I just got a chance to try out a Webware PC: a computer built around the new P5E3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP motherboard from Asus. What makes this motherboard be hardware for Webware is that it has a Firefox Web browser (running on an embedded Linux operating system) burned into ROM. It also has Skype. You turn it on, and in fifteen seconds (I timed it), you can be in Firefox and surfing the Web.
You can also boot it into Windows, or whatever OS you have installed on the hard disk. Boring.
This built-in browser has a lot of great things but some drawbacks too.
In the plus category: This alternate operating system, provided by DeviceVM to Asus, is fast and convenient. There's no giant OS to boot before you get into your browser, which is a slimmed-down version of Firefox, not some weird, quasibrowser that doesn't do what you want. There's a Flash plug-in installed so most modern sites render properly. Flash videos play just fine. The system saves all your settings (including bookmarks) in memory, so you don't have to start from scratch every time you fire it up.
The P5E3 motherboard has nearly everything built in that you'll need. Connecting to a network--wired or WiFi--is fast and easy. Skype has access to the board's audio in and out ports.
Because the DeviceVM platform doesn't have access to the hard disks connected to the motherboard, the system is very secure. So if, say, guests wants to use your PC to check their Web mail, you can boot them into the ExpressGate environment (that's what Asus calls it) and not worry about them junking up your PC. You might want to clear your private data from the Firefox cache first, though.
And this motherboard is "green," at least in theory. Many people leave their PCs on all the time, because launching a browser from a cold PC can take several minutes. With this setup, you can turn off the PC when you're done browsing, and when you need to get back online, you can be there in seconds.
If you work primarily online--using browser-based tools like Google Docs for productivity, Salesforce.com or Basecamp for business operations, Meebo for IM, and so on--this setup is just great.
Should you get one of these motherboards just for its ExpressGate feature, though?
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