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Can Alex bring Linux to the masses?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:18 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

Imagine this as a business plan.

You're a small start-up, and you want to introduce millions of people to computing for the first time. You also aim to transform the way computers are sold, persuading people to subscribe to software as a service with regular monthly payments.

Oh, and finally you want to take on a rather bigger rival - Microsoft - and persuade the world that there's a better, easier way of personal computing.

That essentially is what a company called the Broadband Computer Company has in mind with its Alex computer - and if this outrageously ambitious plan succeeds, it could play an important role in bringing Linux-based operating systems to a much wider public.

When you sign up to Alex you are buying a whole package rather than a computer. The idea is that a newcomer to computing gets a laptop, a broadband connection, access to software on the Alex servers, and technical support - for a monthly fee of £39.95 for two years.

And at the heart of the project is Linux, or at least the Ubuntu variant of the open source operating system coupled with a desktop designed by Alex's own developers.

When I met the two founders of the business, Andy Hudson and Harry Drnec, they both stressed that personal experience had taught them that there was a huge demand for an easier entry to computing. Mr Hudson said he was a late but enthusiastic adopter:

Andy Hudson"I was 50 years old when someone gave me a computer," explained Mr Hudson, who is now 63.

"I got into it very quickly but I got frustrated... eventually I got to the point where I wondered what a computer would be like if it was designed by a human."

Andy and Harry say you shouldn't have to understand what makes a computer work - any more than you need to understand the technical specifications of a fridge to use it.

So Alex is designed to do the basics - web, e-mail, documents, photos - rather than anything very sophisticated.

The hardware itself is not at all high-end and the Alex team tells me that in tests on computers that are five- or six-years-old, their software has worked fine.

The Broadband Computer Company, which is based in Newcastle, has been working on this project for three years, and didn't immediately adopt a Linux solution - in fact, the first big trial was based on Windows.

But the company's Chief Technology Officer Barney Morrison-Lyons says that was never going to be the right route:

"The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software - the operating system allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux."

Now comes the difficult bit, selling Alex to people who know nothing about computers - and may think this system sounds pretty expensive.

And while they won't know that it's a Linux machine, that may put off those friends and relatives who are always ready with advice.

The company says it's already heard from one customer who tried the system and loved it, but was persuaded that he had to have a Windows machine by his son because that was all he understood.

With the government in a drive to get millions of the digitally-excluded online, the company hopes its computer can play a part.

But Andy Hudson says it's made no headway so far: "We've tried but you'd think they all worked for Microsoft," he explains, making clear his disgruntlement.

It sounds like Alex has a steep hill to climb. But in Harry Drnec it has a man who's used to taking on corporate giants. He joined the loss-making Red Bull energy drink business in the UK and transformed it into a hugely profitable business.

"With Red Bull we battled Coca Cola." he told me, insisting that Alex could battle Microsoft - although making it clear that the eventual aim was to sell up to a bigger player. "We're the little guy but we're the good guys. We do have something of value and we will get it out there."

So far Linux has mainly been used by people who know a lot about computers and care deeply about open-source software. Now we'll find out whether it can be sold to people who know little and care less about software - but just want an easy route to the web.

We'll also find out whether the Linux community will welcome them in. Earlier this week a message on this blog from someone called "linuxrich" said this:

"Far too often, people get their hands on gadgets (Including PCs!) that they think they need but have no idea how to use properly and have no inclination to learn to use and look after. To be fair, this is due to the way such things are sold. You can pick up a bewildering array of tech items at your nearest supermarket these days, as a consumer/commodity item. PCs, high end smart phones and the like are complicated tools. It's a shame they're not sold as such."

The message there seems to be the exact opposite of the philosophy of the Alex project. So who's got it right - are computers complicated tools that should only be approached by trained professionals, or should approaching them be no more intimidating than opening the fridge door?


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  • Comment number 1.

    Although I like Alex's idea, I am afraid it won't work based on the fact that a monthly fee of £39.95 for two years is too much. I would recommend any computer novice to buy a £1k Mac instead.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am not completely anti Microsoft, we wouldnt be where we are today with Computers if it wasnt for them, though I guess someone else would probably have picked up the chalice.

    I am definately for not spending money where I dont have to, so for instance, my own Company is in the process of moving away from Microsoft Office. As and when we have to buy a new PC or Laptop, we do not buy MS Office, we use Open Office.

    But this article confuses me, and I am really not sure how the business model will work. So here are the choices.

    1) Buy a Laptop or Desktop from Dell or others for circa £500, it will come with Windows Operating System or Linux if you prefer, pre installed, and in some cases will include an MS Office Licence. If not, you either buy one circa £200, or download Open Office. This PC will likely run fault free for a couple of years for a general user, and even if it doesnt will have a 1 or 2 year service warranty with it.

    2) Pay £40 a month on a 2 year contract, so £960, for a low spec PC, that you can only use if your connectivity to the Internet is uninterupted. So unlikely to work on the Train, or on the back seat of the car, or the beach if you so desire :-}}

    3) If you are tech savvie and just want to get away from MS, then buy a low end Laptop or PC for £300-400, download a Linux OS and one of the better Desktop tools,and put on Open Office, Firefox and Thunderbird and away you go.

    Well they do say more is less, and great guns to these guys if they can get their Customer base up. But personally, I dont get it.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting but an expensive way to run a computer. For all the arguments against Microsoft, there is more software written for it than any other OS, and much of it is free.
    As one who is partially sighted and needs accessibility software, how does this system perform. Can it run a screen reader or enlarging software?.

  • Comment number 4.

    > "The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software - the operating system allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux."

    You lost my interest at that point. I've seen plenty of badly written software on both of those platforms. The platform can't protect you from that.

  • Comment number 5.

    Competion is healthy and drives technology forward so anyone that takes on Microsoft, i wish them well.

  • Comment number 6.

    A managed Linux desktop is the way to reduce costs and increase access - Alex seem have found a way of making this more expesnive than a bog standard windows hosted desktop as a service.

    At the end of the day linux will feel like a utility desktop compared to Windows - right or wrong - it needs to be priced and pitched accordingly. A Ford Fiesta of computing please to widen access - but not at these prices. Take a look at what the developing economies are doing to produce low cost solutions.

  • Comment number 7.

    I must say, I'm very intrigued by Alex. However, the costs are just simply astronomical. And, when they say 'Technical Support' is that telephone support that is free or is it a premium rate line, or web based support, or even a list of FAQ's on a website?

    After 11 years working in the IT sector I'm all for making the approach to computing easier, however I'm not so sure that charging people a rather large fee to do so is the way forward. You have to think that schools, colleges and learning centres across the UK now offer free places on computer courses that start from scratch and are specifically designed for beginners, regardless of the operating system.

  • Comment number 8.

    £40 a month including Broadband connection!!! Doesnt sound that bad so long as the connection speed is OK. Also if you can use that broadband connection for any other PC's you already have probably not a bad deal at all...

    If the Broadband connection is only available to their low spec PC then they will be cutting their own throats, as most households have at least 1 PC their main market would be for households who require an extra PC and in the process change broadband supplier.

  • Comment number 9.

    At 09:55am on 19 Feb 2010, SunUnited wrote:
    Although I like Alex's idea, I am afraid it won't work based on the fact that a monthly fee of £39.95 for two years is too much. I would recommend any computer novice to buy a £1k Mac instead.

    So instead of paying £960 for a pc including broadband you think they should pay £1000 for a Mac without broadband? I'm sticking with windows but this does seem like quite a good idea. If you take out the broadband cost (BT starting price £16) then it is only £24 a month so the price doesn't seem so bad either.

  • Comment number 10.

    People who don't understand, or are not prepared to learn how to understand, a computer don't need a simpler computer. They need an appliance. An appliance that only reads email and allows web-browsing. Once you put icons on a screen you've lost the hold-outs who've had thirty years to learn how to use a computer since, say, the ZX81 days.

    Give it a keyboard with a button for the web and a button for email on it. And a single button mouse, because context sensitive mousing requires a PhD, judging from the confusion I've been met with when trying to explain it. Apple got that dead right.

    Essentially an updated Amstrad Emailer.

  • Comment number 11.

    I've just looked at the Alex website where I see this as a good idea what I don't see is why you have to buy the laptop at £399 this would put the laptop in the mid range bracket where this system would easily run on the cheaper more affordable devices.

    Take the Asus EEE PC the first version the 701 had a 900Mhz CPU and run a Linux OS quite easily, so why this is running on a higher spec'd laptop which will most likely cost the same price including a windows license which pushes the price up but is obviously not the case here.

    Plus there are alot of free linux based systems that allow for ease of use, such as Sugar OS which was originally written to run on the OLPC which yes was written for children but is so simple use the novice could get to grips with it easily.

  • Comment number 12.

    I use windows at home and linux on my racing teams server (for servers and website etc).

    It would be nice to see people using linux with a GUI thats worthy of a standard user, but i also feel this has allways been possible on the other OS's, things like Desktop X enabled people to build custom desktops with locked off control and simple shortcuts for users in the late 90's and is still going today. also newer versions of Ubuntu have nice "windows style" GUI, so its possible to do this on any platform and allways has been.
    I jsut feel this guy want us to give him money rather than MS who we pay to currently. I know they have much greater experience so i will stick with my current methods.

    Linux = no GUI to run things remote, and windows has served me well scince 1992 for home use.

    If it "aint broke, don't fix it".

  • Comment number 13.

    I completely agree with the sentiment of what they're trying to do here, but I do feel it's destined to failure. In all the endless coverage about the Apple iPad, I am surprised that few people have pointed out that rather than being an eBook reader, a big iPod, etc, it's actually a very easy-to-use computer that will meet the requirements of the vast majority of computer users.

