I was recently browsing an electronics store and noticed some laptops designed for children advertised at $50AU. These machines were vastly different from what most of us think of when the term laptop is used, they had tiny screens, flimsy keyboards, no IO devices, and a small set of proprietary programs. It was more of a toy that pretends to be a laptop than a real laptop (although I’m sure that it had more compute power than a desktop machine from 1998).
After seeing that I started wondering what we can do to provide cheap serious laptops for children running free software. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)  program aims at producing laptops for $100US to give to children in developing countries. It’s a great project, the hardware and software are innovative in every way and designed specifically for the needs of children. However they won’t have any serious production capacity for the near future, and even $100US is a little more expensive than desired.
Laptops have significant benefits for teaching children in that they can be used at any time and in any place – including long car journeys (inverters that can be used to power laptops from a car power socket are cheap).
A quick scan of a couple of auction sites suggests that laptops get cheap when they have less than 256M of RAM. A machine with 128M of RAM seems likely to cost just over $200 and a machine with less than 128M is likely to be really cheap if you can find someone selling it.
So I’m wondering, what can you do to set up a machine with 64M of RAM to run an educational environment for a child? KDE and GNOME are moderately user-friendly (nothing like the OLPC system, and even Windows 3.0 was easier in some ways) but too big to run on such a machine (particularly when GIMP is part of a computer education system). This should be a solvable problem, Windows 3.0 ran nicely in 4M of RAM, one of the lighter X window managers ran well in 8M of RAM for me in Linux 0.99 days, and the OS/2 2.0 Workplace Shell (which in many ways beats current KDE and GNOME systems) ran nicely in 12M). I think that a GUI that vaguely resembles Windows 3.0 should run well on a machine with 64M of RAM – is there such a GUI?
I have briefly scanned the Debian-Edu  site but the only reference to hardware requirements is for running LTSP.