Dell has come up with an innovative, if rather inelegant, solution to the dilemma faced by many road warriors. With ten minutes to kill at the airport or hotel, do you power up your laptop to write a few emails and endure the lengthy boot-up process or do you painstakingly punch out the messages on the small keypad of your Blackberry, or even worse, the virtual keyboard of the iPhone.
Dell’s solution? Produce a laptop containing both an ARM-based microprocessor running Linux and an Intel processor running Windows (Wintel). If they are in a hurry, the user will be able to wake up the Linux operating system and get on the Web, access email and read (but not edit) documents almost immediately, according to Dell. Apparently, the ARM/Linux combination will also be frugal with battery life, addressing one of the other perennial frustrations of business travellers. But when the user needs their full-suite of PC software, the 16-inch screen Latitude Z laptop will be able to run in conventional Wintel mode.
The move, which is the kind of innovation we might have expected from smartphone pioneer Nokia, is a clear signal that Dell doesn’t expect the Wintel alliance to soon achieve the same kind of always-on experience associated with smartphones, nearly all of which use ARM-based chips. It also appears to be a partial validation of the “smartbook” format being touted by Qualcomm and Freescale, which see the ARM architecture as the basis for always-on devices with displays of up to 12 inches on the diagonal.
The downside with the Dell approach is that two microprocessors and two operating systems will inevitably add to the complexity, cost and size of a laptop. The Latitude Z, which also boasts many other high-end features, will retail for about $2,000 and weighs two kilograms. Still, the computer market’s tilt towards always-on machines with long battery lives has to be the right direction for an increasingly mobile workforce.