A Wall Street Journal columnist notes a milestone today – the price for an entry-level computer has fallen below $300. Dell and others are offering computers with Windows XP Professional, a 2.4GHz Celeron processor, 256Mb of RAM, a 40Gb hard drive, and a 17 inch monitor for $299.

That’s remarkable – and there’s no indication that prices are going to stop sliding down. A year from now, it might be possible to get an entry-level system for $150 or $200.

There are, of course, lots of things that will bring the price up, even if you’re on the strictest budget. The lowest price doesn’t include speakers, a printer, the flat screen monitor you really want, or Microsoft Office. The article notes that printer prices are diving fast, to the point that the printers soon will be treated as disposable – but inkjet cartridge prices are holding steady.

At that price, computers are priced like other consumer electronics – hi fi and TV gear, for example. They’re still nowhere near as easy to use, however, and if anything those trends are discouraging. More hardware and software seems to be rushed to market and poorly designed, and conflicts between different pieces of hardware and software are becoming more common. Sometimes it’s a small comfort that it’s cheap.

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