Mini PCs Again

Recent discussions of the Eee PC, XO, Kindle, iPhone, and GPhone remind me of the palmtop discussions of nearly ten years ago. My principal at the time and I presented a talk titled “Ten Strategic Technology Innovations,” in which we outlined a framework for evaluating new technologies by the degree to which they could support a school’s mission. Our red herring was the HP Jornada, the palmtop device that looked promising but had serious limitations of connectivity and operating system.

What purposes do laptop computers serve at your school? Most laptop implementations I have seen thrive because the computers are versatile, nimble devices in the hands of creative users who put them to a great variety of purposes. The ability to use both web resources and download desktop applications, write to a variety of portable media, and connect to various networks are all critical features for the success of school laptop programs that I have seen. If a device is too limiting, the ability to find the right tool at the right time is compromised.

As was the case then, the new devices are too expensive and not capable enough to replace laptops. Why would one purchase a $300 device that’s only capable of half if what you want to do, when you could buy a full-featured computer for $1,000? Screen size, durability, service plans, and maintenance should all be considered as well. For the moment at least, a mainstream computer is a better deal for the dollar.

At least, this time around, the small devices offer more mature operating systems (locked OS X, Linux) than last time (e.g., Windows CE!). Perhaps, ten years from now, we will see the palm-sized devices simply merge with the laptop in terms of features and versatility.

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