January 16, 2008 (Computerworld) -- Everex may not be releasing its first $399 ultraportable CloudBook until the end of January, but the Taiwanese PC maker is already talking about a supersize successor due later this year that will sport a bigger screen but stay under $500.
The first $399 CloudBook is expected to be available Jan. 25 in Wal-Mart stores and from e-tailers such as WalMart.com, NewEgg.com and TigerDirect. It will have a 7-in. LCD, 1.2-GHz ultralow-voltage Via processor, 512MB RAM, 30GB hard drive and will run the gOS operating system, which is based on the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution.
Everex hopes to sell 20,000 CloudBooks in the first two months, according to Paul Kim, director of marketing at Everex in Fremont, Calif., in a phone interview late last week after the CloudBook's unveiling at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The CloudBook is following the lead of the trailblazing Eee. Despite complaints about its tiny keyboard and 7-in. screen. Asustek Computer Inc. said it has sold more than 350,000 Eees in three months.
By the middle of the year, Asus plans to release Eees with larger 8- and 9-in. LCDs, built-in WiMax networking and the option to have Windows XP preinstalled instead of Xandros Linux. Asus thinks it can sell as many as 5 million Eees worldwide this year.
Everex also plans to have a CloudBook with a 9-in. screen out by June, according to Kim. And while the CloudBook available in January will only come in black, "we are seriously debating putting different skins" on the later, larger model, he said.
The keyboard in the larger CloudBook will also be "noticeably" bigger, Kim said. More memory and greater storage are also possibilities, he said, though they may come at a higher price.
Still loving LInux
One thing that won't change is Everex's commitment to using Linux and other free open-source applications. The CloudBook and a $199 desktop PC from Everex called the gPC both run a flavor of Ubuntu Linux called gOS. It's developed by Good OS LLC, which is run by 22-year-old David Liu.
The computers also use Firefox and OpenOffice and rely heavily on Web-based applications such as Google Docs.
"There is definitely pressure" from Microsoft to get Everex to install Windows rather than the free Linux on the CloudBook, Kim said. But Everex doesn't want to risk making the CloudBook too pricey -- one of the things that has held Windows-based ultramobile PCs back.
"We need to incentivize people, so we are going very, very aggressive" on price, Kim said.
Everex sold 10,000 gPCs in the U.S. during Christmas, Kim said. Version 2 of the gPC in a slightly smaller case will be available by the end of February, and Everex hopes to sell 100,000 gPCs by September.
Though not well-known to mainstream consumers in the U.S., Everex's parent company, First International Computer Inc., has long supplied components and whole desktop and notebook PCs to Fujitsu Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway (now part of Acer), NEC and others.
Hoping to capitalize on the minimomentum generated by the CloudBook and gPC, Everex has several other low-cost Linux-based computers due out by the end of March. They include:
* An ultraportable the size of the 9-in.-long CloudBook that will come with an LCD touch screen and cost between $400 and $500. Tentatively called the DevBook, the computer will run the gOS and be aimed at open-source developers, who Kim hopes will write applications customized for the DevBook. The side module, where the webcam is today, will be removable so that users can swap in other components, too.
* A regular-size laptop called the gBook that will have a 15.4-in. screen and cost $399 (PDF format). It will come with a 1.5-GHz Via C7-M processor, 60GB hard drive, 512MB of RAM upgradeable to 2GB and a DVD-ROM drive.
* A minidesktop called the gPC Mini (PDF format) similar in size to the Mac Mini or those made by Shuttle Computers Group. It will use notebook PC components, such as a Pentium dual-core T2130 processor running at 1.9-GHz, 120MB hard drive, dual-layer DVD drive, and both DVI-I and S-Video ports for easy hookup to high-res monitors or TVs. It will cost $499. While it will include the same software as the CloudBook, Kim expects the gPC Mini to turn out to be more of a "media machine," he said.
Speed and support
Kim declined to comment on when the CloudBook would boast WiMax in addition to Wi-Fi networking, since Asus plans to add to its Eees by midyear.
He also disputed notions that the CloudBook, because it relies on a conventional spinning hard drive with disks and read/write heads, will be vulnerable to physical harm. The Eee, in contrast, uses a 4GB flash-memory drive that has no moving parts.
"Our internal drop tests have been pretty good," Kim said. "The CloudBook is definitely better than a standard notebook PC."
Kim recommends against upgrading the 4,200 rpm, 30GB drive to a faster, larger one, warning that it will void Everex's warranty. CloudBook owners may upgrade the RAM up to 1GB without voiding the warranty, he said.
Kim claimed the CloudBook "should run apps a little faster" than the Eee, with the higher clock speed of the CloudBook's processor (1.5 GHz, versus 900 MHz for the Eee) outweighing the Eee's faster storage.
Depending on how fast storage prices fall, a CloudBook model with a solid-state drive such as the Eee may be available by Christmas, Kim said.
One thing that has kept low-cost PCs from taking off in the past has been a reputation for poor reliability and bad (or nonexistent) technical support.
Kim claimed the return rate for the gPC, which has a one-year limited warranty, has been "very, very low, lower than our Vista PCs." Everex has had a call center in Carmel, Ind., that offers customers toll-free 24/7 support free for the first 30 days.
Now that TigerDirect's parent, Systemax Inc., owns the assets of the bankrupt CompUSA, could we see the CloudBook in re-opened CompUSA stores? "We've talked about it. We're not 100% sure yet," he said.
A tiny market, too?
While the Eee and the CloudBook have both generated excitement among techies, it's doubtful that they will attract many mainstream consumers, according to Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group Inc., especially compared to Apple Inc.'s new MacBook Air subnotebook, which starting at $1,799, costs four and a half times as much as the Eee or CloudBook but offers a 13.3-in. screen and an ultrathin design.
"Even if [the Eee or CloudBook] go to the 9-in. screen, they're probably still going to be handicapped by Linux, which is not something you should give to a mainstream consumer," he said. And bigger screens means higher prices, and at $500, "I can get a pretty decent notebook with a 15-in. screen that will do anything that I want it to do. ... The Eee and CloudBook are destined to be niche-y products."
But Kim is counting on households used to forking out more than $399 for big screen TVs, camcorders, even iPhones, to snap up a CloudBook as a third or fourth computer for use on the go.
"Honestly, some people will find the CloudBook a little too small," he said. "But we're not trying to be all things to all people."