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Down sizing

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Despite the paperless office, desktops can still suffer from clutter - often large PCs. Perhaps it is time to think small

The average midi-sized computer box measures roughly half a metre square by, say, 150mm deep. So you can put them under a desk or, with the 19-inch plus screens which it is thought CAD calls for, less ergonomically correctly on the desk under the monitor. The back end of such a box soon acquires an infestation of grubby cobweb-clad cables.Add up the no-go volume occupied by boxes and the cable-plus-cobweb interzone in even a small office and you start developing deep theory about IT-installation gross-to-net.

It is true that big monitors take up a similar volume but cheaper flatscreen technology, including the now-cheaper (a bit more than £1,000) draw-on Wacom Cintiq 15X (www. wacom-europe. com) and, perhaps sooner than you think, headmounted eye-screens, offer a solution to desk-top clutter. Take a squint at the head-mounted display of the -1,500 (£1,050) Poma at www. xybernaut. com/newxybernaut/Solutions/p roduct/listing_product. htm.

We have looked at integrated computer/LCD panels in the past (a random example is the LP200E at www. pars. co. uk) and there are booksized configurations available that are twice the width and height of a conventional CD-ROM drive and perhaps three times the depth. But now there are also two solutions to the below-desk problem. One is a tiny computer - The M Series Byte Size from Paysan (www. paysan. co. uk) and the similar Pino Mini from Compro (www. compro-int. co. uk/Content/frm. htm) which are just a little larger than a CD-drive and the thickness of a big box of matches. They sticky-pad to the desk somewhere under the LCD screen.

The companies do not tell you to do this, but you have to because the units have all the usual heavy, unwieldy 2mlong computer cables plugged into them, trying to achieve equilibrium on the floor somewhere behind the modesty panel. And they are super-easy to drop into a passing pocket - if you can get the cables unplugged before the CCTV camera catches you.

The other space-conscious solution is a computer devised by the California firm Cybernet Manufacturing. It is built into the base of a hefty keyboard with a CD-ROM at one end and a floppy drive at the other. In the UK, it is called the Elite and Paysan also sells it.

The idea is not exactly new because this is the format of practically every home computer of the '80s. The difference is that the three new machines are modern and fairly fast and have all the usual ports you find on a desktop machine.

So, you say, why not just use a laptop? After all, the CD and floppy drives used in the new kit are skinny laptop models and the hard drives are probably the same. And the motherboard is also dependent on laptop miniaturisation techniques. Then the answer comes to you. The technology is knowable and thus passes the Cedric Price Technological Appropriateness Test. All that has happened is that the packaging has been intelligently (at least in the case of the Elite) thought out, not as a variation of the lumpy old beige box. Full marks for that but not the novelty prices.

Anyway in the future you will not need a hefty keyboard. The latest input gizmo is a sort of fingercuff, the Senseboard (www. senseboard. com).

You slip your hands into what look a bit like a pair of padded knuckledusters and start air typing. It probably will not go down very well here.

Unlike the US schoolchildren I have come across, our architects were not, as a matter of course, taught how to touch type.

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