How much do first-time PC buyers really require from a PC? Do they need a high-end graphics application, a feature-rich word-processing tool and superfast processor?
Over the past couple of years, PC builders have found that they can cut a few corners and build scaled-down systems that forego a lot of cleverness in a bid to attract new users with increasingly low prices. The systems in PC Advisor’s sub-£500 PC charts bear this out. Where a few years ago, people expected to pay £1,000 for a home PC, now they aren't prepared to pay half that.
The availability of these systems is great news for ensuring the majority of UK homes have a computer in the study, but I wonder just how far the trend towards creating the PC as a commodity can go? The One Laptop Per Child scheme to provide extremely low-end laptops to children in the world's poorer nations shows that it is possible to put together a system that provides the most important aspects of PC functionality at a price that's a fraction of what we in the UK refer to as entry level.
The video clip we reported last week that reveals the proposed interface for the OLPC systems shows that the children set to benefit from these systems will be able to get access to word processing, instant messaging, the internet and all other basic PC functions. And all for the $100 per-unit price tag to be covered by their governments. It's a million miles away from the cleverness coming from Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, but those in emerging economies won't be bothered in the slightest.
This is computing at its most basic, and yet the Linux operating system, AMD processor and low-end screen provide all the essentials. Of course, the OLPC project hopes to meet the $100-per-unit price by churning out these systems in the tens of millions, but this could be a wake-up call to the wider PC industry. If it's technically possible to produce a computer at this price, will home PC users in western economies start to question the price they pay for a PC?