Underdog Linux Console Makes Waves

While the mainstream videogaming press will focus almost exclusively on the PSP and Nintendo DS Lite in the run-up to Christmas, the really savvy among us will be discovering the almost endless possibilities of the GP2X handheld console. Its tagline could quite easily have been: “So geeky it should be illegal.” For a “handheld games console”, it does rather a lot more. It’s an open system based on Linux, has twin CPUs, and can even be configured to run as an FTP or samba server. It also has a built-in web server that will run your PHP scripts.

What’s remarkable about the GP2X, though, is the vibrancy of its almost cult-like following. This plucky little gadget is an excellent lesson in how to create an on-line community of users and developers, with virtually zero marketing budget.

Just a quick glance around this community site reveals the amount of energy coursing through the veins of this “underdog” handheld console and its core following of fiercely loyal users. By contrast, Sony and Nintendo have ploughed millions of dollars into their global marketing efforts and created an army of mostly “take-it-or-leave-it” customers.

GP32/2X Ltd’s success could be attributed to word-of-mouth marketing; but there’s more to it than that. Initially they did get off to a shaky start: their initial effort with the earlier GP32 model was met with some controversy, especially among the Slashdot crowd, as they were distributing a modified version of the GNU/Linux codebase without making the modified version available as open-source, thus (unwittingly) violating the GPL. This time around though, they’ve got it so right that the geeks (me included) love ‘em and want to bring them breakfast every morning (figuratively speaking).

So, what exactly did they get right? For starters, they’ve demonstrated that they understand and care about their target audience. Those wanting to do some Linux development, or game development without needing a team of hundreds, can do so quite easily with this device. They’ve created a real meritocracy, where anyone with the time and the talent can take part in a buzzing community. It’s both modern and old-school at the same time.

Sony, by comparison, has done its best to kill the homebrew market, going out of its way to stop the ability to do your own development on the PSP.

I’ve written more about the GP2X and its possibilities over here.

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.