When you're on the road, do you need to have a smartphone, tablet or laptop to access your computing resources? Dell doesn't think you should, and has developed a new, thin-client product that packs computing power into a device about the size of a USB memory stick.

The computer maker recently unveiled its compact, Wi-Fi-enabled portable device that takes advantage of personalized cloud Relevant Products/Services client computing to reduce hardware to its smallest essential. Called the Dell Wyse "Project Ophelia," the product is a bit larger than a USB memory stick and allows a user to convert any accessible display screen into what the company called a "functioning interactive personal display device," with Bluetooth connection to a keyboard/mouse.

The Android 4-based device uses Wyse software that Dell acquired when it bought that company in April of last year. Wyse Technology was a provider of thin clients and desktop virtualization Relevant Products/Services products.

Managed via Cloud

The company said that use cases include consumers who want access to cloud-based games but don't have their laptop or tablet handy, mobile Relevant Products/Services users who want to utilize an available large display, and carriers who might want to offer such a device as part of their Internet/wireless service.

While the device is Android-based, Dell notes that it could allow a user to connect to Windows desktops and applications that are running on such infrastructure Relevant Products/Services providers as Citrix, Microsoft and VMware Relevant Products/Services. The device gets its power from the attached display through a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) interface to the monitor's MHL port, or through its own USB interface, so no batteries are involved. The MHL port is not widely available, however.

Individual users can establish and save their own settings, meaning that the device can be passed around. It can also be managed by the Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager software-as-a-service, allowing IT departments to manage the device with control over permissions and access to apps or content. Since all storage Relevant Products/Services is in the cloud and the device can be disabled remotely by IT, it poses little risk in the event that a user forgets it on the sink in the hotel bathroom.

Dependent on the Cloud

Dell said the Project Ophelia device will be available in the first half of this year. Some news reports indicate the price will be less than $100.

Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, said Project Ophelia "points toward a future where the big computing box disappears." At least for the near future, he said, this kind of small-device computing is "dependent on the cloud" for its storage and access to applications.

Kay suggested that, while this technology "may be a little early" for market acceptance, this kind of client computing could be useful for "task workers, although not for power workers." He noted that many companies understand the computing needs of their users lie in tiers of required capabilities, and this kind of device might work well for the lower tiers.

Earlier this month, Canonical released its new Ubuntu OS for smartphones, which enabled such a smartphone to similarly act as small-device thin client, as well as an Ubuntu-based PC, when docked with an available monitor, keyboard and mouse. As a cloud-based computing device, Project Ophelia also echoes the intention of Google's cloud-based Chromebook notebooks.