On Thursday, WalMart begins selling the Everex Green gPC TC2502, a $198, low-power, Linux-based PC designed primarily for running Web 2.0 applications.
When users first fire up their gPC, they'll get a Mac-like desktop with a series of program icons "docked" across the bottom. The icons are bookmarks to popular and useful Web 2.0 services from Google and other vendors. There are icons for Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube, for example, as well as Meebo, Facebook, and Wikipedia. Sprinkled into the lineup are some non-Web-based apps, like Skype and Gimp, but the novice user won't know, initially, which are local applications and which are Web services.
Isn't that as it should be? An app is an app, so why should users know or care if it's running on their local PC or in the cloud?
Unfortunately, using the gPC's Web apps isn't as transparent as we'd like, although that's not Everex's fault. Web apps still run in a browser (and the gPC won't ship with Adobe AIR or another runtime platform that runs online apps in their own windows), so each time a user clicks on one of the icons that's pointing to a URL, it will fire up Firefox or a new tab in it. Also, Web apps require their own online logins (though if you're logged into Google, you have to worry about that only once per session). And, of course, there's the question of where one's data is stored. The gPC has a hard disk, but users of the Web apps won't be putting files on it. (It also has OpenOffice installed on it, but users will have to dig to find the suite.)
My criticisms are aimed mostly at Web apps in general, and this is nonetheless a great product. It costs less than $200 and you don't have to buy one for a child you've never met to get it (not that that's a bad thing, but it would drive up your cost). It will do what most of us need, thanks to all the Web 2.0 sites and services that are available now and that don't require the equivalent of a Cray supercomputer to run acceptably fast. The gPC, which Everex is selling with Google's blessing, gives us a look at what a Web PC should be: A much cheaper but almost-as-capable alternative to a regular PC or Mac. This is the closest thing I've seen to a Web appliance that might actually sell.
The gPC runs a 1.5GHz VIA C7-D processor and ships with 512MB of RAM and a 80GB hard drive. The operating system is gOS, from a new company of the same name. It's a version of Ubuntu 7.10 with the Enlightenment window manager. The $198 price tag does not include a monitor. But it does include 24/7 800-number tech support.