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The rise of the netbook - power to the people
Netbook computers are fast becoming mainstream. Their success shows the power consumers have over the major technology providers.
Netbook computers are small, portable, cheap computers which are optimised for simple internet-based tasks such as surfing the web and email.
The rise of the netbook has been meteoric. A year ago, in mid-2008, they were a rarity. Now there is a huge selection in all the major retailers.
The prehistory of the netbook can be traced back to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and early small computers by Psion and others. But the first widely sold netbook was the Asus EEE PC, which launched in 2007.
Because they were not powerful, early netbooks from Asus and others ran variants of Linux. Microsoft had announced the end of Windows XP, and netbooks were simply incapable of meeting the demands of Windows Vista.
The Asus EEE PC was so successful that all the major technology suppliers had to take notice. Microsoft, seeing the rise of Linux netbooks as a threat, resurrected Windows XP and licenses it at low cost for netbooks. All the major PC suppliers have brought out netbook models. There are now a huge variety of netbooks on sale, nearly all of them running Windows XP.
Netbook hardware has improved. Early netbooks had 7" to 9" screens and tiny keyboards. Most models now have a 10" screen, and a keyboard which is almost as big as a typical laptop, or in some cases bigger. By my measurements, the width of the main keys on the 10" Toshiba NB200 netbook is greater than on the 15" Toshiba A100 laptop.
Battery life has also improved. Many models now have 6-9 hours battery life, long enough to use all day without a charge.
Netbooks have become mainstream very rapidly. When I bought my first netbook at the end of last year (an Asus EEE PC 901 running Linux), they were still more of a geeky toy than a serious computer. Only half a year later, I am in the process of buying one for my son's school work (likely to be a Toshiba NB200 running Windows XP), and the shops are full of them. Netbooks are still less powerful than "proper" laptops, but many people do not need that power and are looking at netbooks as a convenient alternative to a laptop.
This trend will continue. Netbooks have shown that people demand low cost and portability, and competition will force the major suppliers to meet that demand. In the not too distant future, the distinction between netbooks and "proper" laptops will disappear. There will be cheap, portable computers of all sizes, with enough power for most tasks.
For years, Microsoft and PC manufacturers have been telling consumers that what they need is more advanced operating systems and faster processors. But netbooks have shown that the consumer can, and will, push back with they really want - low cost and convenience. If there is a moral to this tale, it is that the consumer is king.Next: Process maturity and value
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