The 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show is one of the ultimate tech-toy and gadget shows on the planet. There's something for nearly anyone, and while not quite a household word, Linux technology has gained rapid stature in the consumer-electronics industry, as demonstrated by vastly increased cognizance of both Linux users and Linux embedded technology.
When walking through the shows of prior CES shows, you could get the most amusing looks on people's faces when you asked the question, "Does it work with Linux?" Sometimes there would be the awkward stares, a pause, then the retort, "Excuse me? Linucks? What's that, please?"
Others would say, "Nah, why? Who uses it? Show me two users that aren't developers or cheapskate geeks, and I'll show you our new Linux product line." A few heads might nod if you substituted the brand "Mac" for Linux.
Now that's all changed. We found a number of both Linux-based products, as well as a raft of OS-agnostic products worth mentioning.
This handheld portable audio/video media player comes in two sizes based on storage, 80GB and 120GB, and is based on a Linux embedded kernel. Designed to display up to 60K hi-res photos, or play 240 hours of medium (not HD) videos, we were impressed with the crispness of Wolverine's display, and its light weight -- just a few ounces. I product targeted at the "pro-sumer" market, the Wolverine has easily-manipulated controls and easily understood functions.
Not Linux-specific but rather designed to prevent premature baldness from tearing one's hair out when batteries die, TurboCharge contains a charged AA battery, which is used to hot-charge everything from mobile phones to iPods and other devices containing proprietary but rapidly chargeable batteries. It charged a Motorola mobile phone from near dead to topped-off in about eight minutes in our unscientific test. It's very small and terribly simple and useful to use.
Headplay Personal Cinema is a virtual-reality-like headset, based on an embedded Linux kernel that plays back downloaded media, or media from flash drives, SD memory or USB. It simulates a large cinema display and has a hand control for media movement controls. There's a 3D/stereoscopic version available as well. They had to pry it out of our hands, er, head.
Price varies (>US$200)
This open source mobile phone uses embedded Linux but with open source applications to build features rivaling many advanced mobiles, such as GIS capabilities and embedded multimedia. Tomorrow, we'll include an interview with one of OpenMoku's founders.
You can mention Linux, and the people that are professional aisle-blockers at CES both acknowledge FOSS and Linux, and have something to say about it. Sometimes what you'll be told isn't quite what you wanted to hear, but there's a significant understanding that's been lacking in prior CES shows, especially from non-U.S. companies that have a computer product tie-in. Tomorrow: Interview with OpenMoku founder Sean Moss-Pultz, and more Linux and great geek products.
Tom Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs, and a member of the NetworkWorld Global Test Alliance. Reach him at thenderson at extremelabs.com.