- thin client devices attached to your network
- Net-top devices (ultra low-cost desktops)
- low cost laptops
Many thin client devices have enough of an operating system to work with printers, USB devices, and they can also load a web browser. I have a Compac EVO T30 that has Windows XP Embedded (a light version of Windows XP) running on it. If I connect it to my network via its built in network interface, it boots up, gets an IP address, and displays a Windows XP desktop. From there I can open up Internet Explorer and browse the web.
New thin clients run about $200-300 dollars (sans a monitor), but you can pick them up used for a fraction of the price. For example, there are several Wyse thin clients with (Windows CE embedded) on eBay for less than $100. Here is a spec sheet on the Wyse device.
The thin clients do not have other software installed, so you can't use it for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. I take that back--you can do all of those online using Google Docs, and save them in your Google file storage.
Ultra Low Cost PCs Manufacturers will be debuting low cost / low profile computers that resemble thin clients, but offer full blown operating systems that act like a regular PC. One such unit is the Eee Box. This little bugger is expected to cost about $300. It has a regular (albeit small) hard drive in it, so it will not be as quiet or power efficient as a thin client, but i will still have a pretty small load on the coal driven power plant.
Low Cost Laptops While Ultra Low Cost PCs are just beginning to be developed, the low cost notebook market is exploding. Asus started it out with the Eee PC, a small laptop with a 7" screen, running either Linux or XP, and has no moving parts. This little guy is available for $400 -$600. A version with a 9" display is also available. HP has a competitor to the Asus Eee PC called the HP MiniNote. It costs in the neighborhood of $750, but again, offers a small, power efficient design. Dell is getting into the ball game with its new Mini Inspiron. MSI (a prominent PC motherboard and component maker) is also releasing a small laptop called the MSI Wind.
Compare these low cost notebooks to the Mac Air which costs nearly $2,000. They all do the same basic functions, but the ones listed above cost from 1/4 to 1/3 the price of the Air.