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Editor's Note: Linux at the Consumer Electronics Show: MIA

Even Transmeta Shied Away from Linux

  • January 8, 2001
  • By Kevin Reichard

Sometimes we in the Linux world can be so obsessed with our own belly buttons that we do not see how the mainstream world approaches computing on all levels, whether it be a laptop used for business or the PC used for e-mail and Web browsing.

This was a lesson I learned this weekend after spending a busman's holiday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. I met up with two old friends who don't work in the computer world, but they both are interested in computing to the point where they thought CES sounded like a lot of fun.

And it was. If you've never been to CES, it's quite the hoopla: only COMDEX and CEBIT are bigger as far as trade shows go, and CES is unique in that it's geared as much for the walk-in attendee as for the computing-industry professional. Celebrities make appearances on behalf of vendors -- this year Nanci Griffith, Alan Parson, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter were all shilling a new satellite-radio service, while Wade Phillips was signing autographs for Motorola the day before he was fired as the coach of the Buffalo Bills -- but there's a lot of the show that has nothing to do with computing, like the car-stereo pavilion.

We in the Linux world take for granted that Linux will be a player in the consumer-electronics space, if only for the fact that it has many attributes that make it a good choice for embedded systems, speed and reliability being among them.

But judging by the vendors at CES, Linux isn't close to breaking into this space. There really was only one vendor that was pushing Linux at all, and that was Agenda, showing off the Agenda VR3 in the shadow of Palm Computing in the Palm Pavilion.

There were also many other vendors that were showing Linux-based devices but never let on that Linux was running under the hood. Tivo had a huge booth to show off the various models of the Tivo, while Tivo licensees Sony and Philips were showing off their Tivo devices. (A side note: Santa Claus delivered a new Tivo to the Reichard residence at Christmas -- the Tivo that is integrated with DirecTV service. The integration between Tivo and DirecTV is great, but the unit is slower than heck when you're scrolling the show listings or surfing between channels. Overall, I'm OK with it, but the slowness is frustrating.) ZapMedia was showing off its Linux-based ZapStation, which will play CDs and DVDs, streaming audio/video, as well as allow you to surf the Web and watch cable TV. Again, no mention of Linux here.

More disappointing was the Transmeta booth, where the firm that employs Linus Torvalds put a lot of time showing off Windows-based subnotebooks from the likes of Hitachi. These subnotebooks are for the Japanese market, but my brief hands-on testing didn't reveal anything unique about them (which isn't surprising; one cannot determine long battery life based on a short experience at a trade show). Still, not having a single Linux-based machine at the Transmeta booth is a kick in the teeth to the Linux world..

So there you have it. As far as consumer electronics go, Linux still has a ways to go before it's a player in this space. While Linux has a lot of attributes that make it a contender in consumer electronics, the Linux industry really needs to take a good look at what goes into successful consumer electronics -- ease of use, reliability, attractive price points -- and then make the appropriate adjustments.

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