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On The Cover/Top Stories
2 of 2   The Jonney Machine
Suzanne Nam 11.12.07

The company first said the computer would be on shelves by August, then September, before it finally arrived Oct. 17. The holdup, says Shen, was making sure the interface worked well. To test it, Asustek took 1,000 prototypes and distributed them to employees and vendors, with strict orders to share them with family members of all ages. Bloggers on Eee PC Web sites that sprung up after the Computex show groaned that the product was taking too long to come out, but that didn't bother Shen. "The user experience must be very high," he says. "So we delayed, because with all the momentum built up around this product, I want to make sure it's exactly right."

Meanwhile, the prospect of millions of new PC users buying the Eee PC without Windows seemed to worry Microsoft. Just before the launch, it agreed to give Eee PC buyers the option of getting Windows for under $40, more than a third off the standard price.

Shih says Asustek will tap into a new market--consumers unable to buy computers because they're too expensive or just too intimidating. Indeed, the Eee name comes from easy to learn, easy to play and easy to work. That new market has been nicknamed the second billion. An estimated 1 billion people now have access to computers and the Internet, but even in developed countries, computers are just out of reach for millions. In the developing world that number is in the hundreds of millions.

But Asustek clearly wants to connect with the first billion, too. For instance, the 2- to 8-gigabyte memory cards can be upgraded to 32 gigabytes and the RAM from 256 megabyte to 1 gigabyte by simply taking out two screws on the back of the machine, something that Shen demonstrates but isn't including in the marketing materials. Asustek is also linking with mobile telecom companies to provide a 3g attachment, so users can be connected when Wi-Fi isn't available.

The initial interest in the machine has come from PC hobbyists; and chat room denizens talking RAM specs and placing orders via the Internet are certainly not first-time buyers. Star Tech, an online retailer in the U.S. that started taking orders for the Eee PC before the specs were done, says its Eee PC page has been averaging 1,000 hits a day and it's been taking roughly 100 orders a week, mostly from businesspeople and travelers. Citigroup's Yang wants one, too, but it sold out too quickly for him to get one after it hit the stores in Taiwan. "I'm on the waiting list," he says.

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