Everyone's free Linux: DeviceVM's Splashtop

One of the neat things about Linux has always been that you can run it on just about anything: iPhones, xBoxes, PS3, you name it, you can run Linux on it. So, why not, the good people at DeviceVM thought, make a desktop Linux that came bundled in a PC's motherboard: Splashtop.

Splashtop is a mini-desktop Linux distribution that's based on the 2.6.20 Linux kernel. Currently, Splashtop comes pre-installed on pretty much all ASUS motherboards and on netbooks and laptops from ASUS, HP's high-end VoodooPC division and Lenovo. Rumor has it that Splashtop and similar baked-in desktop Linuxes, like Dell's "BlackTop," aka Latitude ON, will soon be appearing from other PC and motherboard vendors. I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if DeviceVM makes some new partner announcements at this week's CES (Consumer Electronics Show).

The concept behind Splashtop and its competitors is to make it possible for you to open your netbook or laptop and be able to get to work in five seconds or less. It's not a Windows replacement idea. Most of these systems come with Windows pre-installed as their main operating system. Instead, vendors are addressing the needs of today's hurry-up-and-go users. These folks simply want to get to a desktop quickly so they can check their e-mail, make a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) call or check a Web site, and then close it to catch their next flight.

Splashtop does this by launching from a Core Engine. This is an embedded "proprietary real-time operating environment" within the BIOS. Splashtop Linux lives in the motherboard's 512MB flash memory firmware. Here, you'll find not only Linux and the required drivers and networking tools the computer needs, but an assortment of useful road warrior programs. Splashtop can be up and working even before your hard drive ramps up to speed.

What you'll see is a task-oriented desktop that's based on the lightweight Blackbox (http://blackboxwm.sourceforge.net/) graphical user interface. This means that the desktop comes with ready-to-run application icons. In Splashtop's case, that includes Web browsing, with a version of Firefox; VoIP with Skype; and the universal IM client, Pidgin.

Splashtop also includes Flash and MPlayer-based video players and a version of the LinDVD to view DVDs. The midget operating system also comes with a photo viewer and music player.

None of this is extraordinary. In fact, the open-source programs tend to be older versions. Of course, Splashtop isn't meant to be be a full-out desktop replacement. Its purpose is to give you just enough desktop to make fast, efficient use of the Internet. From that standpoint, Splashtop is a winner.

If you want to know more about Splashtop, check out Splashtop "Instant-On Linux" Gets Hacked and its links. I think you'll find that while no one is going to make Splashtop their main desktop, it's useful to have a built-in, instant-on Linux desktop at your command.

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