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12/19/2006
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Ready To Demo: A $150 Laptop With A 'Complete Computing Experience'

The laptop avoids the use of Microsoft software and name brand PC processors such as Intel and AMD.

An Atlanta company is cobbling together diverse software and hardware building blocks to create a $150 laptop computer that promises its users a common computing experience and avoids Microsoft software and name-brand PC processors like Intel and AMD.

Called the "LiteComputer" by Lite Appliances, most of the pieces of the laptop have been developed and the firm hopes user models can be ready by mid-2007.

"We are developing a device with a complete computing experience without all the overhead," said Jack Knocke, senior VP of business development, in an interview Tuesday. "It comes with all the hardware and software that you need. You can surf the Web, send and receive photos. Also, there's word processing and spreadsheet capability."

A barebones LiteComputer is available now for additional customizing by developers. A model with an LCD monitor that would add about $100 to the price of the laptop will be available in mid-2007. Knocke said the machine will be demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

The laptop is built around Analog Devices' Blackfin processor; Lite Appliances has developed its own custom software, including an Internet browser, a media player, an instant messaging function, and a VoIP software-based telephone.

The firm also has created a proprietary real-time operating system. "You don't have to worry about Microsoft software," said Knocke. "You can mix and match components according to your needs."

He said the laptop operates with Google's Docs and Spreadsheets as well as with other online office software such as ThinkFree, which offers a free online clone of Microsoft's Office software. USB ports enable users to hook up keyboards, mice, and flash memory. The laptop will have no hard disk drive, although Knocke said external hard drives could be connected via the USB ports.

One claimed advantage of the laptop is its "instant on/off" flash memory combined with the firm's operating system; the feature makes expensive antivirus software unnecessary. "The LiteComputer has no expensive Microsoft operating systems, no hard drive to corrupt, and no software vulnerable to viruses and worms," said Lite Appliances CEO Simon van Roosendaal in a statement.

Knocke said there are hopes to eventually offer a clamshell version of the LiteComputer, probably in the third quarter of 2007 if all goes according to plans. He sees a place for the inexpensive laptop scattered in homes and offices for use as auxiliary computers. Files developed by browser, office software, and other applications can be easily transferred to standard PCs running on proprietary hardware and software, Knocke said.

The device's hardware and software systems were built by Unicoi Systems, an Atlanta firm that says it has 200 customers, including many large computer and electronics companies. Unicoi specializes in taking original product concepts and turning them into production-ready reference designs.

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