CES - New Cloudbook joins Linux ultra-mobile fray

Tiny laptops rush to market -- and this Ubuntu-based model's going to Wal-Mart

Another US$400, 2-lb. Linux-based mini-laptop will be arriving in Wal-Mart stores in the US by the end of this month to rival the Eee, AsusTek Computer's ultraportable.

The key differences for the upcoming CloudBook from Taiwanese PC maker Everex are that it sports a faster processor, a Ubuntu-based version of Linux and a conventional hard disk drive that's large enough for users to install Windows XP and Microsoft Office on it if they want, according to information released by Everex on Wednesday.

Otherwise, many of CloudBook's features are similar to those in the Eee, of which more than 350,000 have been sold since fall. Like the current Eee, the CloudBook is about 9 in. long and sports a 7-in. widescreen LCD screen with 800 by 480 pixels. Its keyboard is similar in size to the Eee's.

And like the Eee, it comes with 512MB of RAM, built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, preinstalled software including OpenOffice 2.3 and Firefox, and Web links to Google Documents, Wikipedia and YouTube.

The CloudBook will be available January 25 at Wal-Mart stores and WalMart.com, as well as online retailers such as Newegg.com and Tiger Direct, Liu said.

Now tiny's not just chic, but cheap

PC makers have traditionally considered ultraportability a highly prized feature in a laptop -- and have charged accordingly.

But an emerging class of inexpensive ultramobile PCs is emerging, led by the Eee and the One Laptop Per Child's XO-1, many of which are being bought by adults for themselves rather than children.

There is even a report this week that a company led by the former chief technology officer of the OLPC project plans to build PCs it claims will cost as little as US$75.

Such computers rely on the use of a Linux operating system rather than Windows to enable low prices.

For instance, the CloudBook relies on the gOS Rocket platform created by Good OS, a Los Angeles open-source start-up. The Eee uses the Xandros flavor of Linux, and the XO operates on Fedora-based Linux.

According to David Liu, a 22-year-old recent graduate of UCLA who is the founder and CEO of the seven-person firm, the gOS offers a stripped-down interface -- perfect for users like him who prefer Google Docs over Microsoft Office.

"This is not the same as Windows Vista," he said. "The gOS has a different sort of value. It's for those who like to do their computing in the cloud."

Liu also described the Eee's Xandros interface, with its tabs and large icons (as shown in various YouTube videos), as being more "PDA-like" than the gOS.

Hard drive puts a spin on things

The CloudBook uses a 1.2-GHz Via processor, compared with the Eee's 900-MHz Intel Celeron processor. However, the Eee's BIOS currently lets it operate only at 600 MHz. The CloudBook will ship running at full speed, Liu confirmed.

Liu conceded that the CloudBook's faster processor is undercut by its hard drive. A conventional 30GB disk-based model that spins at 4,200 rpm, it's slower than that used in most laptop hard drives today. The hard drive is also more vulnerable to impact-related crashes and data loss than a solid-state flash drive, which has no moving parts. In contrast, the Eee and the XO both use flash memory.

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