Slowly Opensource-Wireless-WebSurfing In 2008

What would year-end magazine issues be without wild-eyed predictions for the future?  The Economist has wisely decided to limit their predictions to just next year, and to only three guesses. And unlike the usual flying car daydreams or SARS  epidemic nightmares, these seem pretty likely: Surfing will slow. Surfing will go wireless. Open source will begin to push out proprietary code, from the bottom up. Linux freaks will rejoice!

And because it is free, Linux become the operating system of choice for low-end PCs. It started with Nicholas Negroponte, the brains behind the One Laptop Per Child project that aims to deliver computerised education to children in the developing world. His clever XO laptop, costing less than $200, would never have seen the light of day without its clever Linux operating system.

But Mr Negroponte has done more than create one of the world’s most ingenious computers. With a potential market measured in the hundreds of millions, he has frightened a lot of big-time computer makers into seeing how good a laptop they can build for less than $500.

All start with a desktop version of Linux. Recent arrivals include the Asus Eee from Taiwan, which lists for $400. The company expects to sell close on four million Eees this financial year. Another Taiwanese maker, Everex, is selling its gPC desktop through Walmart for $199.

When firms are used to buying $1,000 office PCs running Vista Business Edition and loading each with a $200 copy of Microsoft Office, the attractions of a sub-$500 computer using a free operating system like Linux and a free productivity suite like OpenOffice suddenly become very compelling.

Meet me back here in 12 months and we'll discuss why none of it happened.