  • Comment number 14.

    Oh and for another Extremely easy to use OS you got Chromium OS from Google.

    I know that will probably get me shot after their privacy issue lol. But plain and simple the OS is simple and effective can run without a full size HHD as the office application is Google Apps the main window is a browser and it utilizes google chat for IM capability. What more can you want oh and it's got a Ubuntu base, is FREE and will run on a second hand old laptop let alone the latest and greatest.

  • Comment number 15.

    Working for a software company in support I find that there are huge number of people out there using computers that don't even understand a basic windows principle such as the difference between left and right clicking the mouse.

    It's also interesting about some of the comments made her £39.95 a year for 2 years including broadband and a laptop is cheaper than buying a £1000 mac and then paying for a broadband subscription on top of that.

    Craig Golby: Ubuntu is not the same as the Chrome OS it does not need an internet connection to work completely.

    Finally I am of the opinion that people should take a basic computer usage, maintenance and security course before buying one.

  • Comment number 16.

    I wonder if the people who came up with this have attended one of my own conference sessions - I've been telling a similar tale of complex computing for years.

    Moving on from that I've got to say this Blog fails by addressing technical issues. If only the article could have at least tried to be as accessible as the topic it's covering: "Linux", "broadband connection", "access to software on the Alex servers", "Technical Support", "the Ubuntu variant", "open-source software". These terms are all BARRIERS to the success of this business. Please someone tell me they never called it "Technical Support"!

    Throw in some Microsoft bashing and you have an article that doesn't reflect the need and desire in this market space. It does illustrate how difficult it can be to get this precisely right, and it does illustrate how we're sometimes not even aware that we're alienating certain segments of the potential market.

    I know this wasn't an advertising piece, but I see these as flaws.

    I wish the company luck in their endeavors though.

    By the way - the analogy of a fridge isn't a perfect one either. I never used a fridge in my analogy. They're close, but not quite close enough. ;-)

  • Comment number 17.

    I imagine that many of the people claiming the monthly costs are too high didn't read the offer in detail - as I read it, the fee includes a broadband connection which makes the overall value better. How much better will depend on the nature of the connection.
    Whether that makes the pricing attractive to its segment, I couldn't say, but it isn't something that I'll be taking up myself.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wow, I just visited this company's web site to have a quick look for myself.

    As I mentioned earlier, I want to wish this business all the luck in the world. It's always good to see people trying to think "out-of-the-box". As I wrote earlier, I've spoken about consumer computing at conferences all over the world.

    However, I was very disappointed in the web site. If the target market is indeed as quoted in the above blog: "Andy and Harry say you shouldn't have to understand what makes a computer work - any more than you need to understand the technical specifications of a fridge to use it."

    This space is too limited for me to go into detail, but the web site doesn't, to me, address this market space. It's full of jargon, little boxes of extraneous information, long check lists, sidebars on "latchkeys", and they even use the term "a suite of practical programs".

    If their market is as stated then, to me, they need a rethink - possibly a rather big one (I'm talking about their materials, not their technologies.) I was sadly disappointed in the web site.

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm afraid there are people who have difficulty using their cooker or washing machine. It's not possible to make an appliance that anyone can use without demonstration. How likely then is it it to provide a computer that anyone can use without demonstration?

    I find that there are two common reasons for people coming unstuck with their computer.
    1: They do not get the expected response from a keypress learned by repetition.
    2: They do not read the message on the screen before responding.

    How can any computer sytem deal with this?

  • Comment number 20.

    The Government has appointed a champion to include the 'Digitally Excluded', Martha Lane Fox. The argument is all about getting people online and 'teaching' them how to use the technology in order to reduce the cost of delivering public services by getting people to self-serve online.
    The linked aim to enable this is to physically connect up the country in broadband Britain.
    Why? The iPad suggests that a useful, mobile based device can give intuitive access to the services people want to use - without a fixed line. Public/citizen services can be delivered in the same format.
    The iPad is too expensive at the moment (seems targeted at high end executive toy). But the concept of intuitive interface/tablet/mobile network will catch on.
    So yes, technology should be as easy to use as opening the fridge. It looks like convergence of PC and mobile phone will ultimately deliver this.
    These guys are going in the right direction. But their price break is still too high. Plus they are hung up on the technology still - it is all about the user interface. Connected ease of use.
    Give it another three years?

  • Comment number 21.

    Sounds like another company that will just flop, particularly as they don't even seem to understand the subject as this quote illustrates:

    "The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software - the operating system allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux."

    This comment they have made makes no sense at all, the operating system has no real influence on quality of software, and Linux and the Mac have their fair share of badly written software also. Ironically, Linux in fact arguably has more badly written software depending on which factors you prioritise- certainly many Linux applications have horrendously poor usability, and can be a nightmare to configure, and if they go wrong, fix.

    But the real reason there is a problem with their idea is nothing to do with this, they appear to be trying to ride on the good will image of Linux which is free, yet if there is one thing more evil than Windows, it's the concept of software as a service for the consumer which is what they are putting.

    Think about this, right now if you create a load of documents, you'll be able to use and access them indefinitely, you can keep them on your computer, or on a USB memory stick and keep them to yourself. You may need to convert them as time goes on and file formats change, but ultimately, they're your documents, you can do with them as you please.

    With software as a service, that they are pushing, and that Google's online apps push, you have this issue where what if one day they go bust? What if they decide the service is no more financially viable and just discontinue it? Not only will you not be able to access your documents, but even if you could, they will likely be in a proprietary file format designed for the service that is of no use to you personally. But there's a bigger issue and it's the privacy issue- do you really want your most personal and private documents stored on someone elses servers that may be more prone to hackers without you ever knowing, or may simply be farmed by the company hosting them as an attempt to make a profile about you for advertising or other commercial purposes?

    No, this new business is really not good, it's nice to see an attempt to bring Linux mainstream, because ironically counter to their comment quoted above, that would allow more focussed development on Linux to actually bring it upto and above par with Microsoft's offerings.

    So no, their idea is bad, and whilst I'm a firm believer in the FOSS philosophy, the fact is, I'd rather have a closed platform like Windows on a PC I control, than an open platform like Linux with all my data stored outside my control. Also, for all Microsoft's faults, their software really does just work, and however you cut it, software like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Studio and so forth really are just best of breed- there are some applications like this that really are just unbeaten elsewhere by the competition right now, the likes of OpenOffice and Eclipse are just not upto par.

    People want control of their data and guaranteed access to it, and they want software that works, and works with minimal hassle- the solution proposed here fails in both areas as anyone who understands the problems of software as a service, and who has tried to troubleshoot a self-destructed Linux install will know. It's not quite as simple as system restore which solves it for most people, and Linux is no less prone to such situations.

  • Comment number 22.

    At 09:55am on 19 Feb 2010, SunUnited wrote:
    Although I like Alex's idea, I am afraid it won't work based on the fact that a monthly fee of £39.95 for two years is too much. I would recommend any computer novice to buy a £1k Mac instead.

    9. At 10:45am on 19 Feb 2010, Garfie wrote:
    So instead of paying £960 for a pc including broadband you think they should pay £1000 for a Mac without broadband? I'm sticking with windows but this does seem like quite a good idea. If you take out the broadband cost (BT starting price £16) then it is only £24 a month so the price doesn't seem so bad either.

    Fair enough if users are planning to use a Mac for 2 years. But users will find using a £1k Mac cheaper if they use it for 3.5 years plus £16 per month for internet. But you can argue that Mac won't provide support like Alex.

  • Comment number 23.

    "People who don't understand, or are not prepared to learn how to understand, a computer don't need a simpler computer. They need an appliance. An appliance that only reads email and allows web-browsing. Once you put icons on a screen you've lost the hold-outs who've had thirty years to learn how to use a computer since, say, the ZX81 days."

    Isn't that like the computer launched last year for 'seniors' (the one with Val Singleton (sp))?

  • Comment number 24.

    Can I say that I've been looking at the Alex website and no where can I find where it's only £39.99 a month. It's £399 fort he laptop ( of not very good spec then £74.99 for the first 3months of service then £24.99 there after which over 24months works out the same but there is an almost £500 upfront fee.

    I really can see the idea of this and think that it could work but in my eyes seeing as companies like Sky who throw in free broadband with their service people will look elsewhere.

    I work in IT as a Tech Analyst I have alot of friends and family that have no clue about computers and they turn to me for advice on what to buy where to get it etc, I know I'm not alone pretty much everybody will know someone techy who will give them advice and looking at the Alex service I would not advise anyone to get it.

    For one the laptop spec just isn't upto the value put on it and seeing that it runs a version of Ubuntu(which is free) with just a custom UI which you can find plenty of them I don't see where they can justify the value of it seeing as after support is also charged on a monthly fee.

    Also this is Linux we're talking about and they've included a Anti-Virus?? this surely confuses me there are very little known virus's for linux and they are almost impossible to catch and cause any harm using a standard user account in Linux.

  • Comment number 25.

    Exposurecontrol wrote: "As one who is partially sighted and needs accessibility software, how does this system perform. Can it run a screen reader or enlarging software?"

    Ubuntu comes with a screen reader called Orca installed, has several alternative screen readers available for it. Your local school or university may have Ubuntu machines available where you can experiment with it and see if it to your tastes. And in the name of equality, Mac OS X also comes with an excellent screen reader built-in, which you really should hear for yourself at a local Apple store/dealer.

  • Comment number 26.

    mmm... here's my thoughts...

    'to go on the internet, first look on the screen, then use the track pad with your finger to move the on screen mouse cursor to the browser then double click at the icon - ok now you should be on the internet. Now if you want to move up and down - use the arrow keys or the page up and down...'


