Every so often I bump into yet another example of Linux being used in creative ways. Here's a new one: an ASUSTek motherboard, the P5E3, which ships with a built-in Linux variant called Splashtop.
Splashtop's a small but fairly useful Linux desktop environment that boots and runs entirely in RAM. The current iteration of Splashtop features network connectivity (both wired and wireless), a rebadged version of Firefox 2.0, and the Skype VoIP client (version 1.3) -- a small but useful clutch of tools. I read through a sneak preview of the product at Phoronix.com, and the impression I got was that it's still pretty rudimentary but that it will over time be expanded into something far more functional.
The biggest limitations are quickly obvious. Splashtop doesn't let you save anything to a local file system -- it can only communicate with the web at large. This isn't that bad if you're using, say, Gmail or any other kind of Web-based productivity tools, but it does make it a hindrance if you want to use Splashtop to do something like obtain a needed hardware driver for the system to install another OS -- which was one of the first and most immediately useful things I thought of as a possible application for Splashtop. (It's always possible to do that with a rescue-CD distro like Damn Small Linux, though; I just hoped it would be possible to do this without anything additional!)
The P5E3 is the first motherboard to implement Splashtop, but Splashtop's site hints at other "desktops and notebook PCs" that will soon implement it, and offers links to obtaining the P5E3 immediately. Their blog also mentions that they plan on adding more applications and features as time goes by, so this is just the first step. I'm extremely curious to see where things go from here, and how far they can take the concept.
(Footnote: My last post about unbundling the OS from the PC generated an amazingly broad and fierce swath of responses. I'm still sifting through them and will have a follow-up as of next week.)