideas with some of the great innovations happening in porting Linux to custom hardware platforms and things start to look a little different.

For example, Cyclades is now selling a small console server that's a Linux-based device about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Another example is the Motorola A760 cell phone. Both of these are custom pieces of hardware that run Linux, are easy to use, and have stability requirements far beyond the average Windows-based PC. Both of these also offer feature sets that are far beyond similar, non-Linux-based products.

What would happen if we were to combine these ideas? We'd get Linux-based consumer electronics that are easy to use, are highly stable, and have capabilities far beyond other products.

For example, what if someone created a custom device the size of an iPod with 50 Gig of hard drive space, a built-in wireless network connection, a voice modem, and an embedded Linux distribution?

Then you could have a high-end voice mail system that you could simply plug your phone line into and configure from a browser on your desktop. It could send your voice messages to you via e-mail and archive years worth of old messages if you wanted it to.

Now, that would be insanely great.

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

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