Personal computers are changing in ways that go beyond even the more recent innovations, such as the launch of Windows 7: Several of today's laptops are missing a familiar component, computers can be controlled in various new ways, and portable PCs are slimming down.

Even with all the attention lavished on Apple's iPhone and Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle this year, a PC or laptop still is likely to be the center of a student's digital universe. Here's a look at what this year's computer trends mean for the personal computing--and especially for education.

• Drives are becoming a thing of the past.

Computers have...

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