With the announcement this year of Microsoft's entry into the games console business with the Xbox, the border between PC and console became ever more blurred. Here was a console which would use an Intel CPU, an NVIDIA graphics chip, and a Microsoft operating system. But the Xbox isn't the only PC-console hybrid in the works, there is also the catchily named L600 from Indrema, which is based around the user-unfriendly Linux operating system of all things. Don't expect to have to compile your own kernel before booting up the machine for the first time though...
"I think that Linux is an ideal platform for a gaming console", Indrema CEO John Gildred proclaims. "A video game console, in its essence, is simply an embedded device. The operating system matters not a whit to the end user - for instance, most Dreamcast users don't realize that the Dreamcast runs a version of Windows for some functions, because the OS is transparent. It will be the same with Indrema. The only difference is that, unlike Windows, Linux is an ideal platform for embedded devices. It's efficient, stable, and lean."
The other advantage of Linux is that it is open source, and L600 is based around a customised version of the operating system designed specifically with gaming in mind. It will also apparently sport a 600MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM, and a next generation NVIDIA graphics card with 32Mb of RAM on board. With a built-in ethernet adapter, DVD-ROM drive and 10Gb hard drive, it certainly stands up well alongside the Xbox on paper. Of course, Microsoft have a rather large marketing budget to push the Xbox and to buy exclusive titles and even entire development studios, while Indrema .. um .. doesn't.
And then there's the lack of games - very few titles are developed on Linux compared to Windows, and while almost every modern PC game uses DirectX (as used in the Xbox), very few games apart from those powered by the various incarnations of the Quake engines still use OpenGL (as used in the L600). Indrema aren't announcing any launch titles yet, but they are expecting to have around 30 games ready for the console's release including many exclusives, although how these will stack up against the PlayStation 2 or Xbox launch titles remains to be seen. We should know more soon though, as the L600 is due for a limited pre-release early in 2001, with a full roll-out later in the year, when it will go head to head with the Xbox. Which should be .. interesting.