Laptops or Desktop Computers for Your School?

Many years ago when I was the computer site manager at my old school, I was called into the principal's office to give my opinion about buying a class-set of laptops. I think my response surprised him, because I explained that, while laptops were wonderful because they were portable and "could be brought to the learning" (like to a science lab), they were four times as expensive as buying desktop computers.

My logic, which I still stand behind, was that the laptops cost twice as much as conventional desktops (Dell Latitudes, in that case) and only have half the life due to their quick deterioration from the abuse they take.  They should only be purchased if there is a very clear need and a commitment from the teachers to their use.

The principal bought the laptops after all. They were used, on average, only one to two periods per day (out of four), until they were permanently locked down after a year in a conventional computer lab where they lived out the remainder of their useful lives.

I was reminded of this story after reading the following article, where the author substantiates my "half life" reasoning:

http://www.infoworld.com/d/hardware/upkeep-makes-laptops-costly-after-three-years-476

But times have changed since I got called into that office...

The new, low-cost netbooks would probably change the advice I would give. For the price of a single high-quality laptop with an extended "all-inclusive" warranty (as our school board used to buy), you could probably buy four netbooks. If you could get three years out each netbook without incurring too many repair bills, netbooks could be more cost-effective and would get more computers in the students' hands.

So, I'm throwing out the "twice as expensive" part of my equation and perhaps changing my recommendation, but again, only if there is a clear need and commitment from the teachers to the netbooks' use.

Your thoughts?
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