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Linux tablet PC breaks $1,000 barrier

A small PC maker and a Linux distributor team up to offer a tablet-style PC for $999, hundreds of dollars less than similar devices running Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software.

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A small PC maker and a Linux distributor have teamed up to offer a tablet-style PC for $999, hundreds of dollars less than similar devices running Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software.

The Helium 2100, from Staten Island, N.Y.-based manufacturer Element Computer, is a convertible PC with a sliding screen that can be positioned for use as a traditional notebook PC or folded down for use as a touch-screen tablet device.

The device runs on a 1GHz Antaur processor from Via Technologies, includes a 30GB hard drive and uses a customized version of the open-source Linux operating system put together by Lycoris, a Seattle-area company that specializes in dressing up Linux with a user interface similar to Microsoft's Windows.

Mike Hjorleiffsson, president of Element Computer, said the company used a reference design from Via and combined standard Linux components with a few customized applications. He said pen-based functions were the most difficult to accommodate. The Helium includes support for basic touch-screen functions, but a full handwriting recognition program is being created for delivery with a software update planned for early next year.

Hjorleiffsson said he expects the Helium to appeal both to Linux converts and companies looking for a low-cost way to experiment with tablet computing. "We have a lot of medical folks looking at it," he said.

Jason Spisak, vice president of marketing for Lycoris, said the price of the Helium should attract more companies interested in the portability and convenience of tablet computing.

"We're hoping this opens it up to broader business use--your average on-the-go business person who sees some advantage to the tablet form but doesn't have a couple thousand to pony up for a Microsoft device," he said. "Companies who were hesitant before...can feel a little more comfortable about giving a tablet device to average employees at this price."

Microsoft's Tablet PC format has made modest but steady gains in the marketplace since the software giant introduced the configuration last year. Some manufacturers have complained that high prices charged by Microsoft have hurt sales.

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