    'pick up your iPad, use your finger to touch the safari picture- you are on the net now... move us and down by stroking the screen...'

    mmmm.... big math which one is easiest... Joking aside I am not a Mac disciple - they just work and work easy... my iPhone has not instruction book- you dont need one... sooner we get away from MS windoze the better...

  • Comment number 27.

    Isn't it interesting that just about every post so far in this Blog are addressing technical issues? Windows v. Linux, Linux v. Mac. Yes, we know that everyone has some kind of agenda.

    But Alex, as I read it, isn't about that. In fact, it ought to be as far away from that as possible. Alex - and again it's only how I see it - is about entertainment. Pure and simple.

    The target market mentioned in the Blog is "people who know nothing about computers". As such, do you think the main concerns are technology scoreboards? If anything, that's the LEAST of what it is about. Any discussion of the actual platform (and I am reasonably technical) is missing the point. If I were associated with Alex I'd like to think I can ban all discussion of such topics except for a few offices at the end of the corridor where all the real work gets done.

    Computing will take a huge step forward when we raise our head above the clouds and forget all this sniping about which is better or worse. IT SHOULD NOT MATTER. For Internet usage to go to the level Alex seem to want is going to take a lot of work, a lot of hard graft. Mainly because it's very very difficult to forget everything you know. And that's what is largely required for them on the front line.

    I'd love to hear peoples suggestions for tackling their intended market rather than this technical back-biting. The main problem isn't in deciding on an Operating System or platform, it's how to bring the masses of people who don't, essentially, know what they're doing online in an economical way.

  • Comment number 28.

    No offence, but I'm sick of people who don't know what they are talking about, spouting off about *nix as if it's some misunderstood thing, and that once we unlock the mysteries of this wonderful utopian system, all computer problems will be solved.

    NEWSFLASH. User interface is 1% of an operating system, if that.

    iPhone uses *nix, MacOSX uses *nix, so do most other smart phones.

    The ease of use of a platform is almost solely dependent on the desktop environment, foss versions of which are awful (gnome et al).

    Making computers easy to use has nothing to do with how you manage memory or interface with data buses, A good user interface can be created for ANY operating system, if those involved actually want to do that.

    Wanting people to use linux for the sake of it is stupid, wanting people to use linux for ease of use is absurd.

    This effort would be better directed to promoting better user interface design among conceited programmers (admittedly I often am one of them) who thinks they know better, and can design a UI in a bubble, and have it be usable by someone who knows a fraction that they do about computers.

    The iPhone/iPad/iPod touch are the only legitimate attempts to give users a good user interface, as opposed to every other platform, where the ui is designed with the idea that users are stupid and they should bend to fit the interface of the machine, and not the other way around.

    I'm not saying all this as an apple fan, I'm saying it as an attack on everyone else who neglects good user interface design and gives apple a free pass by leaving them alone in the marketplace.

    linux is not the answer, because linux is not the user interface.

  • Comment number 29.

    Yet another "simple" computer based on a false premise:

    "Andy and Harry say you shouldn't have to understand what makes a computer work - any more than you need to understand the technical specifications of a fridge to use it."

    Of the millions of people who use PCs very few understand how they work - how mathematical calculations in binary can result in them being able to email a friend on the other side of the world or watch a video of Paris Hilton. But fortunately you DON'T have to know how it works to use it - their business is thus based on an entirely bogus assumption.

    A computer is never going to be as easy to use as a fridge - a fridge has one purpose - to make things cold. A computer can email, word process, web browse, etc, etc.

    Think about typing a letter - is it easier on Windows, or would you prefer to go back to a manual type writer - where you have to remember to hit return after each line and if you make a mistake you have to tippex over it, and you have to replace the ink ribbon, and make sure you don't hit 2 keys together else they lock up. Even typing a letter the old way is more complicated than using a fridge - a PC makes it easier for most people, but it can never be as simple as using a fridge, because the action itself is inherently more complex.

    From my experience the kind of people who have massive problems using Windows (or a Mac or Linux) are the kind of people who really don't have much interest in being online. Millions of other people (including older people) manage just fine on Windows. These guys are targeting a market that I don't think really exists.

  • Comment number 30.

    "The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software - the operating system allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux."

    Thats a shocking comment to make and from there on its all downhill.

    @Dan, nice post - I agree.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Also this is Linux we're talking about and they've included a Anti-Virus?? this surely confuses me there are very little known virus's for linux and they are almost impossible to catch and cause any harm using a standard user account in Linux."

    Naive at best. Virus' are written by people who know computers (well) and generally them people use Linux based OS's. The target of Virus' are everyday people - and yes i'd say 99.99% of them use windows. So its not hard to see why you rarley hear of a linux virus! However the same was thought of the Mac but as useage has surged (to about 4-5%) in past years we have started to see the Mac specific virus' appear.

  • Comment number 32.

    Most people can't design and build something as simple as a fridge, let alone a billion-transistor microprocessor. Alex is about the opposite of getting the masses to write Linux software, it looks more like an appliance with Linux inside. Linux already runs on many things, from supercomputers to mobile phones.

    Is fourty Pounds per month excessive? Methinks the support will be the most expensive part to provide, rather than the hardware or the Internet connection. Old folks will need that support.

    There is a very similar project already underway in the Netherlands, called the Amiqo. If you read Dutch, check out

  • Comment number 33.

    "NEWSFLASH. User interface is 1% of an operating system, if that."

    What a load of rubbish, Ive worked on operating systms and the graphical ui makes up at least 50% of the code.
    Windows has fundamental design problems that linux dosnt have, for example running across multiple processors the performance drops dramatically, the gui is tied into the OS unlike linux where X windows based guis runs as a seperate process. When an app locks up it shoulnt lock up the OS (like windows), and no you shouldnt need to keep rebooting if you install software, many linux systems have been running for years without needing restarting - try that on a windows based system.
    They should change the focus of this product not to be a 'computer' but an email/internet browser and aim it at older people who dont want to (and shouldnt have to) learn the microsoft quirky way of doing things.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm about 75% converted to Linux at the moment - I still use my Vista partition for iTunes, the iPlayer (the BBC has yet to release a 9.10 Ubuntu version of the desktop player, and I prefer to download programmes rather than watching them online) and... oh, that's it (maybe a spot of .NET development too). For everything else, I use Ubuntu.

    I've gotten sick and tired of my laptop taking so long (near enough ten minutes) to reach a usable state in Vista when I start it up and persistently needing to apply updates when I shut it down, even if I've only turned it on for a few minutes (meaning sometimes it takes longer to shut down than the entire length of time I was using it). Ubuntu, on the other hand, allows me to start browsing the internet within about 2 minutes of switching the laptop on, and shuts down in about 10 seconds flat. As for updates, well it applies them in the background and usually you don't even need to restart the computer. So without even getting into the nitty-gritty stuff, already the Ubuntu partition is far more convenient. Incidentally though, all the applications I have on both Ubuntu and Windows run faster on Ubuntu. It also never crashes.

    As far as I'm concerned, Ubuntu should be getting a major push in learning circles, because it really is no more difficult to learn than Windows. The only occasion I've had to do the kind of jiggery-pokery people assume is required with Ubuntu was when getting my wireless set up, which just required a few step-by-step instructions from the Ubuntu forums, and it wouldn't even have been a problem if I'd gotten Ubuntu pre-installed like I considered doing (I eventually chickened out and went for Vista, only to find out it really is as awful as people had suggested - if only XP was still being offered at that time). But to put that in perspective, it took me quite a bit of fiddling about to get my new wireless printer working on Windows (and my flatmate's Mac, incidentally), whereas Ubuntu didn't even need a new driver downloaded and was printing in about 5 minutes.

    What I would like to see is Linux systems (and open source software in general) being used in public services. Just imagine how much local and central government must spend on licences for Windows, Office etc, and then think how much it would be saving by using Ubuntu and - the treasury would save a mint. Granted, they might need to replace some business-critical software that relies on Windows, but in the long run they'd make massive savings. It would benefit the companies that provide their software too, as they could perhaps finally stop having to support IE6, and they would make savings by not needing Microsoft licences too.

    There really is no reason to keep using Windows as standard, whereas thee are multiple reasons to switch to free systems.

  • Comment number 35.

    This system seems merely to be a way of charging £40 a month for open source software on obsolete PCs. What is needed is a simple OS that is PROM based, ie burned into a chip like the old Amigas and Ataris, etc., so that people having 'finger trouble' can simply switch on and off without error messages, mysteriously altered settings or slow updates. Bootup and connection times on the Alex system will be even longer than on PC or Mac, which will be immensely frustrating, not to mention the inevitable long waiting times on the support line.

  • Comment number 36.

    As one of the people behind the Alex system can I comment that Rory's otherwise excellent review did not mention that the service costs £9.99 a month, or £24.99 bunded with broadband. The £39.99 mentioned includes the monthly cost of purchasing a Clevo laptop.

  • Comment number 37.

    I'm afraid I see no future in this. The majority are, sadly, still addicted to Windows which I always find works against me when I have to use it. By choice, I use a MacBook which works with me and is, I think, the most powerful friendly and economical way to do everything I need, which includes free Broadband inside or outside Macdonalds when I visit France. On the rare occasions that I need help with a Mac I just call into the nearest Mac store and talk to the genius bar.

  • Comment number 38.

    For those who have broadband the PC costs £400 and the service £9.99 per month, so the comparison with a £1k MAC is not price-competitive.
    The problem is that those of us who know how to operate a PC don't understand those who can't. I do tech support for a number of relatives and friends and find that anything which requires me to say "right click then select..." almost always ends in abject failure. Also if you watch someone else operating a PC you will find they do 4 or 5 "dumb things" every minute. The idea that large numbers of people are actally computer literate is a false premise.

  • Comment number 39.

    A good idea in principal.

