Lenovo returns to the Linux desktop

Lenovo might not describe their return to the Linux desktop like that, but that's what they're doing. Yesterday, November 12th, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs gave the world a sneak peak at the Lenovo ARM Snapdragon-powered smartbook, a cross between a smartphone and a netbook. Jacobs added that Lenovo Linux-based smartbook would make its debut at January's CES (Computer Electronics Show).

We don't know, at this point, what Linux it will be running. In an e-mail, Lenovo confirmed that it was developing a smartbook based on the ARM Snapdragon processor and that they expect to announce it at CES.  But, "Unfortunately, there are no further details at this point."

Sources at Qualcomm were a little more forthcoming. The smartbook, which adds 3G data telephony technology and GPS to a netbook design and size-factor, will be built on top of the 1 GHz Snapdragon chipset. This un-named Lenovo smartbook will be an instant-on design with 720p HD video, GPS for location-based services, and a large battery that can deliver power for 8 to 10 hours.

The device will support both 3G, from AT&T, and 802.11 g/n Wi-Fi. AT&T will sell the devices -- quite likely as part of a 3G data plan. AT&T was also closed-mouth about any further details.

The Linux interface, as shown by Jacobs, is a simple, application based design. We already know that Google Android is supported on the Snapdragon architecture and is optimized for 3G smartphone use, so it's a likely choice for the Lenovo device.

Historically, Lenovo has had a love/hate affair with Linux. While Lenovo ThinkPads have long been popular with Linux desktop users, Lenovo was slow to officially support Linux. After Lenovo finally made the plunge with Novell's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop), the company then quickly backed out of the Linux desktop market.

So why is Lenovo back? Well, in a way, they're not.

Yes, they will be shipping a Linux smartbook, but it's going to be primarily sold by AT&T as a cross between a smartphone and a netbook. It won't be marketed as a 'Linux desktop.' It will be marketed as a useful device just like the Verizon Droid smartphone and T-Mobile G1 are. You and I know that they're powered by Google Android Linux, but 99.9999% of their customers don't know that, and don't care.

In addition, since Microsoft doesn't support the ARM-processor family with Windows 7, Lenovo doesn't have to fight with its strong-armed Windows supplier. Which is just as well from Lenovo's viewpoint since Windows 7 Starter Edition, the only version Microsoft will sell for use on a netbook, is proving to be a bit of a flop.

Lenovo may not be offering retail customers a ThinkPad with Linux again anytime soon, but with the low-end market seemingly going to Linux and the Android mobile phones giving Apple's iPhone competition, they'd be fools not to use Linux in the low-end and mobile markets.

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