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A company called Moderro Technologies this week unveiled the Xpack Web 2.0 Cloud Computer, a palm-sized appliance dedicated to cloud computing. The US$395 computer was being demonstrated at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo in New York City this week, and is set to begin shipping in late October.

Although the company is playing close to the chest with its technical specifications, I was able to find out that the Xpack operating system is Linux-based and built around a fast processor with plenty of RAM and even some local flash storage. "You buy a game console based on what it does, not on what's inside," company vice president Dan Itkis told me in a phone interview yesterday. The company is guarding its precise specifications, he said, because they're likely to change slightly from time to time. "I don't want to say it comes with a 1.5 GHz processor when it might actually ship with a 1.6 GHz processor," he said, which I inferred as its approximate power.

What he would tell me was that Xpack includes a specialized keyboard and mouse, digital and analog video ports (with just single-monitor support for now), wired and wireless Ethernet, and a USB port. "So if someone wants to download a PDF file [for example], it can be put onto a USB stick," he said. For certain applications, the port also can be disabled via secure management software "to prevent clutter and security vulnerabilities."

What really makes this unit special, he said, is what sits atop its Linux core. "Linux is not very good at discovering devices and automatically configuring itself, so we did a lot of work to make the unit plug-and-play." Monitor and networking settings, for example, are detected and configured automatically, he said. The company plans to release the resulting Linux distribution eventually.

Moderro is betting that the cloud computing model will be the next big thing for industry, education and elsewhere, and claims to be the first to be dedicated to the space. "The thin client removed the complexity from the desktop, yes, but it moved it to the back-end, where you still have to maintain Windows licenses, back office applications and a Citrix or Terminal Services system on top of that. We remove all that completely. The apps are stored in the cloud so we eliminate that back office infrastructure entirely."

In addition to Google and Zoho cloud apps for office productivity, "there are about 2000 Web 2.0 applications out there that do various things. We provide launch buttons for the apps you want." The system also will includes customizable profiles for students, engineers, libraries and the manufacturing floor, Itkis said.

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