Cheap mini-computers point to growing trend

Forbes published a piece last week on "The $85 Computer." The computer to which they were specifically referring was "Norhtec's Microclient JrSX, a desktop PC the size of a large novel.

Forbes published a piece last week on "The $85 Computer." The computer to which they were specifically referring was "Norhtec's Microclient JrSX, a desktop PC the size of a large novel." This flash-based PC runs Windows CE, but could certainly run a variety of FOSS alternatives. While the article points out that the machines are certainly not up to the task of gaming or Photoshop, the company has sold thousands of the small PCs:

"Most of those customers have been businesses: One group of McDonald's (nyse: MCD - news - people ) restaurants bought 1,200 to set up their wi-fi networks, he says, and a Canadian diamond-mining Arctic expedition installed the space-saving computers in its planes. But the low cost also appeals to consumers who are tired of paying for features they don't need. Shoppers can buy the machines directly from the company's Web site, Norhtec.com."

The NorhTec Microclient:

Similarly, in education, so much of what we do involves providing students with easy Internet access and basic word processing capabilities. Norhtec's PC could certainly run such applications locally or, better yet, provide access to Google Apps, an LTSP or Windows terminal server, or some other decentralized computing platform.

While the $85 doesn't include a keyboard, mouse, or monitor, these components are available at a trivial cost. As with many home users, it seems senseless to pay for high-end features when ubiquitous broadband access makes an incredible variety of applications available even with limited local processing power. Interestingly, the article also mentions the OLPC, who's price, though higher than initially hoped, points to an emerging trend globally and domestically to provide educational customers with only the components they will need and use most often in a rugged package that can withstand the abuse of kids around the world.

The article also highlights a company called Data Evolution, whose "DecTOP" should become widely available soon:

Data Evolution Chief Executive Robert Sowah shares that goal, but he also sees the opportunity to equip Americans with PCs that suit their needs, which he says are almost always overserved by expensive modern machines. He plans to sell the decTOP in major retail stores like Best Buy (nyse: BBY - news - people ) and Circuit City (nyse: CC - news - people ) starting this summer.

"Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet and e-mail," Sowah says. "That's what 90% of people do with computers, and they don't need these massive chips with oodles of storage and memory."

The DecTOP:

Ed Tech can especially benefit from this trend...If we can shrink our computers and the bloatware that often accompanies Windows PCs as fast as our budgets shrink, we just might be in luck.