    However, I do have my reservations which I will outline below:

    Linux on a starter PC is just mad, you could make the UI as easy as anything but the fact remains; is that you cannot just buy software for it at the local PCWORLD (pcworld, Dixons and currys being the most obvious choice for computer software for the total novice) and people will want to put their own software on their computers for tasks that they feel they may want to do (such as trace their family tree being the obvious example).

    The £39.99pm is just crazy as the impression I got when looking at their website is that you have to pay for the laptop and then pay £39.99 for broadband and support with updates from the companies servers. (which will be OS updates and additional software ported from the mainstream servers). If people do the maths, they can go to dell, get a Windows laptop for about £400 and then shoot over to talk talk, sky or even virgin for free broadband with their phone / TV package. For the support then they can call on their kids to fix the thing as the kids will be familiar with Windows. Any major problems they can call on their friends or get an IT Tech round for £40ph.

    Even if the computer goes wrong every three months, that’s still cheaper then the package these people are spouting.

    The argument about Windows having poorly written software is also a bad one. Windows has some excellent and well written applications it’s just with anything in life, there will be a few bad apples. I have seen badly written apps on Linux as well as windows and macs so every platform suffers at the fate of inexperienced / bad programmers.

    Like I said, I good idea in principal, but they are approaching it wrong and forcing a solution that will not work in the real world. Whack windows on it, write up a smart UI in that runs on startup and you will have a neat little solution that has been done so many times before (Packard Bell Navigator (remember that on the old P1 executive back in 1996?) is the one that springs immediately to mind)

    At least with a windows box you have a system that can expand as the users skills develop, easy to maintain (as how many tech’s will you find in the yellow pages who will have anything more then an MCSE?) and will be familiar in just about every setting the user encounters (Library, Work, friends house etc)

  • Comment number 40.

    @DAN seems to think that KDE and Gnome are useless interfaces -yet several million people seem to find them as useable as windows. At the end of the day 99% percent of the interfaces people use on PC's are either icons or pull down menus -generally organised into toolbars. The look and feel of OpenOffice, Gimp, Firefox and the various Linux Mail packages are sufficiently simmilar to their windows or osX counterparts that the skills are interchangeable. Thus one could say that the only thing "better" about Linux is that it's free, very well supported via online forums, and far less prone to viruses and malware.
    @Liam Bateman
    There is plenty of evidence that Linux is much more secure against virus attack than Windows -partially because its open source code has been seen by far more eyes than Windows internals and partially because it has better delineation of kernel, interface and application code elements.

  • Comment number 41.

    There's a very fundamental gap in the way that young tech designers think, and the way older consumers are used to interacting with machines. In the analogue age, everything had a single control for a particular function - the car has a clutch pedal which is the only way to control the clutch for example, and the toaster has a rotary knob which is the only way to control the brownness of the toast.

    But at some point early in the IT business, some geeks decided to abandon this simple concept of user interface and provide themselves and the rest of us with umpteen different ways to control a particular function, through 'hot keys', customisable buttons etc (even the duplication of the keyboard 'enter/return' key with mouse clicks is an example of this). From my experience coaching my elderly mother and others into using computers for the first time, this is a massive barrier to comprehension. They have spent their whole lives in a world where particular switches or buttons control a particular function, and get utterly confused by being told that doing 2 or 3 different things achieve precisely the same end.

    In the first decades of car production there was no consensus on controls - a clutch control could be on the left or right, and in some cases was a hand-operated lever. Consumers also had to separately buy bits we now take for granted as part of the basic spec, and every driver had to know how to tinker with the carburettor or change a tyre.

    Computers are currently at the 'Model T Ford' stage of development, where you have to buy all sorts of software in particular from external suppliers just to achieve basic functionality, where manufacturers assume every consumer knows how to carry out routine maintenance, and doesn't bother to tell them what they should be doing, where the user interface varies wildly from brand to brand. Yet the IT business is so full of itself, so concentrated on giving us 100 features we don't want and will never use just because it's technically possible. They need to get back to basics and re-connect with huge swathes of consumers.

  • Comment number 42.

    Although well intentioned, Linux is certainly not the way to introduce new users of computers. Its a great educational tool and I adnire the people who maintain the various free distributions, although most now are semi commercial. But Linux does not receive the support by many hardware manufacturers or major software houses and so it can sometimes be difficult to maintain your hardware with the correct drivers etc. Also, Linux is a bit of a Frankenstein OS based on a command line Linux OS with various Windows packages attached. Unless your confident in compiling source code for your version of Linux, getting applications to work can be a head ache for Linux verterens let alone novicees. I hate to say it, but the new bloated Windows 7 is far easier and less troublesome for new users, or the MacOS X but personally I find the Mac more bloated than Windows and it also sits on top of a command line linux/NextStep based OS.

  • Comment number 43.

    The Alex marketing plan is online via . They seem to think they can advertise to the tech savvy who will then recommend Alex to their less techy friends. However most tech savvy people see dumbing down technology as a retrograde step -I guess they might need a plan B!

  • Comment number 44.

    #34 Douglas Daniel wrote: "There really is no reason to keep using Windows as standard, whereas thee are multiple reasons to switch to free systems."

    I thought you were slightly over-selling a perfectly valid point, until this last ludicrous sentence. I can find hundreds of reasons to stick with Windows on my work laptop's hard drive alone, and thousands more on our servers. Compared to upgrading to a new version of Office, switching to Open Office is a mammoth task. How many documents will cease to function, display differently or show different results? And that ignores the dozen or so MS Office functionalities that I use daily that are not available in Open Office.

    We use dozens of other Windows-based software packages, many of which simply don't exist on Linux. Most do exist on the Mac (we have a lot of designers on our payroll), but that's hardly progress to "free" software, is it?

    So the obstacles are large, the effort is great, the risks are unknown and part of the price is a loss of functionality. Is it worth it? Well, it's certainly worth considering, but don't be surprised if the answer is no, or at least not yet.

    But this article isn't about the relative merits of Windows and Linux. The only way in which Linux is relevant to the daft business idea discussed here is that, as open source software, it is infinitely customisable. However, as the customisations listed in the article don't even require access to the source, even this is a moot point.

  • Comment number 45.

    #39 but the fact remains; is that you cannot just buy software for it at the local PCWORLD

    Correct - instead, you have to go through the EXTREMELY inconvenient process of, err, opening the Software Download Centre application where you're presented with a plethora of software to do what you want, in pretty much any way you want, all of which can be downloaded for free. Clearly, the PC World experience is a big act to follow.

    (Incidentally, I would say PB Navigator was a pretty horrendous application, which provided more confusion than Windows itself when I was a youngster using our first PC).

    Also, to #21 software like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Studio and so forth really are just best of breed- there are some applications like this that really are just unbeaten elsewhere by the competition right now, the likes of OpenOffice and Eclipse are just not upto par.

    At one time, yes, Office was by far the best out there. But it now seems to suffer from over-development. I'm an experienced computer user, and I found Word 2007 to be completely baffling when I first used it - all the menus I was used to were suddenly all broken up into sometimes illogical sections, making it similar to walking into a supermarket and finding they've gone and swapped everything about for no good reason. I've since found myself increasingly using Google Docs or instead, although by no means always. As for Eclipse, I just don't agree in the slightest - I have to use IntelliJ for Java development at work, as well as Visual Studio for playing about with .NET at home, and I find Eclipse superior to both, particularly with all its plug-ins allowing it to be a great editor for all manner of languages.

  • Comment number 46.

    I just installed Ubuntu on a previously defunct laptop for a friend and they love it. Not sure I would start recommending Alex considering more and more people get broadband for free from companies for taking other services.

    If only all the other friends I have did the same... Instead they agrue over who is best MS or Apple, sad really. When you consider all they are doing is free marketing for corporations that don't need their help.

    Still I notice the drum beaters are out again just now trying to convince that their favourite corporation isn't quite as evil as the opposition.

  • Comment number 47.

    #45 Douglas Daniel wrote > “Correct - instead, you have to go through the EXTREMELY inconvenient process of, err, opening the Software Download Centre application where you're presented with a plethora of software to do what you want, in pretty much any way you want, all of which can be downloaded for free. Clearly, the PC World experience is a big act to follow.”

    Yea, but will that software portal have everything anyone would want? I doubt it.

    What if the person is out shopping (as people do, we don’t all shop online) see a piece of software they want and buy it only to find out it does not work on their Linux Machine? Are you telling me that people don’t buy on impulse? And if these people are not tech savvy, then they won’t know what the numbers on the back of the box means and will assume it will work on their machine.

    The software download centre is all well and good but there has to be an element of standardisation to allow the user to add bits and pieces that the software centre does not have. And believe me, there will be something that someone will want that the software centre does not have but PCWORLD will have because it may not be obviously available on a Linux box, sometimes finding the right software that does a specific job on Linux can be a minefield of online searching.

  • Comment number 48.

    I never really know where projects like this are coming from. Yet another computer with some of its buttons taken off.
    People who do not embrace the Internet, at the moment, do not do so because there is nothing compelling to draw them to it. They will begin to use it once there is. They will do so because it has become another seamless aspect of their other day-to-day lives.
    It is not the machine, and it is not the software: it's the service that will make people use it, because most people consume services - rather than purchasing a machine and then trying to figure out something useful to do with it. Truly great computing, is the kind of computing that has become so fundamental to people's existences, that they no longer think of it as 'computing', at all (even though it often requires some of the most powerful and reliable computing in the world, to actually pull it off): the ATM network, for instance. You'd only notice it was there, if it suddenly wasn't.
    This, I believe, is the real direction that the Internet will eventually head: into the cracks, between the tiles, of people's everyday lives. By then, the Internet will be *about* computing, in the same sort of way that GPS is *about* geostationary satellites, or out-of-season fruit and veg is *about* refrigerated shipping.
    I actually remember talking about this, with Rory, in a telephone interview, some years ago, for the World Service - and I still hold to the view I expressed, then. You don't put a reduced-functionality computer into people's hands, any more than you stick a reduced-functionality computer in a fridge, and then expect it to somehow magically become relevant. You find some service, that is already being offered by the people who sell you the kinds of things that you put in fridges, and you think "you know, it'd be quite good if you could access that directly from the fridge." Which is why a sub-sub-sub-sub netbook isn't the answer, because the question it tries to answer, isn't being asked.
    The fact that this is a Linux machine is completely irrelevant. Linux is pretty much where it needs to be: underpinning a vast swathe of the world's vital computer infrastructre. Exactly that same infrastructure, that good computer programmers, will eventually stop ordinary people from ever having to look at.

