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Has The Age of Disposable Computers Arrived?

Come April 19, Seattle-based PC maker, Microworkz Computer, will introduce a PC at an incredible $299 called the Webzter Jr, which was featured in the New York Times yesterday, "Maker of Inexpensive Computers Reports a Flood of Orders".

At that price, the Webzter Jr comes with a Cyrix 300M* chip, a 56k modem, a 3.2GB drive, 32MB RAM, and a year of free unlimited Internet access with Earthlink Network. But there's no monitor, no floppy disk drive, and no CD-ROM drive to run the Windows 98 CD that's bundled – they're options. Add those extras in, and the price could be closer to $600. Some folks will say that's still cheap. And it is, because Microworkz claims to make only $36 off each computer they sell, and profits will have to come from volume rather than margins.

After-note: I have it from reader Robert Esteves that the actual CPU speed is between 233-266MHz, not 300MHz as I had earlier assumed.

What's interesting is that the company is reported to have already received forward orders for 50,000 of these machines. This despite the fact that the computer is obviously missing a few basic components. Compare the situation now to that of less than a year ago, when the absence of a built-in floppy drive in the iMac was unthinkable. In fact, some critics are still adamantly whining about it today. But then again, I thought – we're talking about a PC after all, which might be spared much of the prejudice the iMac faces in a PC-inclined world. (Why, people might even say Microworkz is thinking different!) It will be interesting to see how critics of the iMac would respond to Webzter and others like it that no doubt will surface.

Microworkz boss Richard Latman believes that there's no such thing as a free lunch – or a free PC, referring to the recent spate of "giveaway" promotions. There's always a price to pay, he asserts. Hence the $299 price-tag for Webzter, which his company is planning to produce at a rate of 200,000 per month starting April. Considering our present throwaway culture and how quickly computers produced today become outdated only months down the road, Latman may be on to something. Still, what he forgot to add is that for $299, you get what you pay for.

Caveat emptor. The age of disposable computers may have arrived.

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