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Room at the desktop

I'm trying to work out what four families are doing with home computers in their kitchens. According to a survey by Packard Bell of 200 home computer purchasers, 2 per cent have their PCs snuggled up next to the microwave. It makes you think.

So what are the ground rules on location for the family PC? Before you even start to think about home locations you have to consider the computer's dimensions. Most technologies shrink as they become consumer items; not so the PC. Just as the size started to decrease, PCs sprouted new bits of hardware like CD-Rom drives, modems and speakers. Yet our homes have become smaller (sorry, more compact). Something had to give and the signs are that the compact computer is about to make a comeback.

It's all do do with "footprints" the amount of space the computer takes up on a desk or worktop. The machine with the most features and the smallest footprint is likely to win in the home market and there are serious contenders from all the main producers. Apple's Performa 5200 power PC has the machine built into a neat swivel stand. Compaq's new Presario 500 all-in-one design has speakers inside two small grilles and a neat (Mac-like) keyboard which means it sits comfortably on any worktop. Both these machines come with built-in television options.

FujitsuICL has realised that the march into the home requires a colour change and has produced a slate-grey PCTV aimed at the living room. The company has also solved the problem of mouse space by building a tracker ball into the keyboard. Its television option comes with remote control.

A novel approach to space-busting comes from Packard Bell with its new three-sided machine aimed at the under-used corners and awkward spaces of a typical home. The wedge-shaped system is based on a central pillar which supports the monitor. The company includes an FM radio card option and seven additional extras from CD to answerphone which convert the PC to a home communications centre.

If you have an older, larger machine or even a tower system you could consider storing them beneath the desktop, using long cables to separate monitor and PC. One friend has the computer under the stairs with the monitor, keyboard and mouse in the front room.

Once a computer is chosen the next consideration is where to put it. The computer is part of the learning environment in the home: don't lock it away, says Professor Stephen Heppell on Every home should have one, the National Council for Educational Technology's video on home computer use. It's good advice. By keeping the computer in a communal area, parents can mediate children's use and suggest ideas, and family members can learn from one another.

There is still a noticeable desire, however, to keep the PC apart from the television and stereo. Packard Bell's survey found that only 15 per cent of families keep the computer in the living room. The battle for family attention has begun though 56 per cent of new PC owners now watch less television. The most popular location for the computer is the bedroom (22 per cent), closely followed by the study (20 per cent) and the spare room (17 per cent). Assuming one family's study is another's spare room, the home office already has 37 per cent of home computers. For others, however, it seems the future for home computing lies in the alcove and the corner. So get ready for the three-sided PC.

* Every home should have one, Pounds 7.50. NCET Sales. Tel 01203 416669.

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