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THE CUTTING EDGE / TRENDS | HEARD ON THE BEAT

June 16, 1997|JOHN O'DELL

Laptops for Tots: Once--a long, long time ago--it was slide rules. Then calculators. Now the hot item among the juvenile intelligentsia in schools across the country is the notebook computer.

Irvine-based Toshiba America Information Systems, which makes one of every four notebooks sold in the U.S. and wants to tighten its grip on the market, hopes to exploit the enthusiasm with a Notebooks for Schools program, modeled after a successful venture of the same name by Toshiba's Australian computer unit.

The program is open to all private and public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, although program chief Tom Healy says parents and school officials should think long and hard about equipping kids younger than fifth grade.

Like the math and science calculator-buying programs most parents of school-age children are familiar with, Notebooks offers specially priced Toshiba portable computers to participants. The Windows 95 computers are loaded with Microsoft word-processing, spreadsheet and data-organizing software and are equipped with either a standard fax-phone modem or a special local area network modem for schools that have their own networks.

Schools have to sign up directly with Toshiba to participate, says Healey. Once they do, they can either refer students and parents to a local Toshiba retailer or acquire the computers directly and resell, rent or loan them to students--depending on the budget for such things.

Since the unofficial kickoff of the regular program in April, Healey said, five private schools and 14 public school districts around the country have signed on. The only Southern California participant so far is Anaheim's Fairmont private school for academic achievers.

The four Toshiba color notebooks available through the special program still aren't cheap, starting at $1,500 and topping out at $2,499. But that's up to $700 below a similarly equipped laptop assembled by a private purchaser, Healey said.

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