No Child’s Play This
PCs have ushered in innovative ways of learning—self-paced, interactive, and fun. However, given the cost, using a PC in day-to-day educational activities is limited to degree students. Schools have their computer labs, but really, one does need access to one’s own work and content at will—so Intel has come up with a novel solution, the Classmate PC, designed for school-goers. It looks like a toy—small buttons, round touchpad, dual-tone finish, etc. Open the lid and you are greeted with a little 800 x 480, 7-inch display, and a dinky little keyboard—probably good enough for a child. Switch on the machine and you are in for a surprise—a full-blown Windows XP Pro!
Under the hood, running at 900 MHz, an Intel Celeron M does the duty. The machine doesn’t feel sluggish, because of the 2 GB NAND Flash that’s used instead of a hard drive. 2 GB space may seem laughable, but then, this is a concept machine; Intel has a definite plan to introduce higher-capacity NAND and eventually a hard drive. But for now, with Windows XP, the machine is left with just 700 MB of space for applications—too little.
The PC has one Ethernet and two USB ports, Wi-Fi, and earphone and mic jacks, but lacks an optical drive—understandable, because the machine will be part of a network that includes a server from where content and applications will be pushed down. Security and content filtering is the objective here—schools can implement policies that, for example, restrict what the PC will be used for.
There is some Intel exclusive/enhanced software bundled along with the machine. For example, the display switcher allows changing the resolution of the screen from the native 800 x 480 all the way up to 1280 x 786 in four steps—special drivers from Intel. In addition, there’s Intel’s Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which works at the BIOS level, locking the PC out if it fails to update its digital certificate from the school server. This makes the hardware useless if stolen.
Though a nice concept, acceptability will largely depend on the kind of e-learning content that can be delivered, how it will be made available, and the final barrier, cost. We expect that niggles like the storage will be ironed out in future iterations.