The Hybrid FOSS/Proprietary System, and How It's Winning Hearts

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 10, 2008

I stumbled upon John Spencer's blog over at ComputerWorldUK. It seems he recently had a hand in deploying a few Eee Box desktops at a local school. Though these boxes run Windows, it doesn't mean they can't run a lot of powerful open source alternative applications along with any required proprietary ones, and he says, in some settings, this is the situation that works out best for everyone. As a Linux enthusiast, he was impressed with Splashtop, the Linux-based, instant-on option shipping with many netbooks.

But it's not only appearing on netbooks. And it's not only Linux enthusiasts who are impressed. I recently built a new computer for my husband and chose an ASUS motherboard. I didn't notice the Splashtop/ExpressGate feature when I ordered it (though I was aware that ASUS was planning to offer models with this feature). After the build, I installed and enabled the Splashtop instant-on mode, mainly for my curiosity. What's happened in the short time since gives pause to wonder.

Year of the Linux desktop? I don't know. Year of the instant-on Linux desktop? The Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin is on to something.

Though I've used Linux for years, my husband hasn't heard the call. He finds it intriguing as a concept, and he complains about certain annoying Windows traits he knows don't exist in a Linux environment. The longest he has ever used Linux? Forty-five minutes. He got caught up in a game (and the addictive music) of Frozen Bubble when he found I left a Knoppix liveCD in his computer once.

He wanted (nay, needed) the new desktop to play games. For now, that means Windows is usually, ultimately, where he ends up. I also thought that the Splashtop option would annoy him -- he turns on the computer, the Splashtop menu comes up before even the BIOS options, and asks if he'd like to launch Splashtop, go to the main operating system, or enter the BIOS. The time this prompt is displayed can be configured, as can the default options (for example, I've set it so that if there's no input in ten seconds, his machine boots Windows). It's automated, it's painless, but I thought it would be an extra step that would cramp his style.

The last three mornings I've found him "checking online real quick" in the five minutes or so he has before heading to work. Maybe that's only breaking down to fifteen minutes of use -- but that's fifteen minutes of using Linux in the last three days, as opposed to forty-five minutes in the previous eight years.

He likes the heftier processor and better graphics on his new machine, but he expected that. He didn't expect to say that Splashtop makes what was planned to be simply a "fun" rig something useful, convenient -- and more fun. It isn't so much that Splashtop has a wide range of applications -- it's that the ones that are included (browser, chat, IM, Skype, and a few others) are the ones you most often want to get to quickly. On this machine, Splashtop is up and running in about seven seconds.

For many, this feature will be their first real introduction to Linux. They may not realize they're using Linux -- at least, not at first, and for some, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Splashtop is fast, it's nicely laid out and it works. It can't do everything that a "bigger" distribution does, of course, but that's fine. The applications and services it means to deliver are delivered well. Even those who aren't warm to any type of technology can't help but appreciate that.