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Among the news and announcements about chip manufacturing and cloud and mobile computing at the Intel Developer Forum this week, the technology giant is also touting the success it's had with its Classmates PCs, its educational-focused and kid-friendly netbooks.

These devices come loaded with various educational software titles, including some of the big names in the industry (LEGO Education, McGraw-Hill, for example). Intel now boasts some 500-plus alliance members as part of this Learning Series network, and the company says it works with local companies where the devices are implemented to help provide local services and support, as well as content from local providers.

Intel also says that it's shipped over 5 million Classmates since the product line launched in 2007.

Moving forward, the company is planning to update the machines, Kapil Wadhera, the general manager of Intel Education Markets Program Group, told me and will display at its IDF conference a new student-oriented full-feature PC as well as a proof-of-concept for an educational tablet.

Tablets may be all the rage, but Intel's Classmates PCs remain very interesting devices, with a design that is quite similar to the XO, the Children's Machine from the One Laptop Per Child project. But as I noted when I reviewed the Classmates and Google Chromebooks side-by-side for a ReadWriteWeb article, "It's not the device itself that matters, it's how you use it."

Well, the device does matter somewhat, I guess, and the design of the Classmates is worth highlighting: its exterior is rubberized. It has rounded corners and a handle. It has a water-resistant keyboard and screen. It's manufactured to survive bumps and scratches and even drops (from a height of up to 19"). It also has a rotatable screen, allowing the device to be used more like a tablet - either with or without a stylus. It also has proximity detection, so that two Classmates side-by-side can network and interact with each other, sharing files and commands easily.

With the refresh of the Classmates PC line, says Wadhera, Intel plans among other things to improve the device's battery life and ruggedness.

Despite all the things that do indeed make this a durable netbook for kids, one with a solid software suite, I still contend that a computing device is largely just a tool and its usage in the classroom is really what's the important consideration. Intel hopes that by offering the hardware and the software and local content and support and professional development -- "a complete solution," the company says -- it's developed something that more schools will consider, particularly as they consider 1:1 programs.

But the Classmates PC faces a lot of competition from the likes of the iPad, the Chromebook, and (perhaps someday) Android tablets as 1:1 no longer means simply "one laptop per child." By offering a netbook, tablet, and PC option, Intel hopes nonetheless that it's covering its bases -- and the edu market.

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Audrey Watters


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