Does a laptop that goes up to a full day between charges sound appealing? Well, here it comes, and Linux is helping to make it happen.According to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, two of Dell's Latitude laptop PCs will be the first to ship with the company's Linux-based Latitude ON technology. While Dell is marketing Latitude ON mostly as a quick and easy way to access Microsoft Exchange data without booting or waking a Windows XP or Vista laptop, it actually provides a functional Linux desktop environment -- including a Web browser and viewers for Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF documents.
Latitude ON, which ships as an embedded software module on its own chip-on-a-chip hardware subsystem, also includes device drivers for the Latitude's Wi-Fi and 3G networking hardware: "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 transcontinential flights." Like other instant-on desktop technologies, this one will handle software and system updates via vendor-provided firmware upgrades. Dell developed the custom Linux desktop environment in conjunction with Novell; the system actually uses a modified version of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop combined with an embedded MontaVista Linux OS.
I have expressed doubts in the past about the utility of Linux-based instant-on laptop technology. If Dell's Latitude ON products work as advertised, however, it could provide a truly significant jump in laptop battery life -- one area of laptop technology where major improvements have long been few and far between.