It's a Server and a Paperweight ...

They keep telling us that the world is getting smaller, but not to worry -- everything in it is getting smaller, too. First a decent mug of coffee shrank to a thimble-sized espresso, and there was that whole nouveau cuisine nonsense that made an appetizer out of an entree. Japan and other Asian nations can fit more cars per traffic jam thanks to glorified go-carts called "mini-cars," and the already petite compact disc is facing competition from the minidisc, which looks like a Ritz cracker for a robot buffet.

But the fine folks at Stanford are really big on little. They're now offering up a tiny Web server, shown below beside a box of matches. It's a single-board AMD 486-SX computer with a 66 MHz CPU, 16MB RAM, and 16MB flash ROM. You can not only view it, you can see it in action -- the page is served on one of the little things.

While offering many advantages, developments like this may not be welcome news to the overburdened IT professionals who can't find anything smaller than a thick-crusted coffee mug on their cluttered desks. -- Brian McDonough

Stone Tablet | By Larry Stone

Virtual Sideshow: Giveaway Gimmicks

and a Catch-22 | By Edward Mazza

It's a dream worthy of a wired P.T. Barnum: An easy-to-remember Web site and a great gimmick.

Enter Bill Gross, founder of Free-PC. Gross says he'd like to give us all free computers -- if we'd just answer a few questions. The idea, he says, is to "provide the power of personal computing to those who might not otherwise be able to have access to computers and the Internet."

But there's a catch to this brave altruism -- "those who might not otherwise have access" must also be "qualified applicants." What qualifies an applicant? Nobody's saying. But the free 333MHz Compaq computers come with advertising, advertising that is constantly flashing, scrolling and blinking in the screen's margins, even when you're offline playing computer solitaire.

The application includes questions on everything from household income to magazines read. While Free-PC assures visitors that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers, it does confess to be searching for some sort of demographic.

Yet as computers become cheaper, the demographic of "those who might not otherwise have access" -- suggesting those who lack higher education, disposable income and, perhaps, electricity and plumbing -- becomes limited to a group that most advertisers shun, especially online. How many ads have you seen on the Web aimed at, say, comedian Jeff Foxworthy's "You know you're a redneck if ..." characters?

Since Gross wants to make money, it would be na

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