  • Comment number 49.

    Perhaps they should re-examine the key feature here : the underlying device is a "computer". Computers were designed from the outset to be versatile machines capable of supporting many different areas of interest. The simpler usages like word-processing, e-mail, web-surfing are indeed commodity activities and do not require the user to know anything about the underlying technologies, and either Windows or one of the many flavours of Linux will suffice, often on less than cutting-edge PCs. Indeed, if that is all you really want then a cheap games console like the Sony PS3 can do the job brilliantly. But confusing this need with an accompanying dismissal of the immense satisfaction that learning to use a computer as it was intended brings, just indicates the cynicism of a badly-conceived company trying to make a quick buck before it is found out and rightly sinks into oblivion.

  • Comment number 50.

    You should see my 'fridge...

  • Comment number 51.

    I like the idea of using a computer being as simple as opening the fridge door, but be careful what you wish for.

    I read a lovely quote recently (sadly I can't remember who said this):

    "I have long wished that my computer would be as simple to use as my phone. Now I have my wish. I no longer understand how to use my phone."

  • Comment number 52.

    As many have already said, it's very pricey given that the bits and bobs of the package can be obtained individually for significantly less.

    What these people are doing is charging a premium price for an all-in-one, out-of-the-box package though I very much doubt you could just take it out of the box, plug it in, and go. Given the target market some setting up will be required, some initial training will be required. Are they going to send out an engineer to set everything up? who pays?

    Many above have said that it's not for them and explained why, failing to understand that it was never meant for them, they are not the target market.

    For all the suggested weaknesses of online software, there are some significant benefits.
    There are many applications I use only two or three times a year. I can't justify purchasing a full package. I am quite happy to use free or open-source software. Although it's not always as user friendly, or as feature rich (I stress not always, sometimes eg Firefox, it's better in all ways).
    Even then I have to download updates (I know, for YOU and ME this is not a great hardship.
    So how nice to have always up to date software that does all of what I need and not much more, and can run on cheap stripped down hardware since there is no longer any need for a powerful processor or significant on board storage.

    Sounds like a netbook and Chrome OS to me. Add £8 pm for broadband and away you go!
    Still not for me, but I can think of many stereotypes for whom it could work. They make up a large potential and untapped market. Many of them might even be able to afford the Alex offering.

  • Comment number 53.

    Earlgray "Unless your confident in compiling source code for your version of Linux, getting applications to work can be a head ache for Linux veterens let alone novices."

    I've been using Ubuntu as my main OS for a while now and have never had to delve into the source code to make applications work.

    As was pointed out to Rory on his infamous "24 hours with Ubuntu" blog last year, installing programmes on Ubuntu is a matter of a few mouse clicks as they all sit within the software centre, rather than a bunch of disparate .exe files spread over the web.

    MS and Windows have done a vital job in getting computing to the masses but it's a pity that people don't know there are other things available. They equate computers with Windows, which is a credit to MS and it's marketing.

    My kids easily move between Ubuntu and Windows, it's all just computing and the web to them.

  • Comment number 54.

    #51 DisgustedOfMitcham2 wrote > "I have long wished that my computer would be as simple to use as my phone. Now I have my wish. I no longer understand how to use my phone."

    HA! I like that!

    I forgot to put this in my last message:

    #45 Douglas Daniel wrote > “(Incidentally, I would say PB Navigator was a pretty horrendous application, which provided more confusion than Windows itself when I was a youngster using our first PC).”

    Yes, I remember that as well as my first machine was indeed a Packard bell that come with that software, but I quite liked it for the entertainment section (I liked the living room) but the rest, I’ll agree with you was pants.

    But my point remains is that, there is 100’s of simple to use startup software solutions available online, and that come packaged with new PC’s that there isn’t really a market for another one.

    My understanding of this whole concept is to get people who are not online, online.

    Now, lets break this down into some key questions:

    1. why are they not online? (Cost? Availability? Is there a need?)
    2. what do you perceive the reasons why people are not willing to go online?
    3. when they are online, what will be their key activities?

    I think you need to answer them questions before you try and market an idea towards them.

    Why are they not online? Maybe they don’t own a computer, or even want a computer? If they wanted one, then they would have one right? Maybe it’s the cost of getting one?

    I have seen computers going for £25 at the local charity shop, and I have seen retired people who want computers to get one, so I don’t think that is the issue here, which leads me to is there a need?

    What would the person do when online? Send emails? The obvious answer to that would be what’s wrong with pen and paper? It worked for 1000’s of years before why change it now?

    How about we use the “it’s easier to keep in contact with friends and families” argument.

    Have you been frustrated by something you don’t understand? Yes? Right now, consider you have never used a computer before and then someone throws one in front of you and says: “this will help you keep in contact with friends and family” personally, I would show them the phone and say “well, what’s wrong with that?” if people do not see a need for it, or makes their otherwise simple lives more complicated then they are going to think “well, what’s the point?” and I do 100% agree with them, as if I can do all I needed with what I currently have, then why am I going to spend £100’s of pounds and hours of learning something new for relatively little payback?

    The idea of flogging a service to people, who do not want it, is like trying to sell a dead horse. It just isn’t going to work.

  • Comment number 55.

    To be fair to Alex, the broadband is optional, but they do require you to have broadband otherwise the system won't work. So as a previous contributor said, this won't work if you want to use it on the beach, or on holiday, or somewhere else where there isn't broadband.
    Though they aim to provide simpler access to computers, it's a shame their website doesn't provide a simpler access to pricing.
    If you take out the option without broadband, the system costs you £400 and then you have to pay £10 a month to keep the service going. With the pay in advance discount this is £630 over two years or £26.25 a month. That sounds rather expensive for a Linux machine which is tied into a company.
    If you take the broadband option then it's £400 up front and £25 a month. With the pay in advance discount this is £855 over two years or £35.63 a month - without the discount it comes to £40.63 a month. That too sounds expensive.
    The major problem is that you're tied into the company. You need to keep your subscription going or your system won't work. So if the company goes under you're left with a £400 piece of kit which you can do nothing with. Much better to spend the £400 on a standard laptop in my view - especially if you can only afford to have one PC in the house.

  • Comment number 56.

    "The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software - the operating system allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux."

    Wow. Not even wrong.

  • Comment number 57.

    I think you're missing the target audience. It's not for people who want to use a PC on the beach! And if you are part of their target demographic and want to break free from a simple service it's just a case of buying a copy of Windows or getting a full blown Linux distro -after all it's just a £350 laptop with a tailored Linux distro installed -so all you've wasted is that you've paid £50 more than the computer is worth and you've paid £10 per month for their service. This is not a lot compared to the cost of doing the ECDL or similar to make you "computer literate".

  • Comment number 58.

    #42 - Also, Linux is a bit of a Frankenstein OS based on a command line Linux OS with various Windows packages attached. Unless your confident in compiling source code for your version of Linux, getting applications to work can be a head ache for Linux verterens let alone novicees.

    I don't know what version of Linux you've been using, but that doesn't sound a bit like my experience with Ubuntu. I try to steer clear of the command line whenever possible as I can't be bothered learning all the various shell commands, and I've been able to do so pretty much as well as I do in Windows. Even when I have had to use the command line, it's only been to run wee lines from step-by-step instructions from the Ubuntu forums, and I've certainly had to do far more complicated things on applications in Windows. I've certainly not compiled any source code to get things working.

    As for the Frankenstein OS comment, I assume you're referring to the fact that Linux doesn't have the GUI integrated into the kernel. That may be so, but not only does that allow people to have whatever GUI they want, it also is of absolutely no importance to anyone using the system. When you install Ubuntu, you don't have to use the command line to find a GUI - it's already there, just like in Windows. Old nonsense like this really needs to stop being spouted about Linux.

    #47 - Yea, but will that software portal have everything anyone would want? I doubt it.

    Pretty much, I've certainly found anything I would want. It depends what you're using a computer for, as someone wanting top of the range music production or video editing software would probably go for a Mac anyway, but then that goes beyond the idea of beginners learning to use a computer for basic tasks like browsing the internet, sending emails and word processing.

  • Comment number 59.

    We run a mixed zoo of computers at home including windows, Mac and Linux. I'd urge anyone to look at Ubuntu, the netbook remix version achieves much of what Alex attempts to do i.e providing a simple clean UI which works well on low res monitors. Interestingly it achieves this by dispensing with a desktop and running all applications full screen, which feels odd for about 5 minutes, then you realise it makes perfect sense .

  • Comment number 60.

    I don't think their target demographic would be able to install a full-blown OS on their machine, and I also think that their target demographic will always want to do more than will be available on the platform.
    You also don't need to pay to become computer literate, there are plenty of free help groups around and online.

  • Comment number 61.

    42. "Linux is a bit of a Frankenstein OS based on a command line Linux OS with various Windows packages attached."

    And ladies and gentlemen this is what happens when someone thinks they know what they are talking about when they actually don't.

