HP Announces Cloud-Based Linux Appliance Revolution

Rob Enderle

Most of the companies backing the cloud, from EMC to IBM, are focused like lasers on the back end. But the cloud also means changes on the client side. The cloud suggests the growth of focused clients, even thinner than the initial idea of thin clients in that they would do a limited number of things well and not be intended to replace PCs, but to supplement them.


Netbooks were initially thought to be the first instance of this kind of a device, but they grew up fast and, the netbook class of products has converged with laptops, making it unlikely as a perfect cloud client anyway. Coming next year are smartbooks, initially based on the Android version of Linux, but the first focused clients to hit were smartphones, with Apple first to market with what appeared to a near-ideal offering, the surprisingly good iPhone.


However, while we were all looking the other way, HP's printer division may have created the first in a wave of devices that comes even closer to the ideal with its Web-connected printer.


HP's Cloud Printer

While this printer won't be out until the fall and is initially targeted at homes and very small businesses, the concept behind it could easily grow into an enterprise solution in either a private or public cloud environment.


The printer follows the current HP PC group design in that it is largely black with silver accents. It looks much more modern than the current line, though is still a little boxy compared to Samsung, which leads the class in design. It is a 3-in-1 design, which means it prints, scans and faxes.


But what sets the HP printer apart is a large iPhone-like display on the front that runs atop a Linux-based platform that connects it to the cloud. Using an HP TouchSmart-like interface, this operating platform is then connected to a variety of software-as-a-service and/or cloud-based applications, which add more functions.


Demonstrated applications included Fandango ticketing, coupon printing, and printable games and activities for adults and children such as Sudoku and connect-the-dots. In addition, news mashups were demonstrated in which the printer would print a custom "newspaper" collected from a variety of sites based on the interests of the user.


The model, much like the iPhone, is based on an increasing variety of applications that could include boarding passes, daily mental exercises, expense reports that would be auto filled out and simply require boxes checked before being scanned back for submission (I hate expense reports), or a picture sent by a loved one that could provide an inexpensive alternative to a networked digital picture frame.


Additional Cloud Devices Incoming: Is This Linux's Big Revolution?

We are at the beginning of a wave of ever-more connected devices based on services that will be cloud-based. Web-connected digital frames have already hit the market and appliances tied to smart-grid services are on their way. TVs are increasingly becoming connected as are Blu-ray DVD players and even automobiles. We've had the emergence of a new kind of server based on a plug configuration that is very thin, power-efficient and focused on a single task.


Connected home-security camera systems are increasing as well, and we are increasingly surrounded by a network of cameras capturing all we do and reporting it someplace.


The majority of these devices are running Linux in an embedded form with game systems and Apple TV being some of the few exceptions. It would increasingly seem this is Linux's growing success, and it is fascinating that this success appears to be happening organically and far from the influence of Linux's strongest backers.


In the end, we are likely seeing a beginning of a change that, much like the PC, is starting in the consumer space but will shortly cross over into business products and applications.


The Rebirth of Appliance Computing

Ever since the PC matured, the market has been asking for a much less complex and more appliance-like solution to problems. I think we are seeing the birth of exactly that and when a company of the size and breadth of HP enters a space, you have to believe that the change will accelerate sharply as others see what HP has done and start to apply the lessons to other devices. This change is just beginning and I doubt any of us really know where it will end..

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 23, 2009 11:47 AM Ken Hardin Ken Hardin  says:

Hi, Rob -- just curious, what role do you see what are now called "gaming consoles" playing in this focused appliance future? My PS3 acts as my Blu-ray player, and it's been online since I bought it. All it needs is a much better music app and I'd be happy to have it as my one entertainment system. Do you see focused appliances offering ad-on apps through closely managed channels (like consoles), or more in a marketplace model like smartphones are adopting?

Jun 23, 2009 12:47 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says: in response to Ken Hardin

This is an interesting space, with OnLive coming to market in a few weeks the promise of a revolution in the on-line gaming space is looking more and more real.   Both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 are aggressively moving on on-line capabilities.  My briefing last with the BD-Live folks, however, made me wonder if the Sony executives live on the same planet with the rest of us.   For instance they announced in movie Instant Messaging and email both of which cause the movie to shrink to about 40% of its normal size.   They also announced MovieIQ which gives you interesting information about the scene you are watching (actors their history for instance) but won't work on any move sold before this coming September.   And they announced, for an extra up charge, the ability rip movies to an iPhone/iPod Touch, PC, or PSP but not play them on a regular DVD player (which is what most of us probably have).

These features do work on PS3s and should work on most current generation connected Blu-Ray players.  


Microsoft has been better with an aggressive focus on being able to buy and rent movies and games on-line making their product more compelling.  That and the fact they are generally cheaper and have a better game library is allowing them to continue to outsell Sony even though their player is a year older and has had reliability problems. 

Both products will allow you to stream music and video off of a compliant NAS, Home Server, or properly configured PC.     Expect both to improve this capability going forward.  

Long term though I think most people will have trouble buying a gaming console for media, and those that sell them subsidized like Sony (where their profit comes from game sales) will likely not want that many people who don't aggressively buy games to buy them either.    This will probably work against Sony making better streaming a higher priority.  They appear to have only done it to compete against Microsoft.  

On application stores, I do think they are coming.  Microsoft has been (as noted above) very aggressive with their live properties and being able to download games.   But Apple's example of turning devices like this into a platform is compelling and how Microsoft balances this against further damaging their Windows business and pissing off more OEMs will be interesting.  Sony will have less of a problem with this but their platform is truly nasty to develop on.   Watch OnLive as there, this kind of thing would be relatively trivial. 

Jun 30, 2009 7:12 PM Rambo Tribble Rambo Tribble  says:

You Say You Want a Revolution? I hope, We Won't Get Fooled Again.


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