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Saying bye-bye to beige

New technology is poised to kick under-desk spaghetti, bulky boxes and insipid colours into the office dustbin

The average architect's office has beige computer monitors everywhere, beige keyboards, beige mice and often beige tablets. Underneath the desk it is beige boxes and a jungle of beige and black cabling, quite a lot of which is there simply because untangling it represents instant insanity.Neat? Not.

Cables, you can sort out: AJ recently reported the concept of rechargeable desktops and screens, plus WAP or a similar wireless datatransmission system. But that is to come; the big problem right now is monitors. An entry-level 19-inch monitor occupies more or less a 500mm cube.

Put two of these side by side (AutoCAD is a beast with only one monitor), add space for a keyboard and maybe a digitising tablet in front, plus space for notes and you have got just about the area you would have had for an old-fashioned drawing board.What can you do about it?

It is true that there is a faint possibility of the flat-panel cathode ray tube becoming a reality: it is called the high gain emissive display. The developer, Telegen, is at www. telegen.

com. The likely answer, if less dramatic, will have something to do with flat-panel, liquid-crystal display screens and mini system boxes. We have already reviewed Wacom's draw-on LCD screens, the £1,800 PL400 interactive LCD pen display.

You still need the beige boxes and spaghetti under the desks, but for the rent-paying partner it is a chance to consolidate expensive space, while for architectural staff it could represent a more open, friendly environment in which it is impossible for the socially challenged to hide behind the VDU screen. The only flies in the ointment are the price and the probability that Wacom does not have any plans for anything but bland beige for the PL400's colour scheme.

With LCD display prices set to become affordable, several new directions are discernible. One is the upright LCD screen. Its form, if not pioneered by Apple, was certainly given a stylish twist a couple of years ago with the 20th Anniversary Mac, designed by the Jonathan Ive team at Apple which brought you the translucent colours of the iMac.

The PC equivalent is IBM's NetVista X40i. This is a sleek, adjustable, very dark-grey plasticframed LCD screen cantilevered out from a tiny box with matching dark grey keyboard and mouse. The box and the back of the screen contain the electronics and drives - inside, its mechanicals are laptop-sized. However nice, this is slightly dated, nonMac design, but IBM's design (see it at www. ibm. com/pc/uk/) is several billion times more elegant than the current batch of variations on the theme of LCD screen bolted to a fat processor base, which the computer dealers are starting to assemble. The Panrix Sprint is one such. Others include the Veriton FP2 from Acer (www. acer. co. uk/point05), the Evolve II from Evesham (www. evesham. com), the Dan Mirage and the AJP Neo-PCII.Variants on this have a separate, very small system box of the kind offered by Hewlett Packard as the hp e-pc (www. hp. com/uk), the Hi-Grade Ultinet (www. higrade.

com) and Sony's Vaio LX1.This desktop LCD screen, keyboard and small system box in discreet greys and greyblue. Some of the above have rotating displays; others seem to use an infrared keyboard identical with keyboards you buy at computer fairs. All cost around £1,500 except the Vaio and the IBM kit, the latter having recently undergone a massive price hike for no discernible reason apart from the fact it is more elegant than the rest. All, that is, except the Sony SDM-N50, an ultra-thin screen with a fragile support and a flattened dome base - or a simple metal stand.

Drool at www. sonystyle. co. uk. This is the one to kill for, if you have decided to go for style rather than price.

The latest buzz is tablet PCs.

Around A4 in size, they come with detachable keyboards but can read handwriting. Microsoft is very keen on the idea and Fujitsu is among the small band of manufacturers which have actually produced one, called the Stylistic LT C-500. Look at www. fujitsupc. com. Despite this, PaceBlade Technology claims to have the first tablet notebook computer in its PaceBook. This comes with a screen that can be rotated and, because it is physically independent, will mean fewer people in airport lounges sitting in that curious, curving, predatory posture otherwise adopted by those eating spaghetti.

Check out www. paceblade. com.

For space- and style-conscious practice, the flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD) display seems to have a compelling logic. Or would have, were it not for what has been historically the astronomical price. The good news is that the trade press is claiming prices for LCD panels are coming down fast. Several distributors have been advertising 15-inch LCD stand-alone screens at around the £400 threshold. A 15-inch LCD screen is only a little smaller than a 17-inch monitor. That confusion is being cleared up by new advertising rules which mean a lot of 19-inch screens will have now to be advertised as 17-inch screens, and so on.

The dimensions of LCD screens have always been described correctly.

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