Dell’s Instant-on Linux Board: Useful, or Waste of Time?

We already introduced Dell’s new laptop wonder, the Z600, to you earlier this week. What makes this laptop special is that it contains a small ARM motherboard which runs a special version of openSUSE Linux, allowing for instant access to basic functionality like checking email, browsing the web, and playing multimedia files. What’s news, at least for OSNews, is that research from Dell has shown that people spent 70% of their time in the Linux environment.

It’s an interesting route to take. A regular, full-featured computer takes too long to boot up, so why not include a small, embedded system, and have it act like a phone or whatever which boots up instantly, and provides access to the most commonly used features.

Latitude-On, as the feature is called, uses a TI OMAP3430 ARM processor to load a Linux-based environment providing access to things lik web browsing, checking email, and playing multimedia files. According to studies by Dell, users used the Linux environment 70% of the time – making Windows seem more like a stone around the laptop’s neck than a useful environment.

However, one does have to wonder – how often are laptops actually turned off completely? Don’t most people just put them to sleep, allowing for instant wake up and access to a full environment? All the major operating systems provide reliable instant wake up, so what exactly the role of an add-in ARM board is remains to be seen.

On top of that, isn’t all this just a giant clumsy patch to cover up the fact that operating systems are simply extremely crude, inefficient, and power-hungry? Wouldn’t money be better spent on making operating systems better instead of jamming an additional embedded board into a laptop?

Despite those questions, fact remains that this feature is just plain cool. When I was younger, I used to drool over those PCI x86 cards Sun made – an entire x86 system contained on a single PCI board, ready to be plugged into your SPARC system. They actually still sell those; the SunPCi IIIpro Coprocessor Card sports an AMD Athlon XP 2100+ 1.6-GHz mobile processor, up to 1GB of memory, an integrated ProSavage8 graphics chip, and a lot more. Oh, and you can plug multiple SunPCi cards into a single machine.

Sorry, I got lost in a geek dream there for a second. Anyway, what do you think of functionality like this? Is it the way to go? A waste of time? A waste of space?

85 Comments

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