So I’d gotten together with my family again, for a huge outing to a nearby city. And while we were there, we decided to stop at an electronics superstore that I liked. “Finally!” I thought. “I can show my brother the new iMacs!”
As it turns out, he was totally aghast. Steve Jobs’ mind-control rays must not have been working on him, because he couldn’t figure it out; the Mac’s user interface made no sense to him, and he couldn’t believe how expensive the iMacs were for their specs. He liked Vista more than Leopard, at first glance, because at least he could make Windows Vista’s user interface look more like Windows XP’s.
Then he saw it … the Eee PC. Not one of the newer, larger ones, but an original tiny white one. And within seconds of trying it out, he was telling me that this under-$300 netbook was the machine for him.
But was it cute?
If by “cute” you mean tiny, then yes. It wasn’t even the size of a hardback book! Its screen took up only a small part of the top hinge, and its keys were minuscule. Sitting next to him at one of the larger Eees, I unfolded my Palm Pilot’s keyboard and showed it to him for comparison. About the size of a modern, bluetooth keyboard for smartphones, it lacked a number of keys, but the ones that it had were larger than on the Eee-board.
But if by “cute” you also mean adorable, then it was certainly that as well. My brother just couldn’t get over it. And while he was using it, a little girl ran up behind him and pointed at it and was like “That’s the one I want, Daddy!” And her dad was following behind her, and my brother didn’t even look embarrassed, because he was still playing with the Eee.
It had his favorite free office suite, OpenOffice.org. It even had tons of games installed, like Bos Wars, a futuristic real-time strategy game that really impressed him … especially for running on such a tiny machine. I got him to try out Planet Penguin Racer, and pretty soon he was laughing at how crazy it was: “I went off the track, and the poor penguin’s sliding across rocks on his belly!”
I looked back down at the larger Eee I was in front of, which had Windows XP preinstalled. It only had Pinball and Solitaire, and a handful of other basic games. And I realized that if I’d been that little girl’s age, I would’ve compared it with that Linux PC and thought Linux was the best gaming OS.
Wait … you mean it didn’t have Windows installed?
Nup. It was running a customized version of Linux. And how customized it was! The window borders looked exactly like the silver chrome theme in Windows XP, which was my brother’s favorite. And the user interface was less like a windowing OS’, and more like a game console’s … huge, brightly-colored icons, divided into tabs like “Internet,” “Work,” “Learn” and “Play.” Everything ran seamlessly and flawlessly, and was easy to figure out. And even though it was not running Windows it could play those awesome games, go on the Internet, and create, read and edit Microsoft Office-compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Check out this demo on Asus’ website!
I’m not sure how much typing you’d want to do on a machine that tiny. But a lot of people like the Asus Eee. And that little girl and my brother both were captivated by it.
My dad was trying to tell the little girl and her father that she didn’t want that machine … that she should be more interested in one of the PCs that was running Windows, because that was what they used at her school. But should it be? Linux is Free / Open-Source Software, which means that anyone can use it without having to pay anyone for it. Microsoft Windows is only made by Microsoft, and teaching kids in our public schools how to use it amounts to a government subsidy for Microsoft. Why aren’t we teaching our kids how to use Macs or Linux, especially when Linux comes pre-installed on such cute, kid-friendly computers? Does Bill Gates really need our school districts’ money?
Microsoft Windows may be installed on over 90% of computers right now, but times are changing. Vista continues to eat up Windows XP’s market share, but over the last year Macs experienced steady growth. If this trend continues, then by 2011 one in every ten computers connected to the Internet worldwide may well be a Mac. And by the time that little girl is an adult, it may be one in five. Likewise, Linux has also seen remarkable growth year-over-year, and unlike both Windows and Mac OS X Leopard it’s as free as the air. It can be loaded on anything, without either Bill Gates’ or Steve Jobs’ permissions, and without having to pay them out of school budgets.
So that’s the big picture view of things, and of non-Windows PCs finding their way into schools and electronics stores. And the small picture? Like the 7-inch screen on the Asus Eee that my brother was playing with?
The small picture is cute as a button, just like that little girl who adored it. And if that’s what the future of PCs is like, then I look forward to it!