Donate

Categories

Advert

XHTML

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

The Lenovo U1 Hybrid – an example of how Proprietary OSs Suck

Lenovo have announced their innovative new U1 “Hybrid” laptop [1]. It consists of a tablet-style device with a resistive touch-screen that runs Linux on a 1GHz ARM processor which attaches to a base computer that has a keyboard and a Core2 processor running Windows 7. They apparently have some special software to synchronise web browsing on both computers so you can maintain your web sessions when you detach the computers. How they manage to use the power of the Core2 CPU for javascript and flash intensive web sites while allowing the active browser sessions to migrate to a different OS must be a neat technical trick. Revision3 have a youtube review of the U1 which shows what it can do in terms of the hardware interface [2]

Running two computers requires having two batteries, motherboards, etc which means more weight or means less battery life for the weight, whichever way you think of it the user is losing because of this choice. The idea of having two computers in one is one of these cool technical ideas which just won’t provide a benefit for the users.

The best thing for the users would be to have a single light-weight computer that provides an adequate amount of performance. A 1GHz ARM processor should give good performance when running Linux for most tasks (web browsing, office applications, and most games). So it seems that a good tablet with some USB ports and a matching USB keyboard would be a better option. Maybe you could have a spare battery integrated with the keyboard as most times when you want a full sized keyboard weight isn’t such a big problem.

The problem with MS-Windows in regard to such machines is that performance is poor and processors other than i386 and AMD64 have never really been supported (sure you can buy MS-Windows-based PDAs that have ARM and PPC CPUs, but the application support for them is minimal).

These problems will never be solved. MS wants to compel users to continually upgrade their software, this requires always adding new features (bloat) while an older or less featureful OS is often a better option for lesser hardware. Vendors of proprietary applications will never support the range of CPU architectures that a free software distribution such as Debian or NetBSD supports (not that NetBSD is an ideal tablet OS – but it does demonstrate what can be done if you want a portable OS). These inherent flaws in the proprietary software environment lead to some unusual hardware being designed to work around them – such as the Lenovo U1.

I don’t have any reason to believe that the Lenovo is a bad machine, it sounds like a reasonable work-around for some of the problems that MS-Windows has forced on the industry. But I believe that it would be a much better machine if it was lighter, had a better battery life, and had a choice of keyboards – all of which would have been achieved if it was designed as an ARM-only tablet machine that you can connect to an external keyboard. They could even have used a multi-core ARM CPU. But the market for such systems apparently isn’t large enough for Lenovo (or anyone else) to ship ARM laptops for serious use. There have been a couple of netbooks released recently with CPUs that don’t support the i386 or AMD64 instruction set, but they were aimed at web browsing use not general purpose computing. Almost everything that I do on computers could be done at least as well with a CPU that doesn’t run an Intel-based instruction set, the only exception is virtualisation which doesn’t seem to be well supported on architectures other than AMD64 nowadays.

6 comments to The Lenovo U1 Hybrid – an example of how Proprietary OSs Suck

  • Corsac

    > The best thing for the users would be to have a single light-weight computer that provides an adequate
    > amount of performance. A 1GHz ARM processor should give good performance when running Linux
    > for most tasks (web browsing, office applications, and most games). So it seems that a good tablet
    > with some USB ports and a matching USB keyboard would be a better option. Maybe you could have a
    > spare battery integrated with the keyboard as most times when you want a full sized keyboard weight
    > isn’t such a big problem.

    What you describe looks a lot like Always Innovating’s TouchBook (http://www.alwaysinnovating.com)

  • ao2

    Hi, very interesting point, thanks.

    Let me just /emphasize/ how you think to _users_ while they ended up with this sub-optimal design to fulfill _customers_ needs. :)

    A similar idea of detachable touchscreen is used in the Touch Book, you must’ve heard of it.

    All the best,
    Antonio.

  • Adam Skutt

    No, you’re wrong on several points:
    >The best thing for the users would be to have a single light-
    >weight computer that provides an adequate amount of
    >performance. A 1GHz ARM processor should give good performance
    >when running Linux for most tasks (web browsing, office
    >applications, and most games)
    No, that won’t give adequate performance for office applications and most games, unless you run stripped down versions like we see on cell phones today. Which is fine when walking around with a tablet, but it isn’t something I’d want to use full time. Neither would most people, I’d reckon, seeing as the smartphone explosion hasn’t ended “regular” computer purchasing. Seriously, please name the office suite you’d have us run.

    >The problem with MS-Windows in regard to such machines is
    >that performance is poor and processors other than i386 and
    >AMD64 have never really been supported (sure you can buy MS-
    >Windows-based PDAs that have ARM and PPC CPUs, but the
    >application support for them is minimal).
    No, you cannot. Windows CE is not Windows NT, they’re essentially two different operating systems sharing a common name. They have a few APIs in common, but the interface under the hood is totally different with frequently radically different behavior. Also, no PPC support from any shipping Windows OS anymore.

  • Peter De Schrijver

    There is no reason to assume the battery in the tablet part cannot also be used to power the laptop part. Thinkpads also support 2 batteries. The snapdragon can presumably also be powered down when the laptop part is active (and the laptop part can suspend to disk when the screen is removed). So power impact of the snapdragon should be minimal given proper engineering. I estimate the weight impact of the snapdragon + support circuits to be less then 50g. Now it would obviously be nice if the same functionality is available using debian on the laptop part :)

  • etbe

    Corsac: Thanks, that’s an interesting machine.

    Adam: My experience is that OpenOffice gives adequate performance on an EeePC 701 with a 630MHz Celeron-M CPU. Unless you can convince me that a multi-core ARM CPU running at more than 1GHz can’t deliver better performance than a Celeron-M running at 630MHz you won’t convince me that an ARM CPU is incapable of running office applications.

    Thanks for providing supporting evidence for my point about the lack of MS support for other CPU families.

    Peter: Sure you could have a battery in the tablet that powers the laptop part, but if the laptop is a power hungry Core2 then you probably want a light-weight tablet that doesn’t have a big enough battery to run it for long. I’m not sure how much you would gain from powering down an ARM CPU (as opposed to the regular sleeping it does when all processes are waiting) when the back-lit display is still running.

  • Peter De Schrijver

    etbe: My point is that both the smaller battery in the tablet and the bigger battery in the laptop can be used to power the laptop when the tablet is docked. As to powergains, hard to say, I don’t know much about the snapdragon.