Alex Laptop Aims To Make Computing Easy

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Users who can’t get on with other systems are being offered a simplified Linux-based laptop called Alex

Despite efforts to make computers easier to use, a high proportion of people don’t “get it”, so a UK company has launched a simplified Linux-based laptop for £400.

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Alex – from the Broadband Computer Company based in Newcastle – is a standard Intel Celeron-based laptop from Clevo, with a 15.4 in screen. It uses the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, but does away with the Gnome desktop and traditional open source software such as OpenOffice, which presents lots of functions and can confuse people.

Instead the opening screen gives links to tasks such as Web, Email, People, Office, Play and Photo, and uses a custom-made office application from German software company SoftMaker, which can read and write many (but apparently not all) Microsoft Office formats.

As well as the purchase price, the company charges a £10-per-month support fee, which can be bundled into a £25-per-month broadband service. While the monthly fee might be a drawback for some, the company promises to handle security remotely, and not present users with confusing pop-ups: the operating system is locked down and should be hard to break.

The machine is aimed at people who are not currently online – the kind of people at whom the government is aiming its Digital Britain and Digital Inclusion initiatives, along with efforts to get the elderly online, and to interest others in the basics of online life. The government has a twin aim of simultaneously empowering more people by getting them online, and saving money by switching off paper-based forms in favour of online services.

Users log into their computer – or anyone else’s Alex machine, using a USB key which stores their settings and connects to a central server. All security updates are installed automatically, and all work is backed up remotely after every keystroke, so users avoid the major worries of any technophobe – such as lost work and pop-up screens.

In its publicity, the company points out that more than 12 million Britons do not have a PC and many of those who do find the technical side is beyond them – saying that what people need is a computer which “speaks plain English”