Two things have convinced me in recent weeks that, rather than placing higher demands on PCs as the years go by, many computer users are increasingly prepared to make do with less.

One is the current anti-Vista sentiment that’s scaring people off what Microsoft insists is its most important OS (operating system) ever. The other is the wave of excitement surrounding what can only be described as the most stripped-down computer in history – the Asus Eee PC.

We’ll start with Windows Vista. To recap, the results of the poll published in PC Advisor last month showed that 50 percent of our online readers would buy a Windows XP-based PC or laptop if they were in the market for a new system; only 25 percent would choose Vista. To put it another way, two-thirds of Windows devotees prefer the ageing XP to its fresh-faced replacement.

As we’ve said before, provided you buy a fairly powerful system, there’s no reason why Vista shouldn’t run smoothly and – minor annoyances such as User Account Control aside – we believe it to be a satisfactory replacement for XP. Yet many people prefer the older OS because it’s perceived to be simpler and cheaper, two attributes held dear by the man in the street.

Vista includes some nice new features, but not everyone wants them – according to the feedback we received to our online story covering recent Vista-bashing, anyway. One reader commented that Vista was nothing more than “XP with CPU-sucking eye-candy”, another said they looked at Vista but “wouldn’t use half of the bells and whistles”.

Meanwhile, the £219 Eee PC sidesteps the Windows politics by running a Linux OS. Further than that, unlike many of the systems we review, it makes no promises about super-fast processing capabilities, huge hard-disk space or superior screen quality. It has just three tricks up its sleeve: it’s lightweight, it’s small and it’s cheap.

Interest in the super-cheap laptop concept appears to have been driven by the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project, which hopes to eventually provide $100 laptops to children in emerging economies. This ambitious target has changed people’s perception of the value of computing; if simple tasks can be accommodated on such low-end systems, why pay £1,000-plus for a new PC?

My suspicion is that the mostly techie audience following the progress of the Eee PC see it as novel piece of technology that’s cheap enough to buy on a whim. It’s more of a second (or third) computer that people might use simply for browsing the web, sending emails and writing documents. While technology enthusiasts will still demand a powerful computer for high-end applications, this new type of low-end system may prove a convenient alternative when on the move. Either way, the ultra-low-cost PC segment is here to stay.

Shop smart this Christmas

Whether or not you decide that the Eee PC is a wise buy, you may well be on the lookout for a piece of gadgetry this month. We’ve now entered the busiest time of the year for consumer IT purchases, with everyone hunting for a bargain. To coincide with this month’s festive buyers’ guide, we’ve put together a smarter-shopping feature that looks at various approaches for researching and paying for new products. Pick up the January issue of PC Advisor to make sure you always get the best deal.