Alex – Pricey But Simple?

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A million people could come online with a laptop as simple as Alex, says Andy Hudson. But ease of use comes at a price

The Alex Linux-based laptop, launched this month, sounds like the answer to the prayers of the government – and technophobic users in the UK. We spoke to the man behind it to find out more.

Alex, launched last week by the Broadband Computer Company, is a Linux laptop designed to be easy to use. It costs £400 to buy, and is packaged with a £10 a month support fee, which covers online back-up, automated security updates and support, or a £25 monthly subscription including support and a broadband connection.

The idea is to sell it to digital refuseniks, people such as the elderly that he describes as “disenfranchised” because they don’t understand IT and are intimidated by it. That ought to chime well with Government plans to deliver public services digitally, according to the man behind Alex, chief operating officer of BCC Andy Hudson. And it could be good business, because he believes there are ten million of these people in the UK and they know they are missing out, because web references are everywhere: “The Terry Wogan show on Radio 2 had six web references per hour.”

Selling through influencers

But he doesn’t expect explosive growth: “We’ve had an extended friends and family trial, for three or four months,” he said to eWEEK Europe. “Now we’ve launched, we are looking for steady increase, rather than exponential growth.”

Selling to the disenfranchised technophobe is a tricky thing, he says, because “people don’t put their hand up and say ‘I’m crap at this’.” BCC experimented with adverts and leaflets, but got “zero response”, so it is moving to the people the technophobes trust, the ones they ask for help – what he describes as “influencers”.

The problem “influencers” have, is that once they have helped their friend out in getting a computer, they then have to support them for ever, and Hudson points out, “you have to answer the same question every day”. He hopes to convince these people that Alex is such a solid proposition it will take that burden off the influencerr, leaving the new user safely supported.

This may be an uphill struggle, however, as those influencers are technologically literate and want to get a good deal for the friends who depend on them – and a laptop with a bespoke desktop and custom software bundled in the price is bound to be cost more. PC Pro has pointed out that £400 for a 1.66GHz laptop with 1G of RAM and 120G hard disk is not great value, and the broadband service on offer is a paltry 2Mbps.

But these specs are beyond the understanding of most people and Hudson says this kind of talk is what alienates people: “There is this growing undercurrent of annoyance and frustration, and the industry is largely to blame,” he says. “Giga Mega, RIM RAM ROM – it’s like a jargon of nonsense. If someone says to me I need 4Mbps, I ask if they know the adiabatic coefficient of expansion of their fridge. It should just work, or not.”

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