Computer hardware keeps evolving and prices keep dropping. Of course, that's been true for decades and there appears to be no let-up of the rapid changes ahead. One newly-announced computer I am enthusiastic about is Dell's new "Project Ophelia" computer that will sell for about $100.
The new "Project Ophelia" computer is expected to be released in July to developers who may want to write apps for Ophelia. In August, it will be available via cable companies or telecom providers that may want to offer it with cable packages or data plans. Shortly after, it will be available to consumers on Dell's website. "Project Ophelia" computers will be tiny. In fact, the new computer will be about the size of today's flash drives. Obviously, it won't have a CD-ROM drive in it. Then again, it won't need one. Many computers being built these days do not have CD-ROM drives.
The "Project Ophelia" computer will not be a Windows PC nor will it run either Macintosh or Linux operating systems. Instead, it will run Android, the same as many handheld computers. However, this will not be a computer of limited capabilities. Dell believes that you can take the tiny computer out of the box, plug it into a television set or a computer monitor that contains an HDMI port, add a keyboard and a mouse, and start using it for serious business and personal applications. Security of the cloud-based storage space will be top-notch, better than the internal storage of most of today's desktop and laptop computers. The tiny computer will function as a PC, a gaming machine, and as a TV set-top box.
"Project Ophelia" computers will include wireless wi-fi and Bluetooth networking, along with sufficient memory and video capabilities to run many programs. Users will be able to download apps (including genealogy apps), movies, and TV shows from the Google Play store. Users will also be able to run Android games or stream movies from Hulu or Netflix. Of course, the system is fully capable of surfing the web, reading and writing email, as well as using Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. Ophelia will also come with Wyse's PocketCloud, which allows users to access files stored on PCs, servers or mobile devices. The tiny computer will also (optionally) connect to virtualization platforms from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware, increasing security required by those who have to tote information around.
If lost or stolen, the device will not be storing personal information internally. In fact, Dell will even offer the capability to wipe the device clean of all stored data. If the device is lost or stolen, the owner can use a different (possibly borrowed) computer, go to a certain web site, and issue a command to wipe his or her lost device clean. If the thief then connects the stolen device to the Internet, all data stored in the device will immediately be erased. (The thief will need to connect to the Internet. By itself, the "Project Ophelia" computer won't be able to do much and certainly will not supply sensitive information to prying eyes. To use the "Project Ophelia" computer, the thief must connect it online.) If the device is later recovered or is replaced by a new "Project Ophelia" computer, all the user's information can be restored from the cloud within minutes.
With limited internal storage space, the "Project Ophelia" computer will be a true cloud-based system. I see that as a mix of good and bad. To be sure, the very popular Chromebook laptops have done the same successfully for a couple of years. Amazon reports that Chromebooks are amongst the most popular laptop computers the retailer sells. With all the power that most users need, essentially unlimited storage space in the cloud, and a very low retail price, Chromebooks have a lot of appeal. I suspect the same will be true for the Dell "Project Ophelia" devices.
While the new Dell computers will probably meet the computing needs of 98% of the computing public, they obviously won't be powerful enough for CAD/CAM use by engineers, for scientific computing, intensive graphics editing, or for other computing-intensive or graphics-intensive applications. Of course, they will always work as "remote terminals" when connected to powerful mainframe computers, they way we all computed back in the 1970s. I can envision corporations using many of these inexpensive computers for data entry applications, customer service call centers, and similar uses. I don't expect them to be used very much in applications that require a lot of computing power on the desktop, however.
Will the "Project Ophelia" computer meet your needs? For most people reading this article, I would assume the answer is "probably not." The fact that you already own a rather powerful laptop or desktop computer and have become comfortable with it suggests to me that you probably won't be happy with a lower-powered device. However, for millions of people who are not computer savvy, the "Project Ophelia" computer might be an excellent choice.
Android doesn't require the user to be a computer expert in order to use it. For proof, just ask anyone who is presently using an Android tablet or smartphone. Unlike Windows or Linux, you simply turn an Android computer on and start using it. Required user training is minimal. Android is resistant to viruses (that may change someday but is true today) and cloud-based storage and apps require little in the way of system maintenance or backups. In short, everything just works.
I probably won't be enthused about the "Project Ophelia" computer for myself. However, I think I could recommend it for use by young children and adults alike. I can envision "Project Ophelia" computers becoming popular amongst by those who are not computer literate, including many senior citizens, truck drivers, law enforcement personnel, auto mechanics, and others. I think that Dell might sell a ton of these "Project Ophelia" computers.
When these become available, I hope to purchase one and try to use it for genealogy purposes. If successful, I will write about it in a future newsletter.
You can find a bit more information about "Project Ophelia" on Dell's web site at http://goo.gl/C6cxj.
If useful computers will cost $100 later this year, I wonder what the prices will be like 3 or 4 years from now?