Netbooks are small, not crippled


I’ve posted already about my netbook, and I’m sure made it very clear that I like it. Suggestions that people will give up their netbooks for ‘real’ machines once there is some kind of economic recovery are in my opinion ridiculous. I didn’t buy my netbook because it was cheap (though I’m pleased that it was). I bought it because it has sufficient compute power for all of the applications that I’d like to run on the move, and it has the weight, durability and battery life to stay with me on the move. People have been paying 5x more for ultralight sub-notbooks for some time; I suspect that the bottom just dropped out of that market.

Of course the experience can be crippled if you (or more likely your OEM) choose to install crippled software; which sadly appears to be the way things are headed. This seems like a fairly perverse marketing trick to me. The netbook I have today is perfectly capable of running a full fat OS, full fat office suite, full fat browser(s) and a media player (at least in standard definition). It can in fact do all of these things at once. Time, and Moore’s law, will only make netbooks more capable, though to be honest once they have 720p displays and enough processing power to drive HD video then I think the top of the utility curve will be reached (netbooks are a great example of Classen’s ‘logarithmic law of usefulness’). The point that I keep making to people is that when desktop processors hit 1GHz a few years ago that was probably as much compute power as any one user (at one time) could reasonably use. The low power processors in netbooks are clocked a little faster than the old 1Ghz parts, but manage to deliver similar subjective performance, with far less power consuption. In the meanwhile software continued soaking up the cycles, but recently that trend has reversed. This means that the same, good enough, subjective user experience will continue to get cheaper – making the disparity between hardware cost and software cost look less and less reasonable.

I hope that the OEM’s at least offer the option to buy a real OS to go with these machines, expecially if the difference is the $30 or so that Tim estimates; though I suspect that other commentators will see this as another way that people will be driven into the arms of the open source OS community.

5 Responses to “Netbooks are small, not crippled”

  1. 1 Tim Swan

    Wireless web browsing, watching movies, word processor edits and the occasional slide show. What else exactly are you intending to do with your laptop?

    I did all of the above at GDC this year, and comparing my typed-on-the-fly notes with the handwritten scrawls my colleagues returned with was a revelation – I captured more details, more context, and more of my thoughts by an order of magnitude. It’s small enough to carry with a cig and a coffee, and large enough to type on. I’m loving mine so far.

    I have also used mine as a gateway drug experience (Ubuntu in my case). It’s outstanding that I can use all the same apps that I’d use on my XP desktop with nary a hitch (Firefox and OOO mostly). I’m failing to see how the OS matters at that point …

  2. I just invested $300 in a nice custom built desktop computer with probably more power than I would ever need. I’ve been contemplating making a switch to a netbook as my primary computer. I’m not a gamer, I don’t do video editing or CAD, how much power do I really need?

    I figure if I want to sit down at a desk and have a desktop computer experience, I could just hook a netbook up to my monitor and usb keyboard/mouse and go for it. But the versatility and portability of a netbook is extremely appealing.

    A big concern of mine, of course, is whether netbooks have enough power to provide a decent computing experience for my tastes. I found your post helpful in that regard.

  3. 3 Chris Swan

    Happy to help jazzguru.

    I’m planning on using my netbook as my main machine for work and travel, and I’ll hook it up to a big monitor and USB/Bluetooth keyboard and mouse in the office. I’ve not done this in anger yet though, and if I end up plagued with issues around switching screens, or anything else, then I can see myself buying a ‘nettop’ or similar.

    The key point is that there are a limited number of applications out there that can really soak up the power in a typical modern desktop configuration. Gaming, video editing and transcoding, and running multiple virtual machines are the main ones that spring to mind. Of course many of those things can now be done from the cloud (even the gaming), so it’s time to look closely at those utility bills and hardware depreciation.

  4. 4 Chris Swan


    Somethings else comes to mind. I’ve recently been doing some tinkering with running SSH tunnels back home and putting RDP sessions over them. If you can drive your machine at home whilst on the road then it furthermore makes the netbook OS immaterial.

  5. Hi Chris,

    I’ve made a similar transition, and use Sun’s virtualbox (free for personal use) to ‘host’ the occasional Windoze apps I haven’t found Ubuntu or Mac replacements for.

    OpenVPN is useful when you need more than SSH tunnelling (I ran into that with Aviosys 9280 powercontrollers crappy HTTP implementation).

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