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.

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Asus Eee PC netbook

Ultrasmall laptops, or netbooks, are another new category of products aimed at mobile Internet users, and the original Linux-based, 2-lb., $400 Asus Eee PC was the first such device to hit the mass market. The Eee PC and the crowd of competitors that followed are like MIDs, but larger. Typical netbook screen sizes are seven to 10 inches, and the devices usually weigh about 2 pounds.

As often happens with new categories of products, featuritis took over and netbooks became more powerful and expensive; some were even based on (gasp!) Windows. Now vendors have signaled they are returning to the concept of simple and cheap -- Asus has strongly hinted that it's planning a $200 Eee PC for 2009. As was the case with the original Eee PC, that probably means Linux.

original Asus Eee PC

The original Asus Eee PC

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True, the Eee PC wasn't the first to adopt this particular form factor. The One Laptop Per Child project, which is aimed at providing inexpensive laptops to kids in developing nations, received a lot of attention prior to the Eee PC's release.

But the Eee PC is in the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame because it was the first such device to go mainstream, bringing Linux to a whole new group of consumers and spawning an important new market segment.

Amazon Kindle e-reader

E-readers have been around since the late '90s, but it wasn't until Amazon released the Kindle reader in late 2007 that the world started taking the concept seriously.

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle

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The 10.3-oz., $359 device can store more than 200 books. So far, Amazon has made more than 190,000 titles available to Kindle owners, and you can subscribe to almost 200 periodicals and have them delivered automatically to the device. Its monochrome e-paper display crisply mimics the look and feel of a printed page.

But the real key to Kindle's growing success is built-in wireless 3G access that connects the Kindle to Amazon's online store, a capability that is included in the initial purchase price and requires no additional monthly fees. While previous e-readers made it simple to read e-books, Kindle also makes it simple to acquire them no matter where you are. And consumers are starting to respond: Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney has predicted Kindle sales of 380,000 in 2008, making it comparable to first-year sales for Apple's iPod.

Need further proof of Kindle's importance? Oprah recently endorsed it, saying it is "absolutely my new favorite thing in the world." The Kindle easily earns a spot in the Gadget Hall of Fame because it finally makes the e-reader a compelling idea.

TomTom GO personal GPS device

The market for portable GPS devices was starting to heat up in the spring of 2004. That's when TomTom released the GO, the first mass-market Linux-based personal navigation device.

original TomTom GO

The original TomTom GO

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Besides the uniqueness of being based on Linux, this device sported flashy features that were still relatively new for handheld navigation devices (as opposed to devices built into cars) such as a touch screen and text-to-speech capabilities that speak directions out loud.

Newer versions of the GO are still available; some of them, such as the GO 930T, offer other newfangled features such as built-in Bluetooth to help you make hands-free calls, real-time traffic condition updates and a built-in MP3 player.

These days, personal navigation devices are common and several are based on Linux. Garmin, for example, started moving its highly regarded Nuvi line of navigation devices to Linux last year and is to be commended for having a more active developer's program than TomTom. But the original TomTom GO earns its spot in the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame because it brought Linux to the world of personal navigation gadgets.

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