French firm Ordissimo is bringing “the world’s simplest laptop” to the UK, a small family of Linux-based laptops aimed at population of holdouts who find conventional PCs and the online world that comes with it too complex to bother with.
That means older users – Ordissimo reckons they will be over the age of 50 – and perhaps the very young, anyone for whom the internet, mainstream software and Windows is “still a mystery.”
Back to basics computing the Ordissimo way offers users a simple range of applications that have, the company claims, been hugely simplified to reduce the number of mouse clicks necessary to perform basic tasks.
The system boots up to show mail, an Office-compatible word processor and spreadsheet, a Skype application, web browser, photo program, and an address book.
Underneath, the systems use the X86 processors found on any Windows PC and run a version of Debian-based Linux skinned with the company’s GUI. The use of Linux is unsniffy enough to ship with Java and proprietary Flash ready to go; purist Linux distros expect the user to add the latter separately.
One aspect of hardware that is different is the keyboard, which dumps "confusing" function keys and Crtl/Alt. "If you want to copy and paste, there are keys for that, likewise if you want to print just press the print button," said the Ordissimo press release.
"You’d be wrong to think that Ordissimo is a type of 'kids' toy' with only a limited capability. On the contrary, our machines are real computers, compatible with most printers, scanners, SD cards and USBs and are designed with your average novice in mind," said Ordissimo’s Shane Harrison.
A wrinkle with Ordissimo’s laptops is their price. A tag of £599 for a 15-inch Linux-based machine running a netbook-class AMD E300 processor is steep against an identical Windows machine that might cost as little as £300.
The 17-inch running an Intel Core i3 isn’t much better at £899, although that allows dual boot Windows and Linux. We couldn’t help noticing that the Wi-Fi on both lacks support for 802.11n which is well below today’s basic spec necessary for reliably streaming high-definition video but perhaps Ordissimo doesn’t see its target buyers doing such things.
A selling point for 'Linux for dummies' might be security. Native Linux malware is unheard of (although cross-platform Java-based attacks have suddenly become more likely as Apple users are starting to realise), a dimension that will be hugely important to computer refuseniks terrified about “viruses” and worse.
Then again there are a number of much cheaper ways to get hold of Linux on a cheap PC, starting with nettop Linux PCs such as Acer’s sub-£200 Revo RL70. Au contraire.
Perhaps tablets will be a better battleground for Ordissimo in the long term (the company also has its own £399 tablet computer) but it could be up against simple products such as the XO-3 from the One Laptop Per Child project not to mention a new generation of Windows 8 systems that might finally throw off the PC complexity that spurred Ordissimo in the first place.