January 10, 2010
As a long time reader of Joey DeVilla's excellent blog, Global Nerdy, I take exception to his post Fast Food, Apple Pies, and Why Netbooks Suck:
The end result, to my mind, is a device that occupies an uncomfortable, middle ground between laptops and smartphones that tries to please everyone and pleases no one. Consider the factors:
To summarize: Slightly bigger and pricier than a phone, but can't phone. Slightly smaller and cheaper than a laptop, but not that much smaller or cheaper. To adapt a phrase I used in an article I wrote yesterday, netbooks are like laptops, but lamer.
- Size: A bit too large to go into your pocket; a bit too small for regular day-to-day work.
- Power: Slightly more capable than a smartphone; slightly less capable than a laptop.
- Price: Slightly higher than a higher-end smartphone but lacking a phone's capability and portability; slightly lower than a lower-end notebook but lacking a notebook's speed and storage.
This is so wrongheaded I am not sure where to begin. I happen to agree with Dave Winer's definition of "netbook":
- Small size.
- Low price.
- Battery life of 4+ hours. Battery can be replaced by user.
- Built-in wifi, 3 USB ports, SD card reader.
- Runs my software.
- Runs any software I want; no platform vendor to decide what's appropriate.
- Competition. Users have choice and can switch vendors at any time.
Netbooks are the endpoint of four decades of computing -- the final, ubiquitous manifestation of "A PC on every desk and in every home". But netbooks are more than just PCs. If the internet is the ultimate force of democratization in the world, then netbooks are the instrument by which that democracy will be achieved.
No monthly fees and contracts.
Nobody telling you what you can and can't do with your hardware, or on their network.
To dismiss netbooks as like laptops, but lamer is to completely miss the importance of this pivotal moment in computing -- when pervasive internet and the mass production of inexpensive portable computers finally intersected. I'm talking about unlimited access to the complete sum of human knowledge, and free, unfettered communication with anyone on earth. For everyone.
It's true that smartphones are slowly becoming little PCs, but they will never be free PCs. They will forever be locked behind an imposing series of gatekeepers and toll roads and walled gardens. Anyone with a $199 netbook and access to the internet can make free Skype videophone calls to anywhere on Earth, for as long as they want. Meanwhile, sending a single text message on a smartphone costs 4 times as much as transmitting data to the Hubble space telescope.
I don't care how "smart" your smartphone is, it will never escape those corporate shackles. Smartphones are simply not free enough to deliver the type of democratic transformation that netbooks -- mobile PCs cheap enough and fast enough and good enough for everyone to afford -- absolutely will.
That's why I love netbooks. In all their cheap, crappy glory. And you should too. Because they're instruments of user power.
The truly significant thing is this -- the users took over.
Let me say that again: The users took over.
I always say this is the lesson of the tech industry, but the people in the tech industry never believe it, but this is the loop. In the late 70s and early 80s the minicomputer and mainframe guys said the same kinds of things about Apple IIs and IBM PCs that Michael Dell is saying about netbooks. It happens over and over again, I've recited the loops so many times that every reader of this column can recite them from memory. All that has to be said is that it happened again.
Once out, the genie never goes back in the bottle.
Netbooks aren't an alternative to notebook computers. They are the new computers.
Cheap and crappy? Maybe those early models were, but having purchased a new netbook for $439 shipped, it is difficult for me to imagine the average user ever paying more than $500 for a laptop.
For the price, this is an astonishingly capable PC:
- Dual Core 1.2 GHz Intel CULV Celeron processor
- 2 GB RAM
- Windows 7 Home Premium
- 11.6" screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
- Thin (1") and light (3.5 lbs)
- Good battery life (5 hours)
- 3 USB ports, WiFi, webcam, gigabit ethernet
Windows 7 is a fine OS, but this machine would surely be cheaper without the Microsoft Tax, too.
The Acer Aspire 1410 isn't just an adequate netbook, it's a damn good computer. At these specifications, it is a huge step up from those early netbook models in every way. But don't take my word for it; read the reviews at netbooked and Liliputing. (Caveat emptor -- there are lots of 1410 models, and the newer dual core CPU version is the one you want.)
