- preventing unwanted programs
- preventing viruses and ad-ware
- keeping OS up to date
- keeping software running
I just stumbled on a interesting $249 (minus keyboard, mouse, and monitor) solution: CherryPal.
It works like this: you buy the box, attach your keyboard, mouse and monitor to it and turn it on. It uses very little power itself and has almost no storage. How can it be any good? All the apps and your storage are kept on servers managed by CherryPal.
This means that your kids can only use what they provide which is currently: "OpenOffice.org office productivity suite, iTunes, a CherryPal-brand media player that supports all common files formats, and a CherryPal-branded instant messenger that supports all common IM programs." With more to come.
You can attach an external hard drive if you want to keep your files locally. They say they support printers, cameras etc. One thing they don't support is a monitor greater than 1024x768 - basically a deal breaker for anyone other than the kiddies. I could find some CRTs with this resolution, but no LCDs at NewEgg. 1024x768 is clearly old school.
This product is not available yet and I'd wait for professional reviews first. But looking at the web site CherryPal seems like an inexpensive way to get computing for your kids that is not maintained-by-dad.
Of course, if you have the cash, get a Mac.