gOS the OS that sold Walmart out of PCs

Last updated: Dec. 1, 2007, 5:42 p.m.

If you read news on the internet about technology related things, You will almost certainly have heard about the gPC that Walmart in the US were selling. For those of you just landed from a trip outside the solar system, the machine was a $199 PC, running a VIA C7 CPU at 1.5GHz rather than an Intel/AMD, but still x86. It had an 80GB hard disk and 512MB of RAM. So, a reasonable spec PC at an amazing price, but how could that kind of hardware survive running Vista? It didn't! The PC ran gOS, an Ubuntu based Linux distribution. The PC sold out within a week according to reports on the internet, exactly how many units this is I'm not sure, but it seems to have taken Walmart by surprise.

However, the tale of the gPC is now well documented and this is not intended to be another gloating article about how awesome Linux is or anything. What started me off on this review was the fact that I am writing it from within gOS.

As you would expect from a Linux distro, the operating system is available on-line for download as a CD ISO image to install on any computer you want. Like Ubuntu the installer is run from within a live cd environment, so to try it out you don't even have to install anything. I'm running the operating system from the CD and it seems to be quite smooth and comfortable.

The desktop experience is quite unusual, it uses the Enlightenment window manager which is famed for it's simplicity and elegance, and it looks good. The desktop has a small group of short cuts in the top left pointing to the hard disk(s) on the machine, an install link and an about link which opens an about page in Firefox. Along the bottom of the desktop is a dock bar something like what you might see on OSX with slightly different fancy effects. There's also a google search box in the top right of the desktop typing a keyword in here and clicking search brings up a window of google search results. A clock and network monitor are in a sidebar on the right of the screen, which can contain a number of widgets, all of which have a very glossy attractive appearance.

The program bar along the bottom of the screen is quite unusual, like I said it behaves somewhat like OSX, clicking an icon brings that program up on the screen, with minimised programs appearing on the right of the bar. However the first button (which looks like a green leaf) is more akin to a start menu bringing up a detailed list of applications and options. However the icons pre-loaded in the tray are an interesting array, rather than the usual web browser, email program, music player etc. What you get is Firefox, and then a number of links to particular web services which open in Firefox (along with music and movie player applications). Links to gMail, Blogger, google News, google Docs, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia are all present along with others, and other web-centric applications such as Skype. Clicking a link rapidly opens a Firefox tab with that location selected, note that it opens a tab, so if you click more than one of these you don't get a whole heap of windows open, just one Firefox window with several tabs.

You also get a nice selection of your favourite desktop Linux applications, GIMP, OpenOffice, Synaptic, Rhythmbox and Xine Movie player, a handful of quite reasonable little desktop games, and a host of internet tools. Also in the main menu are tools to change theme, two are included on the live CD, the Bling theme was possibly my favourite but lacked some of the simplistic elegance of the default.

Personally I can't see myself using this OS day to day in the way I use Kubuntu simply because it is too simple, I use more of the operating system than this provides. However for an introduction to using Linux it is superb, the interface is clean, intuitive and fast. I can see how a $199 with this operating system would have sold out so quickly, in a similar way to the ASUS eeePC, I don't think people care anymore about what their operating system is as long as they can use it, and since the majority of PC use these days is accessing the internet, it makes very little difference to people what the operating system is.



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