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Intel to launch Linux-powered mobile Internet device

Intel is developing its own take on the mini-tablet, with a new ultra-mobile PC platform to be announced at this week’s Intel Developer Forum in Beijing. The big surprise? It’s based on Linux.

Called a Mobile Internet Device (pic), or MID, the devices will have screen sizes from 4.5 to six inches with a target audience described as "consumers and prosumers" rather than mobile professionals.

The MID2007 platform, currently codenamed McCaslin, will gain a more marketing-friendly moniker closer to next year’s release of the products. This is tipped to be an extension of the successful Centrino mobile brand, in the same manner as the recent announcement earlier this month of a higher-end Centrino Pro brand for enterprise-class notebooks incorporating Intel’s vPro management technology.

While McCaslin's CPU components -- codenamed Stealey -- will be dual-core processors clocked at 600-800MHz and capable of running Windows XP and Vista, Intel plans for the devices to run an embedded Linux OS but with a mix of open-source and proprietary code in the final products.

Typical MID uses will be "staying in touch", entertainment, information and location-based services. Intel’s presentation specifically cites Google Maps and Web-based "office and enterprise applications" in the last two categories. Connectivity will be provided through Wi-Fi and support for wide-area coverage via 3G HSDPA.

MID tablets will run a simplified "finger-friendly" user interface optimised for the small screens, based on the Gnome desktop but with an Intel-developed "master user interface" layer to serve as an equivalent to the desktop.

Developers will next month see the first MID-specific OS -- a tweak of China’s RedFlag Linux known as RedFlag MIDINUX -- while the IDF schedule itself includes a stream of "ultra mobile sessions" including one on "Designing for Linux-based mobile Internet devices".

Intel first tipped its hand in the UMPC space at least year's IDF, when it showcased several prototype devices no larger than a paperback book and announced a partnership with Yahoo to deliver a rich Web-based back end of business and personal services.