That's why the current Intel CULV CPUs are far more attractive options -- they're dramatically faster, and have become power-efficient marvels. I hooked up my watt meter to this Aspire 1410 and I was surprised to find it consume between 13 and 16 watts of power in typical use -- while my wife was browsing the web in Firefox, over a wireless connection, with multiple tabs open. I fired up Prime95 torture test to force the CPU to 100% load, and measured 21 watts with one CPU core fully loaded, and 26 watts when both were. These are wall measurements which reflect power conversion inefficiencies of at least 20%, so real consumption was between 10 and 20 watts. I was wondering why it ran so cool; now I know. It barely uses enough power to generate any heat!
Modern netbooks are not cheap and crappy. They're remarkable computers in their own right, and they're getting better every day. Which makes me wonder:
A recurring question among Apple watchers for decades has been, Ã¢â‚¬Å“When is Apple going to introduce a low-cost computer?
Steve Jobs answered that decades-old complaint by stating, "We don't know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk."
They may be pieces of junk to Mr. Jobs, but to me, these modest little boxes are marvels -- inspiring evidence of the inexorable march of powerful, open computing technology to everyman and everywhere.
We have produced a democracy of netbooks. And the geek in me can't wait to see what happens next.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
And despite the launch of the iPad, I'd still got for a device like this in preference.
I'd like to get my sister a netbook, but I'm not sure if she'd approve of it or not.
I still feel bad for wrecking her laptop a year ago...
What is the max RAM these things are capable of? Will it run Visual Studio 2008 with SQL Server 2008 installed? I'm not looking to run production systems or anything but if I can install VS 2008 + SQL 2008 and do some development on the go, without it choking, then that is fantastic.
I'm posting from Nexus One smartphone. I can write software to access any of the hardware. If I don't want to use Android I can put my own OS, not that I would haha. I can access the internet through any wireless hotspots. The yearly cost is $0.00. If I want to text message or use it as a phone I can pick and choose from many vendors, thanks in part to it taking SIM cards. I love my netbook, but now that I have the smartphone I can see its merits.
Note: A counter example to smartphones being poop ALL the time. They have the potential to be decent.
I have the same concerns as Optimalsolutions - are current netbooks powerful enough to handle heavy software like Visual Studio? Can the memory be upgraded to help the experience, or does the Celeron processor result in a slow performance?
Steve Jobs answered that decades-old complaint by stating, "We don't know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk."
What he actually meant to say was: "Our typical profit margin cannot be achieved with a sub 500 netbook that doesn't flat out suck compared to REAL computers. Oh, and our OS is too heavy."
"Slightly bigger and pricier than a phone, but can't phone."
I think netbooks are taking portable computing in the right direction, I even see slight shifts in the laptop arena because of them (or so I assume because of them). The biggest current issue I have with the ones I used are the hard drives. They don't seem to store anything at all. I get it, they're tiny, but loss of wifi key on shutdown? That's poor. What's the point if I need a usb drive (that's actually larger than the internal drive) attached at all times?
Adding to my previous comment: Didn't Apple just announce the Ipad (also known as Ipod Touch XXL) for just under 500? BTW - parts for that are under 300 FYI.
Wow, just wow. This is why smart people don't like (Cr)Apple.
The idea of democracy is great... but where's all this "free" wifi coming from? In my 'hood you can choose between Cablevision cable or Verizon DSL. But thank god I don't have to be on the hook to those big corporate cell companies! I guess I can go to McDonald's or the bookstore for free wifi, but in reality most people are paying some major corp for their internet access. So the argument for democracy ignores the whole 'net neutrality' issue... if the company you get the net from can decide what net you can get your democracy goes right out the window, no matter what kind of machine you're hefting around.
And to the iPad naysayers... well, I'm sure Apple will take your thoughts into consideration while they're depositing their billions into the bank. In regards to macs and netbooks, you get what you pay for...
As for netbooks having the potential to change things, I could give credence to that argument, but don't think that everyone who jumps on the internet is there to change the world. cf google's recent video "What is a browser?"... 8% of people questioned knew what a browser actually was, most responded "Google" or "Yahoo" or the like. That's the niche that netbooks are really filling.
