Selling Linux PCs to Senior Citizens: The WOW! Computer
Desktop Linux will be ready for the masses, the old adage goes, when your grandma can use it — which is arguably not yet the case. If the WOW! Computer is any indication, though, Linux’s time has come. At least, that’s what the machine’s engineers, who have used open source software to develop a computer specially targeted at the senior population, seem to think.
I generally am skeptical of products and services that needlessly embed punctuation marks into their names. Yahoo! is bad enough. But obnoxious appellations aside, the WOW! — which is identical in form and price to the Telikin Elite, although the WOW! is marketed separately by partner company FirstStreet — represent an intriguing concept, particularly for the open source channel.
The basic premise behind the machine is to offer a no-hassle, easy-as-pie computing experience for people — especially seniors — who have no interest in learning to use traditional PCs. To that end, the WOW! sports a customized interface designed to make it easy to launch a limited number of basic tasks, along with a stack of applications to achieve those tasks.
Of course, the ease-of-use comes at a cost. The WOW! is quite locked-down and doesn’t allow users to do much beyond the basic functionality provided by the built-in interface. Additional software cannot be installed, and there’s certainly no pulling up a terminal. But that’s kind of the point.
Hardware-wise, the WOW! might seem a little costly. Its $999 price tag (a more basic model with a smaller screen is available from Telikin for $699) will get you only an AMD E350 CPU and 2GB of memory. But the price seems more reasonable when one takes into account the machine’s 20-inch touchscreen monitor, not to mention its full slew of peripheral devices.
The WOW! and Open Source
Of course, the WOW!’s appeal for most of its target customers is undoubtedly its software, not hardware. And that’s where the product becomes interesting for open source users. Built on Tiny Core Linux, the WOW! brings open source software to a demographic that traditionally has been about as far removed from the Free Software movement — if not from modern technology in general — as anyone could get.
More impressively, FreeStreet is very upfront about the WOW!’s use of open source code, and even promotes Linux as the basis for “a more secure, problem-free computer environment.” That the WOW!’s designers even mention Linux is remarkable enough — the last thing most vendors of Android-based phones or Linux-powered DVD players are likely to do, after all, is start lecturing their customers on the open source roots of their devices — but it’s even more notable that the company behind the WOW! goes out of its way to talk up the benefits of Linux.
Granted, most of the WOW!’s target demographic is unlikely to understand or care whether the computer they buy is powered by Windows, Linux or hamsters, as long as it works. Nonetheless, the WOW! sets some interesting precedents by introducing open source technology in a major way into a niche where it has rarely ventured before. And it’s doing it with modern, feature-rich hardware that even includes touch — an area in which support by mainstream desktop Linux distributions is still hit-and-miss.
Does the WOW! signal the Year of the Linux Desktop? Certainly not. But it does exemplify the way in which the customizability of open source code means that, when done properly, Linux can work even for grandma.