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5/20/2013
03:49 PM
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Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?

Dell has struggled to adapt as PCs have lost ground to tablets. Is Ophelia, a pocket-sized computing device coming this summer, a step in the right direction?

Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Last week, Dell announced a brutal earnings report, and its sagging PC business was the primary culprit. The company's Project Ophelia, an out-of-the-box PC concept set to debut this July, won't change that on its own, but it could represent an important shift in the company's thinking.

Though Dell has achieved some tablet-driven success with schools, the company has largely struggled to keep up with the device market's trend toward mobility. Ophelia could signal that the company is finding ways to adapt and, perhaps, to catch up.

Ophelia is a miniature computer that could easily be mistaken for a USB stick. Equipped with two USB ports, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a dual-core processor, the device plugs into a display's HDMI port, turning compatible screens -- from small desktop monitors to giant HDTVs -- into ad hoc computing devices.

Ophelia runs Android 4.0 but also comes with PocketCloud, which allows users to access files stored on PCs and other devices. It also can facilitate a host of remote desktop opportunities by hooking into virtualization platforms from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware.

[ Get the lowdown on one of Dell's latest tablets. Read Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet: the Good and the Bad. ]

Ophelia was first teased in January at CES, and Dell has continued to tout the product throughout the spring. It will be demonstrated at this week's Citrix Synergy conference in Los Angeles. The first Ophelia shipments in July are earmarked for developers, but general availability should follow by the fall. The device will be able to download apps and movies from Google Play.

Dell became a household name thanks to its built-to-order PC model but has spent the last several years diversifying into an end-to-end software and services company. Computers still dominate the company's revenue streams, however, and Wall Street has been skeptical that Dell, from a financial perspective, is really more than a PC maker.

The dynamic between Dell, its investors, and the PC market is one of the reasons CEO Michael Dell is currently trying to take the company private, a strategy that some influential investors, such as Carl Icahn, continue to oppose. However the buyout drama shakes out, Ophelia still represents a meaningful statement from Dell: the product is a new, mobile-friendly way of thinking about what does and does not represent a computer. If tablets are one slice of the post-PC equation, then technologies such as Ophelia could represent another, albeit smaller, one.

In a March interview, Jeff McNaught, Dell's executive director of marketing for cloud computing, explained that Ophelia grew out of Dell's Wyse acquisition, which provides the foundation for much of the company's virtualization business.

He said that Wyse customers wanted all-in-one thin client endpoints of all sizes, from hand-holdable tablets to large, desktop-oriented monitors. "Building all those different sizes with thin client intelligence would be difficult," he said, but once Wyse was purchased by Dell, the dilemma became part of the impetus for Ophelia. Because the device makes that "intelligence" portable, users can effectively repurpose HDMI-equipped endpoints of any size they want.

A desire to build low-cost devices was another aspect of the product's development, McNaught said, noting that the device, which will sell for $100, is much cheaper than most thin clients currently on the market.

But whereas most thin clients are used within an office, Ophelia allows users to summon a computer almost wherever they need one. An on-the-road traveler whose laptop has died, for example, could plug Ophelia into a monitor in a hotel business center, securely log into her work environment through Ophelia's interface, and, because the virtualized session will terminate as soon as Ophelia is removed, leave no sensitive data behind.

"We realized it could be a secure solution for travelers," McNaught stated, characterizing the device not as a PC replacement but as a new way to extend PC experiences. He said Ophelia will offer IT-friendly management tools, such as remote wipe, through Dell's Cloud Client Manager.

But McNaught believes Ophelia also has recreational appeal that could stretch into the consumer space. For example, he said, a hotel guest normally has to pay $9 to see a movie in his room. With Ophelia, the guest could stream HD video from Netflix or Hulu to the TV, or spend hours playing Android games.

"It has practical applications, and at the other end of the spectrum, it's also whimsical and fun," McNaught said, adding that Dell is going to target Ophelia at enterprises but that it has also fielded interest from educators and consumers.

It remains to be seen whether Ophelia will be a novelty, a flop, a one-off success, or a sign that Dell's acquisitions are starting to innovate. But McNaught feels confident the product reflects the company's growing capabilities.

He praised the device's engineering, specifically the miniaturization required to pack so many computer components into such a small package, and to keep Ophelia's power consumption at a scant two watts. He also praised the device's software, which he described as delivering "automatically-managed, virus-immune" services to both enterprises and consumers.

"When you look at Ophelia, there are really two giant feats," he said.

