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UK boffin plans Linux box for comeback

The rumours that Sir Clive Sinclair is playing with computers again are strengthening

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Sir Clive Sinclair, the 80s UK computer guru, is being strongly tipped to make as comeback with a machine running Linux. It's not Sir Clive's fault that the latest rumour outbreak was in yesterday's Sunday Express, although the material the Express majored on -- his love life -- is his fault, we suppose. Rather more worrying for The Register is the fact that well-known UK journalist Chris Bidmead claimed in a recent column that he'd be sending a copy of Linux to Sinclair. This means that if Sir Clive does go with a Linux box, Chris will become even more self-important than he is already. Linux does, however, have obvious attractions for Sir Clive. His previous creations have been low-cost, at least intended to be robust, and have gone for innovation rather than whatever the industry standard has been perceived as. The ZX family of little black boxes (early computing appliances, perhaps?) brought home computer prices down to levels (£125, anyone?) below anything we've seen for some years. Sinclair Research lost the ensuing price war, aided to some extent by Timex lousing-up Sinclair's entry to the US market (the Timex 2000). A later machine, the Z88, wasn't commercially successful, but was the weapon of choice for quite a few UK hacks for some years, and could maybe be seen as a kind of signpost to any future machine Sinclair will produce. Sinclair has a long-standing aversion to moving parts, wasted machine horsepower and pointless adherence to industry standards. So the Z88 was a thin black pad with rubberised keyboard, a smallish mono (non-backlit LCD), Z80 CPU, EPROM storage and no disks of any description. It had a suite of built-in applications, ran off four AA batteries and was a pretty successful dedicated word-box and mobile email terminal. If Sinclair was putting together something similar today he'd be inclined to go for a low power CPU that delivered maximum bangs per buck, so an ARM would be attractive. Linux these days seems a pretty obvious candidate for an OS, and would give a development team something solid to build on. Sinclair would however have to figure out how to deal with various developments that have taken place since his last outing. The machine will have to deal well with the Web and communications, and these might be the areas where he would try to introduce the characteristic Sinclair innovation (unfortunately, the Sinclair innovation frequently turns out to be only nearly a good idea). The display will be a problem if he goes for a portable, as Sinclair characteristically resists components that cost a lot of money. Storage will also help determine the kind of machine he produces - he may have got over his dislike of moving parts by now, but it's not guaranteed. For what it's worth, we reckon Sir Clive is likely to find a low-cost, robust machine positioned somewhere in the mobile and/or appliance areas attractive. He could well cut corners with the display, maybe making it at least partially home Internet box, and might even go for consumer electronics flash storage rather than rotating media. But don't hold your breath -- the Z88, although quite fun, was years in the making, and barely made it out of the UK at all. ®

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