Asus: Linux, Whether You Need it Or Not

It looks like Asus is going to be shipping all its motherboards from here on out with Linux built right in, as part of their “Express Gate” initiative. Express Gate is a custom Linux distribution (Splashtop Linux) installed to a Flash ROM that’s a part of the motherboard. With Express Gate, Asus users have an option of booting from that built-in ROM chip to a Linux-based desktop, with an average boot time of around 5 seconds or so.

The problem with Express Gate isn’t that it’s Linux nor that it’s there – it’s the rather more-mysterious question of why it’s there in the first place. If ASUS had thought to make use of this Linux distribution to provide data recovery & diagnostics services, offer advanced BIOS configuration and updating options, or one of the infinite other creative ideas that one can manage with a light and fully-configurable OS that ships embedded with the motherboard, perhaps then we could see a use for it.

Instead, ASUS has opted to ship Express Gate with a Firefox-based web-browser and Skype (out of all things). Again, it’s not a matter of having something against either Firefox or Skype; but just the general lack of context for their being there. These days, a web browser is a means to an end. You don’t use it to browse the web, you use it to interact with the web. A web browser on a Live CD-like Linux installation isn’t as useful nor as productive as the web browser sitting on the desktop of your main OS, be it Windows or Linux.

ASUS’s major selling point is that Splashtop takes 5-seconds to load at most. If you stop and think about, it’s only impressive because it’s being taken out of context. 5 seconds is fast, but just how often do you need quick access to Skype and your computer isn’t already on? Most of us turn our PCs on and off once a day at most – and there are many that prefer to hibernate, standby, or just leave it on indefinitely.

While a “5-second desktop environment” is a highly-desirable feature, a “5-second basic desktop environment without the programs, applications and documents you need” isn’t.

At the end of the day, ASUS has an idea that has a lot of potential but isn’t being directed correctly. That spare desktop has a lot of room for usefulness and productivity, but a primitive web-surfing environment just isn’t one of them. Until Express Gate features a more-compelling feature set, it’s just another one of those PR initiatives. By “more-compelling” we mean “more exclusive” with applications and products that just won’t work as well on your usual OS (like the BIOS management and system recovery options we listed above), otherwise there isn’t any incentive to forgo the extra 10 seconds it takes to get into your real OS.

Express Gate was originally used as a way to get people to spend the extra cash for the higher-level motherboards costing a couple of hundred bucks extra, and now it’s being used to get people to choose ASUS over similarly-featured contenders. That wouldn’t normally be a problem – after all, extra features is always a great reason to choose one board over another – except in this case, it’s just fluff.

All that being said, it certainly is great to see that Linux has finally reached a level of prevalence where major motherboard manufacturers will consider making it a part and parcel of every board they sell – a kind of perverse play on all the anti-trust violations Microsoft has been accused of by convincing OEMs to ship all PCs with Windows from the get-go. And it’s important not to forget the role ASUS has played in bringing Linux to the masses in the past year – from the brilliantly-viral Eee to Express Gate, Asus has definitely done a lion’s share of work in making Linux as common-place as the PC itself. Hopefully future revisions of Express Gate can find a better use for Splashtop Linux and warrant a kinder review.

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  • 8 thoughts on “Asus: Linux, Whether You Need it Or Not

    1. Yes, most people leave their computers on all day. But then lots of people leave their computters on all day just to check their mail once an hour. Isn’t it far more sensible to have it off instead, and to turn it on when you need it.

      And what exactly is it that you lose when Asus includes Splashtop on it’s motherboards? What is it exactly that is making you so pissed off?

    2. It is doubtful this will be a commercial success, Sure a Flash Linux based solution is great on the eee PC as this keeps the cost down to a reasonable level and give people a appropriate OS for the specification of that particular little laptop.

      But in this case what will it be used for? think about it for a minute it provides SKYPE an Fire Fox for you to use but will not have a practical use. If it had some diagnostic utilities on there it would be useful and possibly data recovery applications then it would sell, especialy to local OEM’s like myself.

      Nice idea but could have used more thought.

    3. Ye with little vision! This is a first step that will have benifits not thought of yet. The potential power savings of not running the computer all day to have quick access to e-mail or the internet is huge. Microsoft will surely respond by including a stripped down Vista version for motherboard makers. Skype is pretty wothless but they are probably paying the bill to be included.

    4. I personally would like this feature. At work it’s a don’t care since I leave the PC on all the time. At home, I turn them off to save energy. It is a big deterrent for me to turn on the PC to do a quick search or read my email, knowing that I have to wait 5-10 minutes for a bloated OS and McAfee to do their thing. If they can keep it quick and safe without loading virus protection, this would be great IMHO. Also the appropriate plug-ins would be needed (flash, etc).

      I have a number of PCs at home for video editing, etc, and I would welcome a separate ‘appliance-like’ PC for email and browsing.

    5. This inovation is pretty impressive if you stop to think about it, I haven’t had the chance to look at this personally but I see a lot of potential here..

      I see a future where it will be normal for at least a basic OS is stored on a flash chip, I believe this is the logical way forward, and if you stop and think about it.. you should realise that the benefits of such an arrangement far outweigh whats speculated, …especcially if you have had your boot drive go down on you or succumb to a nasty virus infection…. at the very least you have an OS that is up and running

      I myself suspect that the it will be possible to cook up a homebrew linux based OS and install it on the flash without too much of a problem, now that will really open doors…
      ..imagine a flash based diskless linux router solution for example

      …or a nippy little OS that you dont have to worry about virus infection

      … I can’t wait

    6. Downloading s-ata raid drivers for XP, downloading a new bios, downloading a virus fix if something happened… Trying to figure out an error you’re having with your OS that won’t boot, when the one you’re on is the only PC you own, etc.

      Think a LITTLE further than your own tiny world ffs.

    7. so do u need it 4 updates or anything inportant cause i tried to get the update for my intel chip and when i download it it is still there right after im done my download of it anyone got any ideas y that is

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