The first dual Windows/Linux PCs arrive

You won't find a word about it on Dell's sales site for the Dell Latitude E4200 laptop or the Latitude E4300, but these Windows Vista, or optionally XP, notebooks come not only with Windows but with an embedded Linux desktop as well.

Dell calls this embedded Linux, Dell Latitude ON. The Austin, Texas computer giant describes Latitude ON as, a "communication module," that "enables bi-directional remote access to your Microsoft Exchange data with the single touch of a button without booting or waking your entire laptop-lowering power consumption and extending battery life."

Yes, it is that, but, it's also a Linux desktop, based on Novell's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10. This runs on system-on-a-chip subsystem that comes with its own ARM processor and flash memory that runs without needing to call on the E4200's 1.4GHz Intel Core2 Duo ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) or the E4300's 2.26/2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SP9300 CPUs or the system's drives and memory.

Latitude ON is a real Linux desktop in its own right though. It comes with lightweight versions of Firefox, for Web browsing; an IM client; and Evolution for e-mail, calendaring, and contacts. This version of Evolution also comes ready to work with Microsoft Exchange with the Evolution Exchange Connector. It also includes Microsoft Office document, Adobe Flash, and PDF viewers

In addition, while Latitude ON doesn't need to use the laptops' main hardware, it comes with all the drivers it needs to get at them. The real value-add here is that Latitude ON can use both the built-in Wi-Fi card and 3G HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) radio. In other words, with these laptops you're never more than a few seconds away from your e-mail and your favorite Web sites.

It also means that, if you use the embedded Linux desktop, you'll have a laptop that could go up to a day between charges instead of mere hours.  I really, really like the sound of a desktop that I can run non-stop on transcontential flights.

You will also be able to update Latitude ON and its applications. This will be done as a firmware upgrade. There's been no annoucement on how often Dell will update the system.

While Novell and Dell partnered to build the desktop level, the underpinnings are also based on Linux. MontaVista, the embedded Linux company, used its Mobile 5 embedded Linux operating system on a Texas Instruments' OMAP3 mini-board with an ARM Cortex-A8 processor to power Latitude ON.

While Dell is the first to make a major move in incorporating desktop Linux into a computer product line, they won't be last. ASUS is installing DeviceVM's embedded Linux desktop, SplashTop, in its motherboards. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Between the hit that netbooks are putting on Windows and vendors using Linux as an instant-on desktop, Linux desktops are going to be everywhere in 2009.

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