A French company is selling a desktop computer to those people for whom size really does matter.

The Linutop is a pocket size desktop PC, the size of a paperback novel. It does not have an internal hard disk drive, but instead its open source operating system resides on a USB key.

The tiny machine uses an AMD Geode LX700 (x86) processor, and comes with 256MB of RAM. There are four USB 2.0 ports, which allows for external storage to be plugged in, and there is a 10/100baseT Ethernet connection, a VGA output, as well as audio in and out connections.

The aluminium case measures just 9.3 x 2.7 x 15 cm (or 3.66 x 1.06 x 5.9 inches in old money) and weights a mere 280 grams (9.9 oz). And it only consumes just 5 watts of power, making it "one of the most energy efficient on the market."

Linutop makes no bones about pushing the machine's green credentials, citing its low power consumption, coupled with reduced maintenance costs and added robustness due to its lack of hard drive and absence of moving parts. The company also states, somewhat tenuously admittedly, that the small size of the Linutop makes the computer easier to recycle and its light weight reduces the environmental cost of shipping.

The Linutop comes with the open source operating system xubuntu, which is customised for the Linutop. However it is compatible with other Linux distributions including Mandriva key, Slackware, DSL (damn small Linux), and Puppy Linux.

Web browsing is provided by a Firefox browser, and instant messaging is provided by Gaim, now known as Pidgin, which supports a lot of protocols including AIM, Google Talk, MSN, and Yahoo etc.

An open source word processor is also provided (Abiword), as is a simple calendar and tasks manager, a PDF viewer, and various other multimedia applications.

The company website shows how the Linutop can be unpacked and made ready for web surfing in under three minutes.

The Linutop is touted as a mainstream PC that can be used in shops, bars, kiosks and schools, or anywhere where desktop space is at a premium. Its tiny size also means that it is suitable to be embedded in cars, aeroplanes or boats, or in a digital signage offering.

The machine comes bundled with the USB key containing the operating system and applications, and costs 250 euros or £186 pounds (excluding VAT and shipping).