Some products are so startling in their simplicity that you wonder why no one had thought of them before. Like the iDesk, from Time Education, a desk that's a computer or, as designer Steve Brooks puts it, "a four-legged computer".
As the computer is built into a slim sleeve under the desktop, the only items on the desk are keyboard, mouse and screen. The preferred flatscreen, on a "stalk" at the rear, allows it to be swivelled, to A4 vertical for desktop publishing for example, or simply pushed out of the way. Then you can slot the keyboard in a rack at the rear so you can get on with non-ICT activities. The desks can also be locked together, possibly in a hexagonal configuration, to provide an instant network with almost no visible cabling.
And security? Although simple and elegant, the desk has a robust, tubular steel frame with a strong housing for the PC. Even if this could be ripped out of the desk, it is not the sort of thing that could easily be sold on as it does not even resemble a conventional PC and has no built-in power supply. A burglar's alternative - stealing the entire desk - would not be an option for anyone looking for easy pickings.
Time Education is buoyant about the iDesk. Its principal education adviser, Christine Coward, says: "Together with the additional benefits of running 10 desks from one 13-amp socket and the internal (to the I-Desk) cabling and power supply, the iDesk gives the pupils back their desk space, removes unsightly computer leads found in mos networks and cuts out expensive power and network cabling installation.
"A single-user price of only pound;899 buys a 'package' comprising desk, computer, and 15-inch flatscreen (TFT). This offers unbeatable value."
The odds are that the iDesk will bring financial gains and recognition to its design team who are confident that their copyright gives them adequate protection against copying. Its success will cause red faces at leading education supplier RM and at Siemens Fujitsu who actually turned down the iDesk - rather like Decca turning down the Beatles.
The iDesk came about when premises consultant David Arscott worked with designer Steve Brooks to equip Lambeth FE college. Both had wanted to integrate the technology and the furniture. The result was the iDesk. "It's absolutely brilliant," said David. "It brings a few things together at the right time - like flatscreen prices and the Government's agenda for ICT in education." Now they are directors of Intercase, which will develop similar products.
Richard Hine, currently setting up two city learning centres in Rochdale, says that, apart from costs savings and security implications, "With flatscreens, the space savings on a student's workplace and higher technology appeal to students' work ethic."
iDesk - Price: pound;899 for flatscreen version with Athlon processor (800 Megahertz), 128 Mg of memory, 30 Gb hard drive and built-in network card (floppy, CD or DVD drives if required). 15-station network with plain monitors at pound;13,500 (pound;19,000 with flatscreens)Tel: 01282 777799Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgIntercase tel: 01252 838050www.intercase.co.uk