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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Motorola Ming smart phone

Before the G1, there was the Motorola Ming. Chances are, you've never heard of the Ming, but for a while it was the darling of the pundit class, with some predicting (correctly, as it turned out) it would lead to a surge in the use of Linux as a mobile platform.

The original Ming A1200 was an immediate hit after its launch in China in early 2006, selling about a million units in the first full quarter after its release. That, along with the release of the Windows Mobile-based Motorola Q series in the West, propelled Motorola to the No. 3 spot in the smart phone vendor heap, at least for a while.

The Ming is an unassuming-looking smart phone. For one thing, it's tiny -- it looks like half a clamshell phone. But its capabilities go far beyond the run of the mill.

Motorola Ming A1600 smart phone

The Motorola Ming A1600

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For instance, the Ming had a touch screen before Apple's iPhone. The newest versions (the A1600 and A1800), released earlier this year in China, have built-in GPS, handwriting recognition (for Chinese characters) and a business card reader. The A1800 can even work on both CDMA and GSM cellular systems, meaning it's a true world phone.

Motorola still considers the Ming a success, claiming it has sold more than 3 million of the devices since its introduction. More important, though, the Ming's success came at a time when Linux was not a factor in the smart phone world. In 2006, Nokia and the Symbian platform held an overwhelming worldwide lead, Research In Motion's BlackBerry was surging, and Microsoft had finally stopped fumbling and released a viable smart phone platform -- Windows Mobile 5.

But the Ming showed the phone industry that Linux was a strong platform, paving the way for the G1 and whatever Linux phones come next. For being an unsung (in the West, anyway) Linux hero, the Ming earns a spot in the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame.

Linksys BEFSR41 Ethernet router

Linksys BEFSR41 router

The Linksys BEFSR41 router

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Perhaps it's an overgeneralization, but few groups like to tinker with technology more than Linux fans. The dryly named Linksys BEFSR41 router, released in late 1999, was the first successful mass-consumer router with Linux firmware, which opened the door for tinkering with the capabilities of home routers.

A bit of context: Broadband in the home was just starting to become common in 1999, and the first wireless networking standard to be a widespread success -- 802.11b -- was approved just a couple of months before this router was released. As a result, the BEFSR41 wasn't wireless-capable but, rather, was strictly for Ethernet connections.

But the BEFSR41 succeeded -- it's still being sold by Linksys -- in part because the people who needed home routers in those days were fairly early adopters, and early adopters tend to be tinkerers, and many tinkerers love Linux.

There wasn't a lot of Linux firmware then; more is available now. In fact, rival router manufacturer Netgear has been, of late, more enthusiastic than Linksys about helping users of its open-source home routers customize their devices. That company released the WGR614L router last year, marketing it directly at Linux enthusiasts.

But Linksys broke new Linux ground with its BEFSR41, and for that it deserves its spot in the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame.

Have your say: Which products would you nominate for the Linux Gadget Hall of Fame?

David Haskin is a frequent contributor to Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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