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Intel's Little Idea

Until this week, I'd never managed to spill anything on a computer keyboard, despite numerous close calls. But there I was Tuesday, gently tipping a cup of water over the keyboard of a new Intel laptop called the Classmate PC.

The laptop's sealed keyboard, advertised as water-resistant, lived up to its billing. The computer didn't smoke, spark or shut down; instead, it ignored the irrigation. After a minute or so of nothing happening, I awkwardly tilted the laptop over my trash can to pour out the water that had pooled around the keys.

The Classmate had some other surprises that surfaced during my review. Some were unwelcome, such as its dinky keyboard. But others were pleasant, such as its sturdy construction, light weight and simplicity.

The stripped-down nature of this computer turned out to be less of an issue than I would have thought. A computer without a CD-ROM drive?! Why, yes: That's what I've taken to trade shows for the last five years--I leave the bottom half of my laptop at home to save weight.

I suspect that the concept behind the Classmate--and the One Laptop Per Child project's cheaper, more advanced but not yet released XO--will resonate with a lot of users who don't appreciate the more-is-always-better mentality of the PC industry. (Then again, I thought the same thing of AMD's Personal Internet Communicator, and that cheap, stripped-down desktop is history now.)

Does that concept appeal to you? Let me know in the comments--or in this afternoon's Web chat, starting at 2 p.m.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 12, 2007; 8:17 AM ET
Categories:  Computers  
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Comments

In all fairness and in the interest of balance, you should have mentioned Negroponte's humanitarian OLPC laptop, that compelled Intel's typical monopolistic market rush into this global niche. You just wrote an infomercial giving Intel free advertising, as if they need it; they are making these laptops for profit $$$ and trying to flood the market before the non-profit OLPC hits the street. Why not more fully develop your storyline and compare the two laptops in a future article? Thank you!

Posted by: lisa taylor | July 12, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

In all fairness and in the interest of balance, you should have mentioned Negroponte's humanitarian OLPC laptop, that compelled Intel's typical monopolistic market rush into this global niche. You just wrote an infomercial giving Intel free advertising, as if they need it; they are making these laptops for profit $$$ and trying to flood the market before the non-profit OLPC hits the street. Why not more fully develop your storyline and compare the two laptops in a future article? Thank you!

Posted by: lisa taylor | July 12, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

One of your complaints is a small keyboard. The PC is designed for kids right. I think kids might actually find a smaller keyboard easier to use, no?

Posted by: will | July 12, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Today's column does mention the OLPC project pretty prominently--and so did this post, until our $#@&%! blogging software decided to forget my last round of edits. (If any Movable Type developers are reading this--could you please fix the "Save" button so that it actually does what it's supposed to, every time?)

Have restored the sentence that got lost, but read the print column too and then tell me if I'm giving too much credit to Intel--which, to be fair, actually has shipped its machine. (The current estimate for the XO's arrival in the market, courtesy of OLPC's PR firm, is no more precise than "before the end of the year.")

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | July 12, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I got to play with an OLPC unit for a couple of minutes (friend of a friend is working on the software), one of 500 that existed at that time, I understand. It was very impressive and I'd buy one in a heart beat! The screen was very usable in sunlight, it felt solid despite being small and light. Sure the keyboard was small, but it is designed to be "child sized".

Posted by: DL | July 12, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Don't know if you've seen this article at The Atlantic yet. Reading it, and correcting for inflation since 1982, you see that the Classmate costs about what the Sinclair ZX-81 cost then.

Posted by: wiredog | July 12, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Reading your column made me wonder: Besides cost, is there any reason why a home/business class laptop computer couldn't run entirely on flash storage instead of a hard drive?

It'd be great to have a solid state laptop with 60-80GB of storage, eh?

I've seen 64GB flash usb key drives at Kanguru (for almost $3,000).

Posted by: Ross Feldman | July 12, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

To Ross Feldman: Such systems already exist. There are flash-based devices that present themselves to the rest of the computer as if they were a standard hard drive. As you surmised, cost is the chief limiting factor.

Posted by: antonio romero | July 12, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I would like a "super compact" computer but I'm willing to pay much more for it. The ideal laptop would run Mac OS X, have a 12" monitor, no optical drive (I can use USB keys to transfer stuff), flash memory (except I'd want about 32GB instead of 2GB - even though the cost of 32GB is exorbitant, especially compared to 2GB), 3 USB ports, 1 FW400, 1 FW800, and a DVI port. Why nobody has made this stripped down machine is beyond me - it would definitely sell to people looking for a light computer with little fuss.

Posted by: driver guy | July 13, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Such computers (7"-10" screens, sub $500) are coming closer to reality -- unfortunately, almost entirely in the PC world.

Check out Kohjinsha, Asus, HTC (oooooh, talk about lovely designs!).. they're creating small, serviceable machines with REAL keyboards. Ok, I won't write my next novel on one, probably, but pull it out, bang out some notes or even a chapter? Heckyeah, because it'll ALWAYS be with me. Even this lovely 13" macbook won't.

The Palm Folio was a good start: instant on, sleek formfactor, nice keyboard.

Wait -- we're describing my beloved eMate... COME ON, STEVE, GET CRANKING!

Posted by: Bush -- not related | July 13, 2007 10:41 PM | Report abuse

"...leave the bottom half at home..."? Whoa! That sounds terrific, but where can I find a laptop that separates? I'm interested - never did like lugging around those heavy boat anchors.
I musta been asleep when that was announced!

Posted by: Rip VanWinkle | July 15, 2007 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Rip Van Winkle: Lightweight notebooks usually have docking station which houses the bulkier components like the CD-ROM drive. Leveno Thinkpads come to mind.

Posted by: will | July 16, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Would I appreciate a stripped down computer that was lightweight, yes! I'm sure you remember the Tandy 100. I still have mine and it works great. If that thing had a slot for an SD card and I could transfer text files easily, I'd still be using it. Light weight, long battery life, full size keyboard...

Posted by: James | July 16, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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