> talking about unlimited access to the complete sum of human knowledge, and free, unfettered communication with anyone on earth.
I totally agree with you. That's very nice that you pay attention to the democratisation through the netbooks technology. I got mine (Samsung N130 netbook) few months ago and I love it. BTW: I got it with Windows 7, but installed Ubuntu linux ("Karmic Koala" Netbook Remix) as a second OS. I would definetly recommend Ubuntu to anyone using a netbook primarily to the internet needs. It looks really much better and works faster on netbook than Windows 7. And it's free.
I've always loved that Steve Jobs quote. Of course, the original Mac Mini launched at $499 so I guess he's really admitting it's pretty crappy. I own one, I can say that, right?
That Apple is not able to build a sub-$500 computer that doesn't suck, is really a problem with a Apple - not the computer.
Don't forget that if you swing that way, a number of the more popular netbooks are becoming popular in the hackintosh community. If you get one that sports Ion, you could even manage fancy desktop effects without breaking a sweat, and it's about a quarter the price of an official Air.
You stress the ubiquitous access to internet from netbooks as their primary advantage, but please notice that ubiquitous WiFi access is far from common everywhere in the world... it may be true in the US, but not as much in Europe for example.
Smart phones fill the gap by providing you the same access over 3G or 4G and so provide a real alternaitive in those places.
I agree with the general sentiment that Netbooks are a worthy and useful devices, but I think your comments about Smartphones are unnecessarily dismissive (or possibly US centric).
I have an Android phone- I have root on the phone, I can install whatever software I like and I'm not bound by any corporate shackles (I'm in Australia and I don't have some extended contract which binds me to my telco). I can VoIP like a netbook, but I have the added advantage that I can use a 3G network to make phone calls if I want to pay the price (which I do!). To all intents and purposes its as free, and in many cases as powerful, as a netbook (and more powerful than some). The only part of the Winer definition it doesn't fit is "3 USB ports" (it only has one).
The toll roads and gatekeepers you speak off do not exist for many smartphone users in many parts of the world. Android users can install whatever software they like and in most of the world they are free to live off WiFi in exactly the same way that a netbook user does- no monthly fees or contracts. Or pay the monthly fees, just like a netbook user can, for additional network access through the cell/mobile network.
In many parts of the world (Japan, India, Indonesia) the smartphone is already the desktop/laptop/netbook of the land. Netbooks? Too big, bad battery life and flimsy! Why would you want one of those?
I am using Iphone 3G, although it can do browsing, reading pdf but it still kind like too small and not powerful enough. I am thinking to get a netbook for those kind of stuff. At least I can do more stuff with netbook, write any program, play movie, browse full page website instead of zooming here and there while browsing some website.
I think you miss on one of the most important points for why people buy netbooks: weight!
After large laptops have been carried around for 2-5 years before netbooks got popular, most people were tired of having 5kilos+ on their shoulders. It's bad for long travels, because luggage is limited, and it's bad for short trips, because you have to decide beforehand if you want to use a laptop or not.
A netbook is something you can always carry around. That's what Apple understood when designing the Air. The flatness isn't the key, but the lightweightedness.
When I go look at laptops and netbooks I look for screen size, processor speed, ram, battery hour and weight. If it scores high on the first four, but bad at the last, it's a no-no for me. This _is_ important.
Programming-wise, is this CULV-equipped notebook worthy when it comes to c# developing? I'm considering the purchase of one of these small beasties as a backup machine to use while I'm commuting.
Thanks in advance,
I've been very anti-laptop for years. I always contended that I can be much more comfortable and productive on a desktop with a nice monitor, fast hard drive, better performance.
But of course, portability is nice to have for travel every now and then. The problem from my perspective is that laptops have grown so much over the years.
So a few months ago I broke down and bought a laptop. I chose the dual core Acer AS1410 you mention in your post here. Acer calls it a notebook, other sites call it a netbook. Whatever you call it, it's small, light, and capable.
Recently I went on a business trip and took the mini-computer with me. I found that it'll fit on one of those tiny fold down trays on an airplane even with a ginger ale sitting next to it. And then I can fit it in my slim netbook case and slide it into the seat pocket with all the magazines when I'm not using it. The Acer just made sense for that trip.
