In addition to launching the Digital Nomads site last week, Dell also announced a whole lineup of coming laptop models. Some of these, like the road warrior-aimed E4300, boast a new feature that hasn’t gotten a lot of notice in the press yet: Latitude ON. Latitude ON gives your laptop a split personality – with a reason.
Here’s how it works: the laptops that incorporate this new feature are actually two laptops in one, sharing the same screen, keyboard, and hard drive. When you run the laptop in Windows, you’re using an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, running along at the usual powerful clip. But when you just need e-mail, attachment viewing, your Exchange calendar and contacts, or a web browser session, you can switch on the Latitude ON system – a separate low-power CPU in the same box, with a dedicated Linux operating system running from flash memory to drive it.
The net result is as if a high-end road warrior laptop were mated with something like an ASUS Eee in the same case – without the Eee’s compromises on screen resolution and keyboard size. This reminds me of the plea for a portable dumb terminal I made a few months ago – a great screen and keyboard with a stripped down everything else and fabulous battery life (Dell claims up to 19 hours for Latitude ON, though they haven’t yet shipped for anyone else to check this figure).
Ultimately, though, I wonder whether the Latitude ON system will really be that much of a selling point for Dell. In my notion of a portable dumb terminal, throwing all the extras overboard resulted in an inexpensive machine. Dell hasn’t announced pricing for the E4200 and E4300, but you can bet they won’t be cheap. The target market for such machines has generally been power users – people who actually need a good deal of performance. Will those users really want to keep their laptops shut out of Windows to make use of the Linux subsystem? Perhaps that makes sense, on days when an executive is hopping through a series of airports and wants to stay connected with more style than a Blackberry provides. But those of us waiting for a dedicated internet surfing box will have to wait a bit longer.