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A new computer that defies category

A new computer that defies category

It's not a tablet, PC, or cloud-only device - Dell's upcoming computer has everything

Dell is planning to release by mid-year a computer that's all of 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. It's not much bigger in girth than a USB stick, and is similar in design.

This Wi-Fi enabled device is designed to be plugged into something, most likely a monitor or TV. It has two USB ports for a keyboard and a mouse and, alternatively, Bluetooth capability. It displays at 1080p and can support touch screens.

The device will be powered by an ARM system-on-a-chip manufactured by an undisclosed vendor.

The device doesn't yet have a real name -- Dell is calling it "Project Ophelia".

Ophelia isn't trying to be Chromebook-like (less keyboard and screen) and do most of its work in the cloud. It's far from a fat client PC, but it can run applications natively as well from the cloud. The application model is more like a tablet.

The device will cost less than $US100.

"It's a radical rethinking of how best to support end user computing," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. It's not simply a thin client device, he says - "it's steps beyond that."

King said Dell may have a problem marketing the device and in educating potential users about its role.

The "Project Ophelia" product was developed by Dell's Wyse unit, which is long known for making thin clients.

This device, though, -- perhaps reflecting the influence of Dell -- is not a corporate thin client. It's clearly designed to appeal to consumers, BYOD workers, and creative IT managers.

The device will run Android OS Jelly Bean, have 8GB of memory to support applications, music, video and presentations, and a microSD slot up to 32GB of storage.

The ideal connection is through a Mobile High Definition Link (MHL) enabled interface to a monitor.

The MHL Consortium, whose founders include Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, says there are more than 200 unique MHL-enabled products available today.

Ophelia can also be powered through a USB port.

The device will be loaded with Dell's PocketCloud, which provides remote desktop access.

Jeff McNaught, executive director of marketing and chief strategy officer for Dell Cloud Client Computing, says "the use cases [for the device] are incredibly broad."

The education market, for instance, has lot of potential uses, he said.

Schools could provide the devices to students instead of tablets or PCs. A student can plug the device into monitors at home and school.

Businesses could use it like they use thin clients today. Deployment of the Ophelia device may be a little easier, with less wires and easy portability.

McNaught also touts Ophelia's use in signage displays and sales presentations. Someone could take the device into a meeting and plug it into a large monitor.

Before it became part of Dell, Wyse was prone to trying new ways to extend mobility.

In 2007, the company released a laptop thin client with no disk drive or fan and a long battery life. It was using a browser with an embedded version of Microsoft Windows XPe.

A lot has changed since then; the spread of Android operating system, app stores and services such as Dropbox.

While Ophelia can run native applications, McNaught sees it as more of a device for working in a cloud-enabled environment. "A personal cloud is made up of devices that you already own," he said, which includes everything from a home PC to a virtual machine at work.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, send e-mail to pthibodeau@computerworld.com or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed .

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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