Thursday, December 01, 2011

A4 Size Netbook for Queensland Schools

Media reports indicate that the Queensland Department of Education and Training has ordered 65,000 Acer Aspire TimelineX AS1830T laptops for students. These have a 11.6 inch screen and an A4 form factor (A4FF). The Acer laptop is 11.2 x 8 inches, smaller than an A4 sheet of paper at 11.66 x 8.27 inches. It has a larger screen and keyboard than the 10 inch net-books the NSW Education Department purchased, but will still fit in a schoolbag designed for A4 paper. This is the same form factor as the Kogan Agora Laptop I have been using for the last six months and the size I have suggested for students.

While tablet computers have been receiving considerable press for education, laptops still have advantages. The real keyboard is much more convenient for typing on and the later screen makes for easier viewing. In practice many tablet computer users buy an add-on keyboard and case which allows the screen to be propped up making it a laptop. The laptops are cheaper than netbooks, due to the omission of the touch screen and the use of less miniaturized components. But laptops do have disadvantages, being larger, less easy to operate standing up and having less battery life.

The Acer runs the Windows 7 operating system and conventional desktop applications. This is an advantage for running a wide range of software. However, it creates a maintenance and security burden and requires a conventional hard disk. An alternative is to use a lightweight operating system and "Apps". Kogan offered a version of their laptop with a small solid state disk running Google's Chromium OS, with web based applications and data stored in "The Cloud". This would work well where schools provided educational materials on-line, but has its own security and maintenance problems. A midway point would be to use a version of the Linux operating system and some conventional and some web-based applications.

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