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AnnoyedAnonymous
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AnnoyedAnonymous,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/28/2013 | 10:35:30 AM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
How is this product any different from the plethora of other HDMI mini PCs that are already on the market? A bit late me thinks unless they have a management solution in a similar way to ChipPC's Excalibur management suite.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
5/22/2013 | 1:42:16 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Based on reader reactions, the Dell will have to market their new Bacon Matzo Balls very effectively to be a success..,... (;-)
Zman7
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Zman7,
User Rank: Strategist
5/21/2013 | 8:56:48 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
I don't know why Dell didn't jump to tablets and phones. These are ALL PCs and Dell could have made them as well as anyone.
Was there a bit of RIM syndrome going on??
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2013 | 5:40:26 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Based on our reader reactions, it looks like Dell will need to market this thing very effectively. Probably why they talk about selling to enterprises and schools - where its use cases can be controlled and limited such that the per-unit costs make sense - rather than to consumers.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
5/21/2013 | 5:34:43 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Gee, the device is of negligible size. But the keyboard and mouse is as big as a full-sized tablet, which can do pretty much the same thing. And LOTS of public monitors/TVs don't have an accessible HDMI port, and often there's no easy way to switch to it if there is one. This sounds like a giant exercise in frustration to me...
CopyingAppleIsDangerous
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CopyingAppleIsDangerous,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2013 | 5:09:15 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
I agree with all three comments posted so far: these PC-on-a-stick devices have been available from China for roughly $50. A good site to see just how available these devices are is here:

http://www.aliexpress.com/whol...

[Disclaimer: I have no interest in helping Ali-Express in any way, whatsoever.]

I have said it over 100 times now. All of the major OEM's that are selling hardware are missing a CRUCIAL opportunity here. Every single OS that is being sold in these mobile devices is locked-down in some way or another, especially Android.

We developers are the ones who make the "apps".

Right now, it is Royal P.I.T.A. to write native applications for mobile devices. Google is being dishonest when they claim that you can for Android. You can't. Not really. Same goes for iOS. Same goes for Ubuntu Phone. Same goes for Tizen (it appears, though they are very crafty at making the device seem open). And the same goes especially for WP8.

http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/...

If you are an OEM, and you want to blow this market out of the water, you need only do one thing: Start selling devices that are truly open, meaning that, the developer is not forced to code to some sandbox just to get his app onto the consumers machine.

I know some of you executive types have density that would make a black hole envious ... and probably think that the way it is, is "OK", but it is NOT!!!!

Open up the devices the way the PC was open for 20 years, and developers will push your product.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2013 | 5:06:34 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Good points-- and no, not a "big thing" but, as I suggested in my response to the above poster, an indication that Dell - so famous for its impersonal, commodity PCs - is thinking about computing differently these days. Though Opehlia already supports keyboards and mice, Dell is working on additional peripherals. Hopefully they'll find a way to overcome the touch issue, which, I agree, will dictate whether this is a semi-useful product for select groups, or something that has wider appeal.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2013 | 4:56:21 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
I think you're right-- if Ophelia actually constituted the whole of Dell's plan. Ophelia might gain some fans, but it's certainly not going to fix Dell's problems on its own.

But as I said in the article, I think it's more of a "signal" that interesting ideas are brewing in some of the companies Dell acquired. Dell can't reinvent itself by buying its way to success-- its acquisitions need to show they can perform and innovate, post-merger. I think Dell's full PC plan also probably includes downsizing parts of their consumers business, continuing to gain Windows 7-based revenue through enterprise and institutional sales, and trying to catch up on the mobility scene with Windows 8-based tablets. Ophelia is only a piece.

But as your comment implies, these non-Ophelia efforts aren't going to generate rapid progress against the competition. Ophelia, in contrast to all those other avenues, represents something that's at least different and unique within the market. If that's a sign that Dell can begin leveraging its software IP - particularly its cloud and virtualization tech - then Ophelia is a silver lining in a week that was otherwise full of bleak news for the company.
ggiese87101
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ggiese87101,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2013 | 4:53:03 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Android 4.x PC on a stick is already available for $50, has been for a while. Maybe Dell will do it better, don't know. But they better do a heck of an awesome job on it. Biggest problem is installing it on non-touch TVs and monitors means apps requiring touch or are best used with touch will not work well with a mouse/keyboard. That's the limitation of the sticks already out there. But for some apps it is an extremely good value. But I agree with other commenter, this won't be a big deal. Now if they threw them into big-screen TV boxes or monitor boxes for not much and had a way to monetize people's usage of the device (ads, app store with traditional keyboard/mouse apps, etc.), then it might become interesting, but still not the "next big thing"
jschmoe101
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jschmoe101,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2013 | 3:33:51 PM
re: Can Tiny Ophelia Cure Dell's Big PC Woes?
Meh. So, Dell's plan to save its business is to sell a <$100 PC on a USB stick rather than its servers that are tens of times as valuable, while the raft of Chinese companies selling similar units for 30-50% less has been available to consumers for more than a year? The PC business is tough and margins are low, but this seems more like wild desperation than a long-term business plan. I wish you luck, Dell.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
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