Cubans line up to buy their first legal PCs

As of Friday, citizens of the communist-controlled country can for the first time be the proud legal owners of a brand-new--if antiquated--desktop computer.

UPDATED at 1:25 p.m. PDT to clarify RAM in the computer is measured in megabytes.

Perhaps the days of looking at Cuba as the island that technology forgot are beginning to wane.

Late last month, President Raul Castro's government lifted the ban on ordinary citizens from owning a cell phone and getting cell service, a right previously limited to executives working for foreign companies or high communist party officials. DVD players, motorbikes, and plug-in pressure cookers also went on sale for the first time.

Now, citizens of the communist-controlled country can for the first time be the proud legal owners of a desktop computer, according to an Associated Press report. More than a dozen prospective buyers were lined up Friday outside Havana's state-run Carlos III shopping center for a chance to buy the tower-style Qtech PC and CRT monitor for $780, according to the report.

However, like the 50-year-old cars that roam Cuba's streets, the PCs are near relics of yesteryear, boasting Intel Celeron processors with a 80GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM and running Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. (However, I know a few people who would call the Cubans lucky for not being subjected to Windows Vista.) The report notes that buyers in the U.S. can buy a computer with twice the memory, a 80GB SATA hard drive, and 22-inch LCD flat-screen monitor for less money.

But don't expect to start surfing Cubans' blogs about what it's like to collect a state monthly salary of about $20 anytime soon; most of these PCs will not be allowed connections to the Internet, according to the report. Only trusted officials and state journalists are allowed access to the Web.

However, like many things forbidden by the state, computers and even e-mail services have been available to Cubans on the black market, according to the report.

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