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Broadband Computer Co Alex review

David Ludlow
18 Feb 2010
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
400
inc VAT

Its simplistic approach to computing will suit anyone with very light needs, but for anyone a bit more curious about computing a Windows PC is a cheaper and more flexible option.

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Specifications

15.4 in 1,280x800 display, 2.6kg, 1.66GHz Intel Celeron T1600, 1.00GB RAM, 160GB disk, Linux (Alex)

You know how it goes: you help a relative buy a PC for their simplistic needs and then you spend the rest of your life giving out free technical support. If that's a familiar story, Broadband Computer Co's Alex could well be of interest.

The idea behind it is to provide a laptop with an operating system that's incredibly simple to use for people unfamiliar with computers, and provide the support for £9.99 a month (plus £400 for the laptop). Alternatively, you can pay £25 a month with broadband included. It's subject to a 3GB monthly fair usage policy, which is plenty for normal use. We've seen similar concepts before, but Alex is the first time we've seen it done with any success.

The operating system is a Linux distribution that's been heavily modified to make it easier to use and, just as importantly, locked down so that it's harder to break. To reduce the chances of problems even further, Alex is updated and managed centrally, so the user doesn't have to worry about applying patches or important security updates.

Access to the Alex is a little strange as it requires a USB Latchkey to be plugged into the computer first. The Latchkey is used to identify the computer to the central Alex servers and renders the PC unusable if it's not connected (a user password acts a secondary line of defence). The Latchkey can also be used on another Alex computer, transferring user settings in the process, letting users effectively carry their computer around on a USB key wherever they go. Should the key be lost, Broadband Computer Co can simply send out a replacement.

Once into the main computer, Alex has been designed to keep things as simple as possible. As such, there's not the usual desktop layout; so, there's no start menu or task bar, windows can't be resized or moved and there's only the choice of applications that come preinstalled. While most operating systems have bright, large icons, but Alex is back to basics using buttons with clear text labels. Admittedly, it might not look as pretty as, say, Windows 7, but it's instantly easier to understand.

The main 'welcome' screen is used to display RSS feeds (My News), a calendar with a list of today's events, and notes. On the right-hand side of the desktop are quick-launch icons to the only applications that can be used on Alex. As there's no taskbar and you can't alt-tab between applications, these icons are also used to switch between Windows. Once an application has been opened, it fills the entire screen and there's no way to move a window or resize it. This is a pretty major limitation and means you can't view documents side-by-side.

Alex home screen

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