Eee laptopYou probably have heard about “One Laptop per Child” – the $100 laptop PC (which actually ended up costing about $200) that was designed to be used in the developing world, particularly in schools. (If you haven’t, here’s a video that describes the idea.)

Now there’s another inexpensive laptop that comes from a company named Asus with the intriguing name of the Eee – standing for “Easy to learn,” “Excellent Internet,” and “Excellent mobile computing experience.” (Click on the photo above for a better look.) Reading about the Eee, it sounds as if it might be a great device for schools, libraries, and other places needing low-cost technology and lots of it. It weighs a tiny bit more that two pounds. Depending on its features, it’s priced from $199 to $399. In its primary form, the Eee runs the Linux operating system because the Flash memory chip that provides its “hard drive” weighs in at only 2GB – way too small to run the current Microsoft PC operating system, Vista.

What makes it relevant to this blog is this article, in which public-interest blogger Phil Shapiro makes a case for using it in public libraries:

Because it is so portable, this laptop makes it easy for a library staff person to do some quick research on the person’s laptop and bookmark some web sites that answer their questions. A public library staff member can also quickly install some multimedia…. For example, a library staff member could copy over onto this laptop some freely distributable audio books from LibriVox.org. Similarly, libraries can distribute other public domain or Creative Commons media to help someone who is learning English or someone working on their writing skills.

In other words, the Eee could be used in libraries to serve as workstations or listening stations or both for those who don’t have tech devices of their own. Shapiro also suggests that Asus also build lower-cost Eee units without screens (which are always the most expensive part of any laptop) that could be hooked into the hundreds of thousands of CRTs that people who’ve moved to flat screen monitors are donating to recyclers for even lower-cost technology. In areas where little tech funding is available, schools and libraries could then set up Eee-and-CRT workstations/game-stations/listening stations for large numbers of kids and adults.

Do you remember the “digital divide” that everyone was talking about in the 90s? That was the gap between higher- and lower-income Americans that indicated whether someone would be likely to own a PC with an Internet connection. Much of the digital divide is now gone – a majority of Americans of all income levels now have access to the Net – but it will never disappear completely. Here at the New York Public Library, there are public-access Net stations in every branch, but never enough; at almost any time of day, people are waiting for their turn to use them.

Anyone working in a public library or K-12 school library knows that libraries are many individuals’ only venues for going online. And with devices like the Eee beginning to appear, it looks as if all Americans – especially all kids and teens – will have more, and less costly, opportunities to explore the world online. And when it comes to devices for folks in the developing world to use, it looks at last as if people who now have little or no access will finally gain it.

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