Nerdy tidbits from my life as a software engineer

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On The Netbook Craze

All this talk about netbooks has me a bit perplexed.  What is a netbook?  From what I can tell, it’s a super slim, lightweight notebook that’s optimized for portability, price, and battery life.

But then we then go off into this whole sub-discussion about what sort of operating system a netbook should run on and what it’s primary purpose is, and this discussion makes no real sense to me.  The idea that a netbook is only useful for surfing the Internet is based on the theory that because it’s super-cheap, it is incapable of doing anything else.  This might be true today, but it clearly won’t be true tomorrow as hardware continues to get more powerful and less expensive – as it always has.  And this makes the whole idea of an Internet-only notebook silly to me.  Why not just call it a really cheap, low-end laptop?

The earliest netbooks might have had 512MB of RAM and were incapable of running Vista.  But obviously, within a year or two (if it’s not already), 2GB of RAM will be as cheap or cheaper than 512MB is today (or else the marginal difference will be so small that it won’t matter).  So whatever netbook you can by today for $300.00, tomorrow you will be able to buy a far more powerful notebook for the same price – if not cheaper.  And it will be absolutely fully-capable of running just about anything you want it to.  So why pretend that the purpose of these machines is to limit ourselves to just browsing the Internet?

So I fail to see how this is any more of a threat to Windows than the Internet already is.  It may be a threat to Microsoft’s margins, but really nothing else.


Berin said...

Netbook is pure marketing. However, looking at the specs, I don't see why it couldn't be used as an "I'm away from the office" dev box, using a lower-powered middleware. At ~$400, you can afford to own more than one.

For my money, my household will be using it as a cheap backup on our Windows desktops, mirroring the data and running Windows 7 and Office.

We're considering it a fun project.

Michael J. Braude said...

@Berin - Actually, with Live Mesh you can basically TS into any machine you want, essentially turning the netbook into a cheap, portable terminal into a more beefy box where you've got your dev environment set up. Also, Win7 has some super awesome remote-access stuff built into it that is a lot faster than regular remote desktop. Also, Windows Media Player in Win7 has remote media sharing built into it - so who cares how large the hard drive is, you could just stream everything.

Yet more reasons not to want something that's only for the internet.

Berin said...

@Michael J. Braude I'm quite aware of Live Mesh and it's previous incarnations as Windows Remote Desktop and Windows Terminal Server. I use them on a regular basis to work from home.

However sometimes, especially with my home equipment, I like to "pack lite". I view the Netbook's insistence on tying networking into the form-factor (and coming soon, AT&T and The Gang "giving" them away to sell 3G GSM service) as an after-thought. Inspiration tends to come to me, especially on my personal coding problems, when I am not plugged into the Internet. So a little netbook that I can jot ideas into is nice. Ideal, however, would be a version of Visual Studio that will run well on such minor hardware (the latest netbooks seem to satisfy that need quite handily) for jotting down the odd F# ideas and scripts. I later develop these into much larger solutions.

I am also aware that F# can be compiled with notepad and a command line. So, for that matter, can C# and the rest of the .NET stack. It's still nice to have a familiar toolkit available when it is needed.

Floyd Ferguson said...

Not sure it's _just_ "pure marketing". I got an MSI Wind last April for $300 from Amazon with free shipping, and have been using it as a primary development system for a couple of projects (which require considerable physical mobility), and I like it a LOT. It has been completely adequate as a development system. Different than a 20+" plasma display, but completely adequate.

It's running the Ubuntu Linux netbook configuration as a primary OS, which is optimized for the smaller real estate, and presents more like a mobile phone platform than a desktop/laptop. It works well. Also running XP, and that doesn't work so well.

It is very different than the laptop experience, and (for now anyway), I've gone from a single heavy, clunky laptop that worked both remote and on my desktop to a big desktop plus the netbook.

So, from my perspective, it is definitely something more than just marketing.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer is pretty clear--netbooks are marketed as being incapable of tasks other than web browsing and reading email so that the manufacturers are not creating an offering that competes against their line of more expensive laptops. So, I agree with Berin; it is pure marketing. I use my Acer for just about any task that I would otherwise use one of my laptops for, but with half the size and weight to carry around and twice the battery life.

Mohamed Elsherif said...

Netbooks are just a smaller screen that you can carry with you, by no means it is going to replace a bigger screen laptop with higher specs for more serious experience such as gaming