Introduction

Change is difficult. The older we get, the worse we become about accepting change. Some people always shop at the same store, order the same thing at a restaurant, buy the same brand of car... and yes, they even insist on running the same OS and web browser, year after year. Some day, your choice of operating system may not matter. To some extent, the Internet has already broken down a lot of barriers. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same - there are still a few web sites that only display properly in Internet Explorer, for example.

As difficult as it is to change, it comes as little surprise that many people reacted to the launch of the Mac Mini with, "It looks interesting; too bad it's an Apple." I'm as bad as the next person, and while I bear no ill will towards Apple or their users, I'm pretty comfortable with my "Wintel" computer network. We still don't have a universal cyberspace, so for now, the software and applications for a platform play a critical role. For many people and businesses, all of the software that they own runs on Windows PCs, and thus, people continue to stick with the Microsoft OSes.

Give credit where credit is due: when it comes to aesthetics, Apple is one of the best. Small form factor PCs - didn't Apple start that segment with their Mac cube? How about the iPod? Let's not even get into the discussion of MacOS, Windows, and Xerox PARC.... There are many examples of Apple launching a new product with an interesting design, only to see many people avoid it simply because they want to run Windows. (We're not trying to start a debate over which is better, though, and there are many other topics that could be addressed in the PC vs. Mac wars.)

Maybe this will all change with Apple starting to ship x86 systems, but for now, Apple's creative design has once again been "borrowed" - or at least, copied in many areas. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Steve Jobs must be feeling pretty good about himself right now. From the consumer's perspective, however, it generally doesn't matter if one company copies another company's design; if it brings competition and price wars so much the better.

It seems that AOpen has been working towards the creation of the MiniPC over the past year or so. First, we had their Pentium M desktop motherboards, followed by some Pentium M small form factor systems, and then they made the MZ855/MZ915 really small form factor design. These were all decent efforts, but I, at least, continued to think, "Can't anyone make a Windows-compatible computer that will compete with the Mac Mini?" Now, the answer is finally "yes", but there's more to it than that.

Not everyone needs a super powerful desktop system, and a super small, super quiet, super portable computer is an interesting idea. The problem is that we already have those: laptops. If you're going to compete with a laptop, only without a keyboard, touchpad, or display, you had better get the remaining features and the price right! Did AOpen succeed? Let's find out.

Appearance and System Specifications
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  • bldckstark - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    Maybe lots and lots of people do care, but I couldn't give a crap less about what the back panel of any computer looks like. Maybe someone could tell me why they do.

    As for it not looking better, that would be a subjective opinion.
    Reply
  • Snuffalufagus - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    Just for the sake of the 'Company that sucks' copied the 'company that had the idea first' argument, what, in a low profile box, of the same approximate dimensions, could they have done to make people not claim it was a duplicate? Change the color? Change the rubber foot pads? Revert back to PS2 connections? This idea that one company shouldn't build off the strengths found in another is stupid, and would ultimately lead to stagnation if no company learned from the mistakes and successes of another.

    Copying form doesn't really mean shit as far as one being better. Hell, I think the Mac Mini is a piece of crap due to it's lack of versatility, but now its being praised for that capability now that this new piece of crap is out (i.e. two vs. one mem slot).

    FWIW - this wasn't purely a response to your post, it was just a covenient place to put the comment.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    I couldn't care less about copying. Whoever does it best gets my vote. The lack of versatility really isn't a major lack, though. The only things the MiniPC can't do are:

    1) Gaming (other than old games or 2D stuff)
    2) High-end audio (without USB add-on)
    3) TV Tuner stuff
    4) High performance computing.

    Most people don't need any of those things. Given that it's small, reasonably fast, and reasonably quiet (and all of the above pretty much applies to the Mac Minis as well), these things could be great for the less power hungry people.

    Unfortunately, my mom still can't use a computer worth a darn, so reducing hardware complexity isn't going to help her with the software side. (And please don't bother suggesting OSX; she really is clueless about computers, and we're just happy when she can manage to read/write email!)
    Reply
  • Herrterror - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    yeah, poor Apple. They wanted to introduce Sloanism to the computer industry and ended up losing out to copycats. Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    The price of this has to be at least lower than a laptop. You can get a decent laptop for the same price, with a built-in LCD and Keyboard, and a lot more IO. You can still just hook up a Keyboard and Monitor with a laptop, as I do at work everyday, plus you get portability if you need it. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    A few things laptops are generally lacking:

    1) DVI output
    2) Component output
    3) Anything more than 2.1 audio output

    So, the HDTV connections of the MiniPC are definitely something to think about. Component out is probably the best way to guarantee a system can function as an HTPC (though the whole HDCP issue is looming on the horizon....) Also, these systems (Mac Mini/MiniPC) are both smaller than a laptop - why have a screen if you're not going to use it, right? But I do agree that the price needs to at least match an equivalent laptop.
    Reply
  • WhoBeDaPlaya - Monday, March 06, 2006 - link

    The Audigy 2 ZS PCMCIA has #3 covered ;)
    Been using it with my trusty 'ol eMachines m6805 since late 2004.
    Reply
  • Snuffalufagus - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    but fill a particular niche market that's appealing for certain applications. Reply
  • joey2264 - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    I was just thinking ... what if they did an end run around apple by making this a dvr? Apple's stupid allegiance with the content providers practically guarantees they will never put out a true dvr, but aopen obviously has no such qualms. They need to make a version with core duo, decent tv tuner built-in(preferably ati 550 pro if that was possible), 2 ram slots, at least 4 usb ports, and spdif (basically the same ports as the mac mini + a tv in).

    How cool would that be? It might even put the pressure on apple to produce a dvr of their own.
    Reply
  • joey2264 - Friday, March 03, 2006 - link

    I think the key thing here, the reason why Apple can charge such a low price, is because you are not paying for the os with the mac mini. This price advantage does not factor itself into every other Apple product, because of Apple's crazy profit margins. But this is the one product where they are willing to make little to no profit, and so, who whodathunkit, they are price competitive. If only they would take a similar strategy (although obviously not to this extreme) with their other products).

    The only way the wintel world could compete is if Microsoft designed a mini pc of their own, or gave it away to an extra special favorite manufacturer of theirs.
    Reply

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