    If you want Frankenstein computing how about Microsoft only patching a bug this month that has been around since 1993, before the concept of the Start Button even existed?

  • Comment number 62.

    Bad software is written by people with no basic training in writing software - its as simple as that; unfortunetly / fortunetly depending on how you want to look at it Microsoft have lowered the bar so that the masses can "just start programming" without any basic training - that is good on one hand but bad on another hence the rise in sites open to SQL injection attack.

    This model ain't going to work; if their Max/Linux software protects the user from writing bad software then there is no power in the language.

  • Comment number 63.

    To be fair peejkerton, though the bug may have existed from back then, it was only discovered in January 2010. Also, I don't see how this equates, or is relevant to, the moniker 'Frankenstein'. Is this what happens when someone who has a dislike of Microsoft tries to be impartial?

  • Comment number 64.

    47. Brightengineer... Exactly what do you buy at PCWorld that is so critical?

    Firstly if anyone goes to PC World and randomly buys something, then they should just give me that money, I'll take the full price, less 10% and get any software sold there cheaper and still make a lil cash on the side for myself. In fact, the vast majority of software I have ever seen in those stalls is usually video games for consoles, or budget video games for PC, which cost £4 - £5 and when you buy them you should know what you're getting.

    Secondly, the vast majority of computer users use it for e-mail, the web, documents and media consumption. These are all hard baked into every OS, or available as web services regardless. If they want specific software for a specific task then they will go out and research it before purchasing something. The vast majority won't need anything but the very basics of computing anyway.

    Thirdly, you treat the consumer like a moron. Already they have to go out and purchase items and find they are exclusive elsewhere. I cannot buy Office 2007 for PC and install it on my Mac, I have to buy Office 2008, the mac variation. If I wanted to buy the game Bioshock 2, I would have to take care to purchase the correct one for the platform I am using, as its available on XBox 360, PS3 and PC. How about exclusives like God Of War on PS3, which I won't be able to buy on Xbox 360, even though I'd like it to be available? Or how about Halo 2, which I could've bought for my PC, but only if I was running Windows Vista, because it wasn't able to run on Windows XP?
    To suggest that a different method of purchasing would put people off is asinine.

    It happens all the time, and people have been able to cope and continue as normal without some kind of Operating System melt down.

    If non-tech savvy people want to buy tech they have two options. They either get tech savvy and learn to use what they've purchased, or they buy something far more simple that'll give them access to the email and web, like an iPad, JooJoo, Notion Ink Adam, or whatever simple tablet is due that'll suit them the best. They need an internet appliance, not a computer.

    Of course, without all these non-tech savvy people, people in tech support like yours truely would be out of a job cleaning up the very simple mistakes people make that allow themselves to end up with fake antivirus software and 100 pop ups every time they open their computers, so we have to be thankful that ignorance has built an industry other than the music one, I suppose.

  • Comment number 65.

    @63 Laurence
    I think you'll find that my point was to show that there are parts of Windows 7, released in September 2009 that date back 16 or 17 years, showing that if Linux is "frankenstein computing" then so is Microsoft's efforts that are still using a non GUI based legacy OS code in their now GUI based OS.

    I don't have a dislike of Microsoft. I run all three major OS's and own all three major games consoles, and spend the majority of my time in Microsoft's environments if you also include my working day. But nice attempt at divisiveness. I just won't defend any company for the sake of a brand, nor attack them for such. If someone does good (Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360, iPhone) I'll pat them on the back, just as much as if they do bad (iPad, Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Vista)

  • Comment number 66.

    It seems to me that the relevant comparison here is with the sort of netbook/mobile broadband package available from the various phone companies.
    A random example I looked at is from Carphone Warehouse who will supply an MSI netbook and mobile broadband from 3 for £17.50 per month on a 2 year contract. It uses Windows 7.
    It will also be interesting to see the pricing for the iPad when it comes out; this seems to offer a much better solution for non-techies as others have pointed out.
    This seems to be yet another hype for Linux to take over the world. I seem to remember that the first netbooks all came with Linux, but most of them were returned by the purchasers, so now they come with Windows by default.

  • Comment number 67.

    #63 Laurence wrote > “Is this what happens when someone who has a dislike of Microsoft tries to be impartial?”

    No, I actually think he does not know what he is talking about.

    Linux is not a Frankenstein of command line Linux with Windows Packages attached.

    Linux is an operating system that has adapted it’s own look and feel depending on the distro that you use.

    Unless you use Wine within Linux you cannot run windows applications in a Linux environment, as the Linux Binary and Windows Binary are two different things. They handle data internally different, the whole file system is different as well as the way it handles the communication between the hardware and software.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am not Microsoft’s biggest fan; however, I do use the software. Why? Because it gives me the greatest choice of software, out of every single platform available today. I can walk into any shop, buy any hardware or software that I want, and I can pretty much guarantee that it will work with my operating system. I appreciate linux, and I do use ubuntu for daily web surfing and such, but it does not give me the flexibility that Windows does (more to the point, I cannot get Need For Speed working under wine).

    Impartial advice is that if you want to play multimedia games and have a wide choice of software, and are looking for an all out entertainment machine get Windows. If you just want to surf the web, write a few emails and print off a few letters while listening to music or watching a DVD then get Linux.

  • Comment number 68.

    Saying that "[Microsoft Windows] allows you to write software badly unlike Mac or Linux." is just so wrong I don't know where to start. It gives me no confidence that this company's CTO (!) knows what he's talking about. I develop software for a living, and *nothing* can prevent software being written badly. I should know, I've written stuff badly on both.

    The best interpretation is that it's a careless statement, but to imply that Linux/Mac applications are somehow better in quality than MS Windows apps because of Linux/Mac itself is incredibly misleading.

    For the record, I'm no Microsoft fanboy.

  • Comment number 69.

    peejkerton wrote > “47. Brightengineer... Exactly what do you buy at PCWorld that is so critical?

    Firstly if anyone goes to PC World and randomly buys something, then they should just give me that money, I'll take the full price, less 10% and get any software sold there cheaper and still make a lil cash on the side for myself. In fact, the vast majority of software I have ever seen in those stalls is usually video games for consoles, or budget video games for PC, which cost £4 - £5 and when you buy them you should know what you're getting.”

    I used PCWORLD as an example as the complete novice would see they have a PC and immediately would think “PCWORLD” when they needed softare as they see the adverts on the telly, and inside the newspapers.

    But my point remains that any software that is purchased on impulse will not work on a linux machine.

    Novices to computers may not know this, and so could impulse buy software.

    If someone buys software that does not work, they wonder why. This can then be converted into a conversation at a later date when Maggie from 23 has seen Alex’s website and knows that Sue at No 12 has one, she says “I was thinking of buying the same computer you have” while over a cup of tea, sue says: “oh, I don’t know, I found this wonderful piece of software and it won’t work on my computer, but works on my sons computer”.

    This is why I am saying it all has to be standardised (i.e. make it windows), to eliminate such problems, as those small problems could cost customers.

  • Comment number 70.

    Despite proliferate usage, even among technically minded professionals Linux is not an Operating System. Please correct this. GNU (generally) is the operating system and a Distribution (Such as Ubuntu) consists of both GNU OS & kernel. The type of user interface that Windows et al use is referred to as WIMP and was used long before Microsoft adopted it for use and was developed in response for the need for an adaptive interface which could be used for multiple tasks by XEROX and made popular by Apple rather than Microsoft. As mentioned by some other commentators GNU-Linux is not a silver bullet (For either ease of use/security or any other feature) anymore than an Apple or Microsoft developed OS is, but having said that providing that interop is provided (for all of our other devices) there is a market for a dumb terminal with minimum local footprint and a simple robust UI. Personally I have my own ideas on what this device will look like and it isn't ALEX. Sorry.

  • Comment number 71.

    Actually, peejkerton, I think the poster was trying to say that there are a myriad of different tools within a typical Linux installation which have come from all manner of different authors and versions (rather than a single entity). Effectively a Frankenstein look. Though they do all work together quite happily and don't tend to turn on their creators or users (well not too much).
    So yes, the Frankenstein term wasn't particularly appropriate, but to defend that with another error of terminology wasn't the best.

  • Comment number 72.

    "...two founders of the business, ..., they both stressed that personal experience had taught them that there was a huge demand for an easier entry to computing."

    Oh dear, oh dear - I do hope they're basing their business model on something more robust than their personal experience.

  • Comment number 73.

    Oh I do feel for you Rory - you must be overcome with a feeling of dread every single time you type the word 'linux' into a blog, knowing full well the furore it will create!

    Surely this isn't really a blog about linux, but a study of potential new business models to penetrate what is considered to be an untapped source of IT based revenue...? Granted one that sounds like it needs a little work - and to be honest I'm not convinced there IS a market there to be tapped into at all... My gran's just learned her way around a mobile, I really don't see her paying a monthly fee to have to learn to use a computer, no matter how user friendly the UI is...

    So what that it's built on a linux platform? surely as they're offering software services based on cloud compuing that's irrelevent as the user will be able to access only the software provided anyway? As many people have pointed out already its just a means of presenting the user with a simple way of controling the environment - I daresay if it were built over windows they STILL wouldn't provide the ability to install that PCWORLD impulse buy...?

    And finally, as to 'bringing linux to the masses' I don't see it happening, not like this. The reason most linux users (myself included) chose to do so is for the INCREASED freedom of choice over what I run and the FREEness of it all! I would NOT pay 40 quid a month for the priveledge of running a version of 'buntu that's been lobotomised.

    Neither, I suspect, would my gran

  • Comment number 74.

