Gadget Guy Goes to CES 2006
Straight from Vegas, Gadget Guy brings word of four cool new Linux-friendly gadgets you should know about. [This article initially appeared in TUX, issue 11.]
by Sean Carruthers
The Consumer Electronics Show, held annually at the beginning of January, is a treasure trove of products for the gadget freak--big gadgets, small gadgets, phone gadgets, multimedia gadgets and even Linux gadgets. I had the chance to attend the show again this year and got a look at a few new Linux-friendly products.
$399 US (approx)
One of the nicest things about the Linux operating system is that you can run it comfortably on hardware that would turn Windows into a lumbering beast. An upshot of this is a lot of people are able to turn their old creaky Windows machines into Linux boxes and keep that hardware in service for a while longer. Luckily, hardware manufacturers also have recognized that Linux's ability to work on more modest hardware makes it possible to offer a brand-spanking-new computer at a reasonably low cost.
What may not be so obvious is that the more modest hardware requirements make it possible for Linux to run fairly well on hardware that's been purposefully scaled back or condensed in order to fit into a smaller form factor. Thus is born the Linspire Mini. It's clear that the Linspire Mini took a lot of its inspiration from the Mac Mini, Apple's own ultra-compact computer. The basic size and shape are almost identical, though the 2.8-pound Linspire box keeps the price down by featuring a less snazzy industrial design. (Some might call it kinda ugly, but really it's just kind of plain.) Because the unit is so compact, there's not much to see on the outside of the computer. The front has a power button and a slot for the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive; the rear features two USB ports, a FireWire connector, S-Video and DVI video outputs, a 10/100 Ethernet port and speaker/mic jacks.
Inside, the Mini comes with a Pentium M 740 processor (or Celeron M), a single slot for DDR 2 memory, and a 40 or 80GB notebook-sized hard drive. Wireless networking also is available inside the box. Although the Linspire Mini comes with a DVI-to-D-Sub monitor adapter, you'll have to get the monitor, keyboard and mouse separately.
Coming from Linspire, it's no surprise that the Mini runs the Linspire operating system. Right out of the box, the Mini comes with music and photo management software, Internet applications like Firefox, e-mail and instant messaging capabilities, as well as a number of built-in games. For the more advance user, built-in BitTorrent file-sharing software also is included. It's almost everything you need to get started in the world of Linux.
If you're a gadget fanatic like I am, eventually you'll come to an unpleasant realization. There are a ton of gadgets out there--from cell phones to organizers to MP3 players to digital cameras to whatever else--that feature power adapters the size of small houses. It takes only one or two of those power bricks before you start realize how badly designed most power bars are.
The new PowerSquid design aims to remedy that problem, by breaking each of the six power outlets out onto its own tentacle to keep it from interfering with your ability to plug something in to the next outlet over. Ultimately, the tentacles will sprawl out a bit, but compared to having to string together multiple power bars to get all those power bricks hooked up, it's a small price to pay.
The thoughtfulness of the design doesn't stop there. At the end of the cord you plug in to your wall outlet is a rotating head, allowing you to reposition the cord so it doesn't interfere with other nearby outlets, without having the cord jutting out from the wall itself. The Calamari model also features power indicator lights inside two of the outlets, allowing you to locate them easily, even if the rest of the squid is tucked into a dark corner behind your entertainment center.
Pepper Pad Plus
Launched in summer 2005, the Linux-powered Pepper Pad got a lot of attention for its combination of portability and multimedia functionality; in fact, TUX took a look at it in our debut issue ("The Pepper Pad 2: First Impressions", TUX, March 2005). Now, meet the Pepper Pad Plus.
Like the original Pepper Pad, the Pepper Pad Plus is designed to be an instant-on handheld wireless information center with a touch-sensitive screen and mini-keyboard. It can be used to surf the Web with the built-in Mozilla browser, connect to the AOL Instant Messenger service, send and receive e-mail, read eBooks, connect with the Flickr photo-sharing service and show off television schedules. You even can use it as a remote control for your audio/video equipment using the infrared port. This new version of the Pepper Pad also includes Windows Media compatibility and SIP-based VoIP Internet telephony.
There have been a few hardware improvements since the first generation. Although the LCD screen holds steady at 8.4 inches, the internal hard drive has been bumped up to 30GB, the Wi-Fi networking has been improved from 802.11b to 11g, and the Pepper Pad Plus includes Bluetooth 2.0. Even better, the battery life has been improved by 60%, so you don't have to hook it up to the charger so often.
As before, data input may take a bit of practice. The mini-keyboard is split onto either side of the Pepper Pad's screen; media control buttons appear above the QWERTY keys, and cursor and scroll controllers appear below. You can connect a whole variety of items to the Pepper Pad via USB, or you can insert a SecureDigital card directly into the Pepper Pad Plus.
Linux developers also can create applications for the Pepper Pad by registering at www.pepper.com/linux.
If you're planning to build your own compact Linux server--either for home or for the car--you have to check out the PicoPSU-120, which is the smallest 120-Watt power supply I've ever seen. In fact, the entirety of the PicoPS-120 is barely larger than the standard ATX power connector that comes with most other power supplies.
The PicoPSU-120 features two full-size molex power connectors, and a floppy-sized connector. A 12-volt input jack sits at the end of a wire long enough to reach the opposite side of a Mini-ITX motherboard, so you have flexibility in power location if you're building your own chassis. Best news of all: because it's so small, it doesn't need a cooling fan, which means ultra-quiet operation.
About the Author
Sean Carruthers is a freelance technology journalist from Toronto. He spent six years at Canada Computer Paper, first as Products Editor at The Computer and later at HUB Digital Living magazine. As a freelancer, he has written for the Globe and Mail, globetechnology.com, HUB Digital Living, Computer Dealer News, Homefront and CE-Biz. Although a relative newbie with Linux (SUSE, thank you very much), he has extensive experience with tech gadgets of all sorts and is enjoying figuring out which ones are compatible with Linux.