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The Linux Gadget Hall of Fame: One geek's picks

Some of the most fascinating, fun and influential tech devices of all time are based on Linux. Our gadget geek names 10 of the best.

By David Haskin
December 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Linux has a strong following among those who manage corporate servers, a loyal corps of desktop users and a small but growing base of laptop users. But it's also been a big -- if stealthy -- success as a platform for gadgets.

In fact, there ought to be a Linux Gadget Hall of Fame. I'll get it started with the first group of inductees: 10 of the most important gadgets of all time, each one based on Linux.

Just as some of the inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are there because they're world-class performers, while others are honored for their innovation, I've chosen the gadgets in this roundup for various reasons. Some are high-visibility best-sellers, others are lesser-known players that blazed new trails, and some are simply the best at what they do. All are deserving of a place of honor in the Hall of Fame.

These gadgets are presented in no particular order; head on over to our reader poll to help rank them. Let's hear your nominees as well. Tell us which Linux-based gadgets you believe have been the most important in changing the consumer electronics landscape and why.

In the meantime, here are my first 10 inductees into the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame.

TiVo digital video recorder

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, television entered the U.S. mass market, forever changing how people entertain themselves. Since its introduction in 1999, TiVo has forever changed how people watch television.

Sure, the widespread adoption of VCRs in the late '70s and early '80s brought the concept of time-shifting to consumers. Instead of being anchored to your sofa during a TV show, movie or sporting event, you could record it and watch it later, fast-forwarding through commercials if you so desired.

original Philips TiVo DVR
The original Philips TiVo DVR, released in 1999
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But TiVo, the technology behind the world's first digital video recorder (DVR), brought time-shifting into the 21st century, enabling you to stop a live TV program and start it up again when you return from the kitchen, a phone call or the bathroom, or rewind for an instant replay at regular speed or in slow motion. You can automatically record individual shows, an entire season of a show or two shows simultaneously. You can search for specific actors and record everything in which they appear. And yes, you can skip the commercials.

In other words, TiVo lets you watch precisely what you want, when you want to watch it. TiVo also proves that Linux isn't just for geeks; its interface is so natural that users quickly feel that's how television should always work.

The first TiVo DVR was actually released by Philips in 1999; TiVo didn't launch its own DVR devices until 2002. Recent market studies estimate there are now more than 36 million DVRs at work in the U.S., but unfortunately for TiVo, copycat competitors made most of those devices.

Nevertheless, TiVo was an important trailblazer and is still arguably the best-of-breed DVR. It's a shoo-in for the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame.

Nokia Internet Tablets

Industry analysis firm ABI Research predicted last summer that 90 million mobile Internet devices (MIDs), sometimes called Internet Tablets, will be sold by 2012, and most of those will be based on Linux.

Nokia N770 Internet Tablet
The Nokia N770 Internet Tablet
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Say what? What's a MID?

That question was answered in 2005 by Finnish telecom giant Nokia when it released its Linux-based N770 Internet Tablet. The 9-oz. PDA-size device was aimed at giving mobile users a more satisfying Internet experience than is possible with smart phones.

Besides connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi, the device could play back media and manage personal information. It had a keyboard that was superior to those found on smart phones, a comparatively generous 4.1-in. display, a built-in camera and Bluetooth. The newest version, the N810 WiMax Edition, supports, as the name implies, WiMax as well as Wi-Fi.

This class of devices has yet to succeed; although they have the strong backing of chip makers like Intel, they are expensive and Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch do many of the same things quite elegantly. But Nokia's Internet Tablets earn their place in the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame by being the first widely available devices to make using the Internet while mobile a delight instead of a trial.



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