    I like the idea of not having to worry about viruses. They're a big headache for everyone and I think a protected internet will be the next innovation. If the company could get the monthly cost down to around $20.00-$25.00 they might have a winner. I didn't know if it was just me who found computers ridiculously cumbersome and complex. A computer for Dummies- PERFECT! Now they just need to get intelligent people to write simple programs for online classes. That would revolutionize education and the taxpayer would save money from all the corruption in the school system.

  • Comment number 75.

    What I said in a comment on another post actually isn't polar opposite to what the Alex project is doing. So you've still got a complex tool, but you've bought it as part of a package that takes away any need for the end user to concern themselves with admin/maintenance tasks. It's a great idea & I wish them well! I know if anyone asked me to provide them with a solution for home use, I'd probably set them up with a Linux computer that I could remotely access to keep up to date etc. A job made all the easier by way of not having to faff with defragmenting disks for one! I have a web page with a list of Linux computer vendors on it. This project will be added!

  • Comment number 76.

    All I can say is that for the price this must be done to make Microsoft actually look like value for money.
    A freecyle computer with ubuntu on it is almost as easy to use and £960 cheaper.

  • Comment number 77.

    Never have been comfortable with people paying for 12 months broadband in advance, or firms taking three months subscription in advance.

    Have picked up the pieces over the years from a few firms who've tried similar.

    Is it safe to assume that the Alex package people buy will continue to function even if many years down the line the company ceases to operate?

    The user interface, very simple, but looks more like something you'd find on a £200 netbook than a £400 laptop. Does iPlayer work? SeeSaw? Those things TV/radio shows always want you to do.

  • Comment number 78.

    SunUnited wrote: .. "I am afraid it won't work based on the fact that a monthly fee of £39.95 for two years is too much. I would recommend any computer novice to buy a £1k Mac instead"

    You get a a laptop, a broadband connection and updates for less then a tenner, that's what some ISPs are charging for broadband only.

    Craig Golby wrote: "I am not completely anti Microsoft, we wouldnt be where we are today with Computers if it wasnt for them" ..

    Believe it or not the computer industry existed before Microsoft as did the GUI, the mouse and the WEb. Where we are today ?, we would probably have a vibrant computing industry, instead of a virtual monopoly.

    Exposurecontrol: .. "For all the arguments against Microsoft, there is more software written for it than any other OS" ..

    Except most people only want to browse the web, email or view photos ..

    vextasy wrote: "> The biggest problem with Microsoft is badly-written software ..

    You lost my interest at that point .."

    What he meant was the badly written Operating System, the one with all the viruses and phishing attacks ..

    James Branch wrote: .. "when they say 'Technical Support' is that telephone support that is free" ..

    Generally telephone support is minimal. Does the computer come with one-button-restore like the Lenovo ?

  • Comment number 79.

    An intel based mac is truly the way forward. you can run any operating system on it including windows, linux and osx. you can even run all of them at the same time using low cost emulators such as vmware's fusion. so if there's any software you've been using on windows and don't wanna give up you just bring it with you and can run it on your mac without any problems.

    Trying to simplify things for people because they're either incapable or unwilling to learn is a route not worth taking. in fact thats why windows got to the state its in at the moment. trying to hand hold you through every tiny little action, constantly raising the alarm about "security" issues and what not. and when the user base is coddled that much by the operating system, they forget the very concept of sorting things out for themselves.

    Alex is, in my opinion, fighting a losing battle. no windows user in their right mind would ever switch to a linux based system - its too "complicated" for them. people who know nothing about computers have too many options open to them to buy into a low spec system running linux and requiring them to part with £40 a month. and those tha know there stuff will buy a mac.

    for £40 a month i can buy pretty much any laptop i want and get free wifi anywhere i go plus broadband in the house. His target market would most likely buy one with windows on it, and soon as they switched it on, the thing would guide them through every little thing they needed to do. making alex obsolete before its even out.

    plus, acer seem to have the open source computing market sewn up. good luck!

  • Comment number 80.

    I have recently moved my 90+ year old Mum from Windows to Apple mac and so far she says she much prefers the Apple environment and has found her way around remarkably quickly. Having worked in computers for many years I tend to prefer the Unix based environment. I have run Linux since the mid 90s but am moving to Apple mac as I prefer the more integrated approach. Having said that I will admit that the latest distribution I loaded from Centos picked up all our network devices and performs well. For the mature user the Apple provides an easy way forward with a good level of support if required. Fully guaranteed Apple Macs are available at the Apple store search on refurbished at a bit of a discount in a variety of forms from laptop to desktop. Well worth a look. No i do not work for Apple!

  • Comment number 81.

    #79's comments "Trying to simplify things for people because they're either incapable or unwilling to learn is a route not worth taking" shows the yawning gulf between the incestuous, self-obsessed, self-congratulatory little world of techies, and the real Planet Earth out there. Yes, that's right Roy Mugwe, let's take the most important domestic technology of our age and keep it away from huge swathes of the population because you can't be bothered making it relevant to them.

    Good job the motor industry didn't take a similar view 100 years ago, or cars would still be limited to those with the mechanical nous to maintain and tune them.

    All the comments on here about tiny technical points about one browser or another, one OS or another, simply show that 99% of those directly involved in the IT business, or those whose worldview is dominated by this technology, simply can't connect with the rest of the world. IT is too important to be left in the hands of these people.

  • Comment number 82.

    You can download Ubuntu from their website FOR FREE. There are several desktop types available, FOR FREE. It's fairly simple to install, much easier than Windows, and you can test your system from the CD before you install it to make sure it is compatible. You can get all their open-source software from their servers FOR FREE. I've installed Ubuntu on several "computer-illiterate" friends' and relatives' PCs myself and with only a little instruction they were all able to get on the internet, check their e-mail and use OpenOffice for word processing, and didn't have to worry about things like anti-virus and anti-spyware software or other such foolishness. Who in their right minds would PAY for this operating system?

    This "Alex" thing is just taking advantage of people who don't know any better to part them from their money. I don't think it's a laudable business, just a exploitative one.

  • Comment number 83.

    I must say, having read the comments on this blog, there is a lot of technical people talking about technical reasons why this computer isn't any good, but not actually realising that the end user wants something that just works, rather than something complicated.

    When is comes down to it, the target audience just wants something to perform basic tasks. The problem has been in the past is that just to use a computer requires a high level of expertise. for example:-

    1. Turning the computer on
    2. Logging on
    3. Checking computer has internet access
    4. Waiting for anti virus updates
    5. Launching the web browser

    And that is before surfing the web.

    To be honest, most computer systems are now too complex. They try to do too many things in order to make them appeal to the widest market. That is where Windows has been a success, but also a failure in that no virtually everybody wants a Windows computer, even if it isn't entirely suitable.

    This computer appears to have a very good concept, something that is just plain and simple to use, I wish them success. However, I cannot stop thinking about one of the comments in this blog suggesting that the iPad has a very similar concept, which I agree with, which even has competitive pricing against this system (though with 3G broadband rather than ADSL). I think the Alex has about a 12 month start on Apple on this one.

    Again a lot of technical people have complained that it does offer multitasking, doesn't offer flash (iplayer and you tube will be supported though) and has a very simple user interface, things that a novice might not be concerned about. They might have problems transferring photos (unless a SD Card reader becomes available) and have to use iTunes to load new software (though on that front there are reports of a web based version under development that is better).

    As for getting children to help out, well as a 1st generation computer user having owned a computer since 12 (a Sinclair ZX81 no less), this isn't always the answer. My farther is relatively new to computers and now has a reasonable competence, but still needs help from time to time. However, it has made me realise just how much time can be wasted on using a Windows PC, hence I have recently bought the said £1000 mac. While I say it is a very good machine, even for a power user, I can see that some people would see them as expensive.

  • Comment number 84.

    I can't believe that people can come up with such ideas to make money out of lazy and rich people. Linux is open and it is becoming more and more easy to use and maintain nowadays. Why should someone pay so much, if they can get more freedom and facilities by just installing linux on your PC (Eg: Fedora, Ubuntu,OpenSuse, CentOS,google Chrome OS, gOS, etc..)? You can do all the basic to complicated tasks on these open source OS PCs. Cellan-Jones should get updated on what is going around. Bringing Microsoft into this matter is not the right way to steal money from others. I can't close my eyes on this daylight burgling. This move is against open-source, if they tried to include the OS/software selling. Do journalism for the people than the companies.

  • Comment number 85.

    40 pounds a month is just too much, nothing more than a scam to rip off ignorant consumers.

    Computers and software don't have to be complicated. The complicated part comes from bad drivers and "bloatware" (random promotional crap you didn't ask for) that you often get when you buy a PC with the operating system already installed.

    Making computers easier just means you should install the operating (Windows, Linux or Mac) yourself, that's very easy these days. During installation drivers should be automatically installed, though this is sadly not yet a reality.

  • Comment number 86.

    Surely this whole thing will be redundant in 20-30 years? By then everyone will have grown up with computers and will be tech-savvy, and there'll be no technophobes left?

  • Comment number 87.

    I think there one important misconception that needs to be clarified:

    Linux is not the one object that makes computers happen, it's just a very reliable car engine. What's happened in computing is that we're making a car hard, and unreliable to drive, a bit like the first cars that were created! But that's what Alex computer is trying to do with computers, we need to make them easier, just look at what making the car easier has achieved, look at automatic cars in the USA.

    I don't know if this will be it, it could well be! And I think none of us know for the moment, we're just speculating. Most of us have never tried or let our grandparents try the Chris computer. Let consumers, those who need it, decide for themselves and let's not let our prejudices rule the fate of this product.

  • Comment number 88.

    Firstly, I hope this endeavour fails utterly because it isn't interested in GNU/Linux for its capabilities. They want it because it's free (gratis) and they're abusing it for the potential profits it can bring.

