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Computers for All

Microsoft's Bill Gates and Goodwill Industries have something in common: They both want to get computers into the hands of people unable to afford the $1,000-plus a new machine usually costs.

Two Goodwill stores - one in Pittsburgh and a newer one in Santa Ana, Calif. - sell used computers (interested in a Macintosh SE for $175?) and their accompanying gear (how about a new-old mouse for $4?). The stores even offer some technical support on the side.

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A sales associate in the Santa Ana store told the Los Angeles Times that a typical customer might be a Spanish-speaking immigrant mother whose daughter needs a word-processing computer in junior high. While $150 is still a stretch for many families, more of these stores around the country would, at least, give people a better chance at becoming computer owners.

And if not owners, at least they should have better access to the technology. That's where Gates comes in. Last month the software billionaire announced that the new Gates Library Foundation will donate $200 million over five years to help more than 8,000 libraries in rural and low-income areas develop computer resources. The Microsoft Corp. will donate an additional $200 million worth of software. It's a generous, much-needed, and much-appreciated gift.

Yes, it means that millions of people now will become familiar with Microsoft products - a definite plus for the company's founder - but much more important, it also means that millions of people will become familiar with computers and their many benefits, including access to the Internet.

Quite likely, some library patrons will decide that they're in the market for a computer of their own - if they can find a used one for $175, that is.

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