Eat your children

HP’s Multi-user 411 Desktop computer is a cute idea: one Linux box with four monitors and four keyboards, sold to cash-strapped schools. It’s a perfect match really — the typical school computer lab is lots of seats close together, with low CPU needs but a tight budget. Currently they’re only selling them in South Africa, though there’s certainly interest elsewhere.

The strange part is all the nay-saying industry analysts in the Reuters article, with quotes like “As interest in the machine grows, the limited supply has turned a well-intentioned product into a source of confusion among educators and a point of debate among industry analysts, who question whether a major computer maker has an interest in bringing a low-cost alternative to a wider mass market.” Out here in Silicon Valley, that’s the kind of quote we like to put on the gravestones of large companies who refuse to eat their young.

The hardware is nothing special — it’s just a regular Intel box running Mandrake, with 4 NVIDIA Qdro4 100NVS 64MB DH cards (one AGP, three PCI), one PS/2 keyboard and three US keyboards, one audio card and three Telex P-500 USB Digital Audio Converters. Sounds like they’ve done a little bit of software coding to make it all smooth and there’s clearly value in buying from a brand-name company like HP, but if they decide it’s too risky I bet someone else could be producing near-identical machines within a week. Heck, make it a school project and kill two birds with one stone!