"What is the max RAM these things are capable of? Will it run Visual Studio 2008 with SQL Server 2008 installed? I'm not looking to run production systems or anything but if I can install VS 2008 + SQL 2008 and do some development on the go, without it choking, then that is fantastic." - OptimalSolutions
I upgraded mine to 4GB RAM, which is its theoretical max. That was the other reason I chose the Acer 1410. Most other netbooks are only capable of 2GB RAM. And I haven't tried it but I'm sure it'll run VS and SQL Server. Personally, I've used it for RDP into my work computer. It's definitely usable for emergency development in a pinch.
voyante : seems like useful i love it It's definitely usable for emergency development in a pinch
"I upgraded mine to 4GB RAM, which is its theoretical max. That was the other reason I chose the Acer 1410. Most other netbooks are only capable of 2GB RAM."
That is because the Acer 1410 is a higher-end netbook with a Core 2 CULV processor. The Atom memory controllers mostly only support 2GB of RAM.
1) apple profit margins, you are absolutely right.
2) bloated macos? not so much.
3) atom cpu underpowered? not so much.
I run 10.6.2 on a Dell mini 10v with 1G ram and a 16G ssd (and a 1.6GHz atom). It is not exactly a speed demon but it is totally usable. ajax-heavy web apps (zimbra webmail) are fine in safari. Youtube works with basic resolution. VLC can handle 654x352 xvid video; haven't tried h.264.
This for $280. $250 with an 8G SSD or a spinning disk.
This is plenty of computer for LOTS of people. Including me, much of the time.
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I originally was a big fan of Netbooks, but all that they lack has been quite a downfall in my eyes. The coming of the tablet device offers more in way of features, functionality, and overall computing power i believe the Netbook will die out as quickly as it arrived.
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I've been using Nokia's communicators for years.
After the invasion of netbooks I found Communicators too expensive, too small to work with, too big to jog with, too heavy to carry without a carrier and too light to throw far enough...
You can say I was a heavy user of Communicators (with seven of them on a row).
Now I'm happy with my two netbooks which I got for a price equal to one (or 1/2 of a) Communicator!
I'm still (as a Finnish) waiting for a possibility to get a iPhone - without having to tie me to the local Operator (Sonera).
- When asked "What's the secret behind You being able to conquer the smarphone markets with one single model?" Steve Jobs answered after thinking it awhile: "You just have to care".
- I agree, but how does this "tieing consumers to particular operators" fit to really careing of the demands and problems of the consumers?
Most netbooks seem to be cutdown notebooks but still at a premium price, i think i'd sooner have a small dual core machine such as an IBM X61 which can be bought as a second user machine for about the same money as an average spec'd netbook.
I guess Netbooks are ok for some people, but if you want to perform any kind of indepth cpu stuff then go for a proper notebook, Searching for
the best notebook
Its very nice notebook.Netbooks are the endpoint of four decades of computing.Its very low price, small size, Built-in wifi, 3 USB ports, SD card reader, dual Core 1.2 GHz Intel CULV Celeron processor and 2 GB ram...Its very great.you done a great job...
I don’t know how smartphone is, it will never escape those corporate shackles. Smartphones are simply not free enough to deliver the type of democratic transformation that netbooks.
I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end. I would like to read newer posts and to share my thoughts with you.
Laptops are superior to netbooks. What good does a netbook do me since I prefer a computer with an optical drive. I actually use my optical drive to watch dvds and so on.
I need a practical computer and netbooks are far from practical. There is a reason that I have only seen little kids and old people using netbooks and everyone else using either a laptop or a macbook.
I have no problem with netbooks so as long as the laptops with optical drives will continue to always be made.
Besides, why waste alot of money for a netbook when you could get a cheap laptop for the same price where it will do twice as much as the netbook?
I don't know which group is more annoying the mac kids or the netbook kids.
There are phones out there running Linux where you can install basically any software you want. Take the Nokia N900. It will run will run many flavors of Linux most of which have ported nearly all their packages to the arm processor.
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