Linux fuels game console plus

Indrema claims its revolutionary, Linux-based set-top is 'for TV, for game addicts and for total entertainment'

"The future of Linux is on your TV," proclaimed the Indrema website. Reading further, I was informed that the Indrema entertainment system would be a "revolutionary product built on a revolutionary operating system, Linux."

An easy-to-use, entertainment appliance: "Just turn it on, and sit back on your couch." Not a PC, mind you. "This is no desktop Linux system," continued the website pitch, "this is Linux for TV, for game addicts, for total entertainment. Out of the box, you can hook it up and begin playing unbelievably realistic 3D games, browsing the Net at high speed, or just enjoying personal TV or MP3 favorites." Of course, there were the usual consumer product pitches, like "We want everyone to be able to have one" and "Put one in your living room, den, or your kids bedroom".

But what really caught my eye, was the claim that "the wonderful world of Linux just got a little better. It's going to change your life, and perhaps your neighbors. Try it today, and join the revolution."

"Try what?" I thought. "Linux, or the Indrema entertainment system?"

Reading on, I soon located more pro-Linux messages, like: "We are believers in the Linux development community, and we support the open source initiative to promote a universal standard operating system for networked consumer electronics."

"This is not your normal consumer electronics company," I thought. Indrema clearly seemed to have wrapped itself around Linux -- in a big way. Questions like "Who are these guys?", "What are they up to?", and "What's their angle with respect to open source?" were coursing through my brain cells.

Desiring answers to these and many other questions, I quickly phoned up Indrema's chief exec, John Gildred to request an opportunity to chat. A week later, Gildred and I spent an intense hour exploring his new startup's dreams, strategies, product ideas, and open source philosophy. Here's what I learned . . .

Who is Indrema? "It was sort of a brainchild that my partners and I had, while playing Quake late at night," said Gildred, looking back at the genesis of his year-and-a-half old startup.

"We were thinking: wouldn't it be great if somebody created an open source game platform so that a guy like John Carmack [of Quake fame], or the next great developer of a new gaming paradigm, could get it to market a lot quicker and could get into the [game] 'console space' a lot easier?"

Gildred and the other Indrema founders observed that there were lots of innovations taking place for PC-based games, but not much for consumer game consoles, due to high barriers to entry for individual developers that kept them from breaking into the console market. So, they resolved to create a new game console.

One designed, from the ground up, to provide a game development environment and infrastructure capable of enabling any level of developer -- from an individual to a large corporation -- to bring products to market easily, and without huge barriers to entry. And they decided that the keys to accomplishing this mission would be open source software, open APIs, and the Linux operating system.

The concept quickly gathered momentum. Developer interest was high. Best of all, the required technologies appeared to be available.

It's a TV. No, a Web browser . No... The Indrema Entertainment System (IES) is packaged in a sleek enclosure with the look and feel of a top-of-the-line VCR.

"You don't know that it has Linux in it," said Gildred. "You turn it on, and it runs like a consumer electronics device. You can watch TV as you normally would. But you can also pull up a screen and start playing your MP3s. Or start the web browser and begin browsing on the Internet."

The device offers a choice of broadband access, via its built-in 10/100 megabit Ethernet interface, or dialup connection. It comes with a game controller, and will have at least one pre-loaded game so the user can begin playing right away. There are two ways to add games: by using the built-in DVD drive, or by downloading games purchased online.

"Isn't it, basically, a multi-function set-top box?" I naively asked.

"Set-top box," replied Gildred, "is a term that we run away from!" Gildred went on to explain that Indrema is determined to avoid having the IES positioned as a set-top box. "First and foremost, it's a game console," emphasized Gildred. "What the IES does best, is play games. It plays games very well, is extremely fast, and offers an open development environment."

Nonetheless, that's not all the IES will do. After all, it's a fully functional multi-media Linux computer. "You will see applications that are designed for an IES platform that go beyond gaming," added Gildred, "because it has a lot under the hood that allows additional audio/video capability."

Some likely possibilities, mentioned by Gildred, include providing enhanced HDTV capabilities, and downloading and playing music, video, and TV from content partner sites. Oh yes, and "Personal TV". Users will be able to download and play specific TV programs on demand. Not all IES capabilities will be available with the entry level game console system. Personal TV, for example, will be reserved as a high end (extra-cost) option.

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