There's plenty of talk these days about embedded Linux devices. But what if your device doesn't have the open source OS already embedded, and you still want to use it to run apps? Intel (INTC) is catering to exactly that market—among other niches—with its Compute Stick, a USB device capable of booting TVs and other hardware that will sell for as low $89.
Much more than a "live USB" device, or a memory stick with an OS preloaded that will only work when connected with an actual computer, the Compute Stick is a complete computer unto itself, with a processor, storage and networking hardware all packed in. All it needs to run is an HDMI display.
Intel sees applications for the finger-sized device for both consumers and businesses. For personal computing, it could allow people to access files, check in with online apps or run streaming media services (Netflix, anyone?) while on the go. Businesses might use it to power kiosks or as part of integrated solutions for delivering any number of apps and services.
The company plans to sell the Compute Stick with Linux preinstalled for $89. A Windows 8.1 version will also be available for $149, according to our intel Intel.
Intel, which is still awaiting FCC approval before it can bring the Compute Stick to market, is not the first company to develop a PC-on-a-stick, of course. Similar devices are already on sale. But Intel is the first major company to eye this market. And it's doing it with a very broad audience in mind, since the Compute Stick is designed to cater to a wide array of different use cases.
Whether Intel succeeds or fails in this endeavor, the Compute Stick is a reminder of the relevance of thinking outside the box, literally, in the embedded OS world. Much of the discussion about embedded devices focuses on bricking tailor-made kernels into immutable hardware, which often is designed for one specific task and cannot support general computing. Solutions such as the Compute Stick are a way for organizations to work around some of the limitations associated with that approach by getting all of the mobility and simplicity of an embedded platform, but without having to address obscure hardware specifications or water down the software.