by Laurianne McLaughlin

Intel’s New Word on Mobile Gadgets: Linux

Apr 27, 20073 mins
Data Center

Combine the Linux operating system and low-power Intel processors in a $500 handheld device for Net access and what do you get? Intel calls it the MID — mobile internet device. I call it pretty darn interesting.

When I wrote recently about Dell’s decision to offer Linux on consumer PCs, I noted that Linux opens the door for hardware companies to create breakthrough designs at breakthrough price points. The Intel MID devices certainly break some new ground. (Peek at the designs and get the mobile guru point-of-view on the MID from, here.)

Intel unveiled its plans for these mobile Net-connected gadgets last week at the Intel Developer Forum in Bejing. The idea behind MID: Intel sees room for mobile Net connectivity devices that are bigger than cell phones and smaller than notebooks. These gadgets pack  4.5- to 6-inch screens. By popping Linux in them instead of  Windows, Intel helps device makers keep the price down around $500, perhaps making these affordable notebook PC alternatives in emerging markets.

Intel says the consumer-minded MIDs will deliver not only Net access but also personal productivity apps and entertainment content. (This week, Intel announced a new partnership with MobiTV, an early leader in broadcast-style TV over mobile devices (think smart phones), to deliver live TV content to MIDs. If Intel and MobiTV strike the right content deals, you might get your “24” fix in a whole new way next year.)

The MIDs’ low-power processors will conserve battery life and reduce heat inside the cases.

Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group, told IDF attendees that the “personal mobile Internet” is a big part of Intel’s near term roadmap, as he unveiled the Intel Ultra Mobile platform 2007 for MIDs and Ultra-mobile PCs (a slightly bigger gadget form factor, which Intel and Microsoft have been pushing without much consumer enthusiasm.)

According to Intel, MID gadgets will be available this summer from device makers including Aigo, Asus, Fujitsu, Haier, HTC and Samsung.

Interestingly, Intel’s Chandrasekher noted that in the first-half of 2008, Intel plans to ship “Menlow” an even more sophisticated platform for MID devices — based on the company’s 45-nanometer microarchitecture “designed from the ground up” for mobile Net gadgets. These chips will of course be smaller and lower-power than the current models.

The Linux choice is all about dollars and sense — low cost and hardware flexibility. Canonical, the distributor of Ubuntu Linux, has signed on with Intel to back the MID idea. (Until now, ultra-mobile PCs have run flavors of Windows like the Tablet PC edition and Vista.)

PC industry people love to debate what makes the perfect mobile gadget. Every vendor would like to create the runaway winner — the iPod of mobile Internet, if you will. But I’m betting there will be several form factor winners for Net access on the go, in addition to smart phones.

Will the MID be one of them? If Apple has taught the PC industry anything, it’s that you’ve got to take risks to create breakthrough designs. I’m glad that Intel is thinking big, about all things small.