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HP touts four-in-one Linux PC

The machine is aimed at education, but could be attractive to businesses as well

By Todd R. Weiss
July 14, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - With new PCs offering more computing power than a single user needs for basic work such as exploring the Internet or creating documents, Hewlett-Packard Co. is now pushing a desktop machine that includes four monitors, keyboards and mice. The Mandrakelinux-equipped machine can be used by four users at one time.
The quad computer, called the HP 441, is being aimed first at the education market in developing countries, where keeping hardware costs down is critical. The machines can be equipped with Intel Celeron or Pentium 4 processors and come with at least 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and four specialized graphics cards.
In an announcement Monday, Paris-based Mandrakesoft SA said the machines include a customized Mandrakelinux operating system that allows users to access the operating system and applications at the same time. The Linux kernel already allows two users to share the operating system at the same time; modifications to the source code for this product doubled those capabilities.
Brooke Partridge, HP's business manager for emerging markets, said the HP 441 is already being used in schools in a pilot project in South Africa and work is continuing on expanding sales into other countries. The machine is optimized for education use and includes more than 70 related applications and the open-source OpenOffice.org productivity suite.
In South Africa, the machines sell for about $400 per seat, or $1,600 for four users, which can be as much as 50% less than separate white-box PCs equipped with monitors, keyboards and mice, Partridge said. Having four people use one PC at the same time saves about 50% of the hardware acquisition costs and 65% of maintenance costs, she said.
The idea for the machines was born out af an HP Linux Competency Center in Grenoble, France, where engineers looked at ways of using the power of modern PCs in more productive ways, Partridge said. Even with four users running applications at once, she said, the system resources don't get overtaxed.
HP chose Linux for the machines for several reasons, including the ability to access and modify the operating system source code, and because it is leaner and has more capacity for system resources while offering the lowest per-seat prices for users. Another factor, she said, is that many governments in emerging markets have shown a preference for the use of open-source software when possible because of lower costs and added flexibility.
"We would be more than happy to discuss the potential of the 441 with Microsoft, but right now, we've done it with Linux," Partridge said.
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