    Secondly, however, I do agree something like this is necessary. Apple has a good model, with their One to One service, for those who have the time, money, patience and willingness to learn how to use a full desktop OS. However, this model isn't going to work with everyone. I think something like Chrome OS or Ubuntu Netbook Remix could work with those who don't want that. As much as I would like the idea that everybody would learn how to use a full desktop OS, it's obvious that no matter what level of support is being offered, some people still want an appliance-like computer. A tailored OS which does the basics. This brings me neatly on to the iPad. Somebody above claimed the iPad could fill this space. Hold your horses for now. We don't even know how we're going to print anything with it yet. I really think the iPad is squarely aimed at media consumption as a second or tertiary device and cannot see Apple doing much to improve its prospects as a desktop replacement - even for the complete novice.

    Thirdly, to those saying to introduce novices to GNU/Linux is absurd. Why, exactly? Some seem to be suggesting that on the basis that even experienced users sometimes struggle with it. I think that's flawed thinking for the following reasons; assuming the target market is someone who has never used a computer before, getting used to a brand new UI is much easier than changing from another UI you'd got to know over many years (Windows for most people); the likes of Chrome OS and Ubuntu Netbook Remix allow for control over the hardware (the potential benefits of which for the user experience have been well utilised by Apple); and, the needs of experienced users are vastly greater than novices and so their problems are exponentially greater. Then there are the people who claim GNU/Linux provides poor desktop environments. Again, assuming a complete novice, the implication is that the likes of GNOME or KDE are innately more complex than Windows or OS X. I'd like to hear a reason why this is so - especially as GNU/Linux has repositories to install software from. Why is GNOME or KDE inherently less intuitive? To me, GNU/Linux, and the complete novice on controlled hardware, seems like a match made in heaven. GNU/Linux is secure and stable and the basic software comes pre-installed. You've already got everything a novice would use; web browser; media players; full office suite etc. If you do want anything else, there are repositories where you can search and install free categorised software with two clicks. Browsing to dozens of different sites is far less user friendly than this. Even installing software from a CD/DVD is more difficult. It's something of a paradox considering GNU/Linux is allegedly only for geeks but the thing GNU/Linux is worst at (through no fault of its own) is gaming, Blu-Ray playback, speciality software etc. geared towards the poweruser. At the basic stuff, I don't think it can be beaten even by OS X due to the sheer amount of pre-installed software and built-in repositories. Furthermore, the ability to customise the interface of GNU/Linux i.e. Chrome OS and Ubuntu Netbook Remix, mean that it is more than a match for OS X in terms of simplicity.

  • Comment number 89.

    It seems the target market is novice computer users who haven't necessarily owned a computer before.

    Why would these people (who've so far wilfully avoided computers) agree to commit to 2 years on an expensive contract they may never use?

    Good luck Alex - you'll need it!

  • Comment number 90.

    The price seems pretty high. There was no mentioning of how much bandwidth one would have available as part of this package.

    Also, would the price be lowered if you already have an active Internet connection but just wanted to purchase their computer instead of purchasing a new Windows / Macintosh based computer?

  • Comment number 91.

    It would be nice to see another os rivial that of Microsoft.
    If Linux or any other OS was to rival that of Microsoft, then more Software and games would be avilable for cross platform.

    The only resion I've not moved to linux as an OS other than as a server is the fact that all my software and games are only avilable for Microsoft Windows.

    So if this does work, then this will pave away for software and games to be made for cross platfome rather than just for Microsoft Windows.

  • Comment number 92.

    Hmmm - so much hot air. Alex is aimed at the novice and may just work, I can't understand how thay have managed to "invest £2.5M"

    For the novice simplicity is the key - not cool or glitzy. OSX has a great UI. So does Wndows 7, KDE4 etc etc.

    The most success I have had with novice users old and young alike is Ubuntu's Netbook Remix. It's not cool, its not pretty. But it is functional, intuitive and easy for a novice to use. I have installed this on aging laptops as well as desktops.

  • Comment number 93.

    Well first yes there is a desperate need for a more simple user friendly, easy to use computer, but I doubt this is it. The real problem is that I bet the simplicity bit is wafer thin, especially since its based on Linux. As long as we're stuck with the same underlying tech mish-mash and current OS technology I see no way out.
    The main thing thats needed is an operating system built up from the ground up to provide a consumer level product. Add to that an integrated approach to hardware, maybe making the whole thing processor and hardware brand 'independent' (what Linux tries to do today but without the fatal flaw of its unix past).
    After that and really the most important thing of all is a better simpler, more unified, more logical development environment. Most of the problems with todays PC software come from the complex tangled convoluted development environments programmers are forced to work in. The worst thing is people turning to things like .net, which give an illusion of simplicity but are just papering over the broken walls. Ok I admit I had a large software project that ground to a halt for exactly this reason. Absently I eventually sketched out a design for a unified architecture computer to solve the problem, it might just work but I doubt anybody would be interested today. Sigh!

  • Comment number 94.

    UNIX? Fatal flaws? Care to elaborate? Last time I checked *nix was considered to be rock solid, especially the purer ones like BSD. Now if you were to substitute Windows and talk about the 17 year old flaw and so on... Not meaning to knock Microsoft, just stating facts.

  • Comment number 95.

    The government has a program to get everybody up to speed with the internet, web, browsing, email etc. What they say is "15M adults are not using the computers and the internet", well lease them a computer. "70% of people living in social housing aren't online". Well simple, install broadband in all social housing as part of the rent. Problem solved.

    Instead the government bleats about "social exclusion" and sets up UK online centres all over the place (6000 of them, imagine the cost). There actions consist of two parts, local computer training centres and a web site called

    They have recently committed yet an other £30m to these matters.

    But people who don't use or understand the web are simply not connected, because they don't know how, don't have a computer or don't have broadband access.

    I am sure they are interested who wouldn't be these days. It is part of life. So get them connected? Make broadband a public service like water, sewage, electricity? Get them a computer they can understand?

    So who has the solution? Not the government with their "myguide' web site. Try it you will be amazed they could have spent £2.5M on this and £500K/year for maintenance..., and not to mention the 6000 computer centres where we are supposed to go to find out how to drive a Windows PC

    And not Alex with their PC. Its cost is too high, it is a lock in product (like Myguide) and it is yesterday's technology (both hardware and software and UI)

    Why not?

    Complexity. OK computers are complex, OK the web is confusing. But we can make it usable by everyone if we have a user focus and simplicity. I have a feeling that Apple know this with their new iPad product, we will see when it comes to market in April. Let's try it with those who have never used computers before and see how they get on. Meanwhile let's not buy Alex. Buy an iPad for around £300 (price to be announced) and sign up for £10/mth wireless broadband. Job done.

    And let's stop the government spending millions uselessly on Myguide and those 6000 computer centres. Stupidity, wrong-mindedness.

  • Comment number 96.

    I would love to see Linux become much bigger...I don't think that will happen if they keep increasing their distros:(....

    When I saw the title of this article, my initial reaction was: Oh no! Yet another Linux Distro...

    Yes, open source software is wonderful...anyone who knows to read and interpret the source code can modify it and create something good out of it for their needs.

    Unfortunately, this has only given rise to more distros. On the long run, this will only confuse most people. How then do they expect to compete against rivals like Windows or Macintosh? Don't get me wrong, I still admire Linux.

    Open source software is still great, but if the Open Source Community wants to make an impact they need to wake up, put their differences behind them and unite (Read as: Cut down the number of distros). I doubt whether this will bring Linux to the masses.

  • Comment number 97.

    Personally, I don't see the range of distros that are available as a problem. There are a handful of big players (Ubuntu, Debian, SuSE, Red Hat etc.) that fulfil various needs complemented by a LOT of smaller ones that, generally, meet more specific needs. We don't want to replace one monopoly (MS) with another! In the same way that a range of browsers is good for the internet (As commented on in response to Rory's blog about Ms offering a chice of default browser.)so is a range of operating systems.

  • Comment number 98.

    #2 Craig Colby

    I very much agree with your views. Yes, computers could be easier to use, just as Moore envisioned they could be faster and cheaper. It's taken billions of pounds in painful R&D by computer firms to get to where we are today, and people mustn't forget that. It's computer science for a very good reason; it's complex! We should be thanking WIntel for making the PC ever so affordable, easier to use, and more readily available.

    We also mustn't forget that computers have a business as well as a science side to them. As history has it, Apple at some point may have had the upper hand on the science side of it but ceded the business side to Microsoft. Things may well change in the future, with Google and other trend disrupters joining the fray.

    They're all in it for the money, make no mistake about that! That's why Alex is not free.

  • Comment number 99.

    I don't know that 'most households have a PC already"nor how the demographic numbers work out for this business. But I have encountered this same issue myself, just a day before reading this on the BBC. My 65 years + friend was given a nice Dell computer with XP on it, but it is nearly impossible for him to get started at all. All he wants at present is web browsing and email. Try to imagine what the computer desktop looks like to a beginner: A lot of stuff and options they may never need but certainly can't use now. No help really, except a friend standing over your shoulder saying "click that icon" ("right what's click mean?"). Add to that an older adult who really doesn't want to mess with the computer or take the time to experiment like a kid would, just wants to use it.

    So "Alex" may have an answer here. I wish I could setup a simple Windows interface for my friend to use. Then after he has exhausted the web, email, and a simplified office suite which I assume includes photo downloads (not really likely). He can worry about making an informed decision about his next computer.

    I think a lot of experienced users only look at the limitations instead of the simplification. Simple and clean interfaces are more possible with the advanced technologies, just as much as increased complexity. Some day all computers will have a simplified mode available.

  • Comment number 100.

    I'm a 78 year old, using Ubuntu is like falling off a log, all strength to Alex. It made me wonder what on earth I was worried about.


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