Laptop sales are rising, and prices falling - and why not? With the price of a low end notebook now only marginally higher than a top of the range PDA, many people who might not have thought about a laptop in the past are now seriously considering them. Now, if only the price could be even lower...

That's where Linux on laptops comes in. Using the alternative OS instead of Windows helps to keep costs down, and that's what has helped Wal-Mart bring us the $498 Linux laptop. Apparently, this is the lowest priced laptop currently available with an OS and office suite loaded.

It features a VIA C3 1-GHz processor, 128MB RAM, a 30GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 14.1-inch liquid crystal display. The software includes a built-in firewall to protect users from viruses, spam and pop-ups.

Dubbed "Balance", the Lindows... hmm.. I mean Linspire based laptop is available at Wal-Mart's Web site.

At such a low price point, all sorts of possibilities come into play. You could buy several of them to build your own Linux cluster (and a portable one, no less!) or you could at least certainly stop worrying so much about taking care of your notebook, because if it gets stuffed, at $498 you could just pop out and get another one. Not so sure about that 128MB of RAM, right enough, but it could always be upgraded with the money you saved in this great bargain.