It looks sleek in a beige finish, much like a slim, cool Apple Mac. On closer examination, it turns out to be a Chromebook, the lean Net PC championed by Google meant to be a minimalist machine for the connected.
Surprise: on opening it, there is an array of familiar Windows applications that turn out cool graphics - such as a dinosaur stalking a city in a Hollywood movie.
This is the new face of affordable luxury in information technology - and the latest milestone in cloud computing, the business of using the internet or net-based software technologies to make servers (network computers) perform tasks that earlier needed powerful desktops or laptops. What it does, in simple language, is to download a virtual computer on to your desktop, the way we are by now used to downloading files or browser-based software interfaces.
Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) helps you rent or use a virtual computer in a shared service - much the same way as you would use a web-based mail like Gmail. But what you get now is heavy-duty graphic computing capability because you are sharing not an application but infrastructure. Cloud computing is growing wings - evolving from renting programs to renting powerful microchips. This makes stuff like 3D animation, advanced video editing and multi-player gaming possible at a fraction of the old costs. After all, a Chromebook roughly costs only a fourth of a Macbook.
This week at VMWorld, the annual jamboree on cloud computing championed by cloud software leader VMWare, the company teamed up with Google and high-end graphics chip-maker NVIDIA to unveil "high-performance virtual desktops" - in principle you can even create an Apple computer using the same virtualization technology. Kit Colbert, VMWare's chief technology officer for end-user computing, calls it the "just-in-time desktop".
Avinash Kaul, a Pune-based virtualization expert for NVIDIA told HT that this could make work easier for Bollywood's animators because a lean device replaces a big workstation tower that used to sit under their desks. Design and graphics-creation programs like those made by Adobe or Autodesk can also be rendered easy.
"A user can work from home and get the same experience as he would in office," Kaul said.
Palo Alto-based VMWare - which takes its name from Virtual Machine - became an early cloud computing leader by developing software that sits close to the machine's kernel, helping flexibly deliver to desktops the power of chips from servers. It's rival in virtual desktops is Citrix but VMware links its offering with an array of products that helps large corporate customers share consolidate computing power locked up in silos across departments through what the industry calls SDDC - software defined data centres.
VMWare's global staff of 17,000 include 2,700 in India, half of them R&D engineers.
Arun Parameswaran, VMWare's India head, says SDDC has helped many companies do with four servers what they would do otherwise with 10.
"We are delivering the tools for you to go forward to brave new IT," Pat Gelsinger, VMWare's CEO, told delegates at San Francisco's Moscone Center, a key venue for marquees held by Silicon Valley giants.
The estimated 22,000-strong crowd included customers and partners who roll out virtual machine software in bundles with data centre services.
VM software products make a company's existing network chips shareable - somewhat like a designer home where partition walls can be removed to consolidate rooms into a concert hall or dormitories.
Raghu Raghuram, executive vice-president at VMWare, says this can turn an IT manager into a system integrator.
This would help companies also use a variety of mobile devices - which are becoming mainstream in corporate culture as companies adopt bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that help iPad lovers, Blackberry wielders and Android aficionados work in the same team.
(The writer's travel to San Francisco and stay in the city was sponsored by VMWare)