HP's Command-Line Performance - InformationWeek

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2/4/2009
11:50 PM
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HP's Command-Line Performance

A new, Linux-powered HP netbook is getting a lot of attention -- not for what it includes but for what it doesn't.

A new, Linux-powered HP netbook is getting a lot of attention -- not for what it includes but for what it doesn't.The HP Mini 1000 Mi Series is a great-looking, reasonably priced netbook PC. It runs on a customized Linux operating system, billed as the company's "Mobile Internet" platform. And if you check the fine print, you'll notice that it is missing one very notable feature: a command line.

Consumer users -- the key target market for the Mini 1000 Mi -- generally don't know the first thing about using a command line. And the vast majority of them don't need to know. When HP decided to disable command-line access, however, the company was almost certainly thinking less about usability issues and more about cutting its support costs.

In any case, it's a move that has attracted a certain amount of media attention and generated some controversy among the Linux faithful. Most Linux power users take a dim view of IT vendors that treat them like clueless newbies.

Other experienced Linux users, however, have pointed out that HP's decision simply reflects the fact that Linux continues to be far more successful as a behind-the-scenes IT player than as a mainstream consumer desktop OS. If HP needs to position its Linux-powered products as easy-to-use Internet appliances, rather than would-be Windows killers, what difference does it really make?

There is also an important lesson here for small-business netbook buyers: read the fine print before you pull the trigger on a Linux netbook purchase. Other netbook vendors also ship their products with customized Linux distros that, among other things, restrict access to a system's root account; in fact, shipping the Mini 1000 Mi without command-line access is simply a variation on a now-familiar theme.

Some of these modifications could be very helpful if the idea is to keep users from getting themselves into trouble. Others could be a pain if you run a small company where self-help IT support is the norm. And some of them are simply irrelevant if, like so many netbook buyers, you plan simply to blow away to vendor's pre-installed OS and install a different Linux distro. But all of them can put an annoying crimp in your IT upgrade plans if you're not expecting to deal with them.

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