I have written several times about "netbooks," those tiny laptop computers that typically weigh two pounds or perhaps a bit less. You can read my previous articles about netbook computers here, here, and here.
Netbooks are smaller than laptops, lighter, typically have smaller 9- to 11-inch screens, one or two gigabytes of memory, and no CD-ROM drives. These smaller computers may have their own processing power but typically are designed to be used online. The primary use of a netbook is to read and write email, to surf the web, to run online applications such as Google's or Zoho's online word processors, or to access any of the several web sites that store your genealogy information online (WeRelate.org, PhpGedView, The Next Generation, FamilyTreeExplorer.com, NewFamilySearch.org, etc.), and similar tasks. With the widespread use of wireless wi-fi networks, netbooks are easy to use at home, in hotels, at airports, in coffee shops, on commuter trains, and elsewhere.
I have predicted that netbooks would some day replace the heavier and more expensive laptop computer systems.
The two main things that make netbooks attractive are their light weight and their ability to access the Internet on the go. Other attractive features include ease of use and long battery life. Most all netbooks will operate at least three hours on a single charge, and many will last six or nine hours. I have a netbook that came with a small battery that lasts three hours on a single charge. For a modest price I then purchased a larger, heavy duty battery that lasts nine hours on a single charge. If I now take a trip with the netbook computer and both batteries in my travel case, I have the potential of twelve hours of use without recharging.
Of course, pricing is another attractive feature. Most netbooks cost about $300 to $400, and I have seen occasional sales, "specials," and refurbished netbook computers sold for less. This past holiday season, Best Buy offered a new Lenovo netbook for a surprising price of only $197. I am told that most BestBuy stores sold out within a very few hours. I also wrote recently (at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2010/01/-how-good-is-a-99-computer.html) about a $99 netbook, although it has limited capabilities.
On the flip side, normal laptops have also dropped in price in the past year or so, with some models selling for as little as $350 or less. When one looks at a laptop with a larger screen, more memory, a DVD burner and other features, the lines between netbooks and laptops become a blur.
To add to the confusion, rumors state that Apple is about to introduce a tablet computer that may or may not revolutionize computing. Predictions claim that the new tablet with be a cross between a normal laptop and the very popular iPod Touch handheld computer and music player. The new Apple tablet computer probably will not fit into a shirt pocket, but it should slide into a typical overcoat pocket. Pricing has not been announced. If these rumors turn out to be true, Apple will probably sell a few million of these new devices.
So is the netbook doomed? Will smart phones and tablet computers and cheaper laptops kill off the netbook? Some believe this is exactly what will happen.
One recent article at the BBC News web site sized up the netbook’s status this way:
What people are looking for now… is a machine that can keep up with the demands of contemporary web users - far more than the basic e-mail and web browsing that made the first models so appealing.
“As soon as you want to do anything else, you hit the same problem, it ceases to work…” . “It does not have the power.”
This article maintains that those changing habits of web users are too complex for those basic machines. You can read the full article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8421491.stm.
I agree that netbooks are light weight devices and are meant for light weight work such as the Internet or emailing. But I have to disagree with the BBC article and with anyone else who says the netbook is dead. I believe anyone who makes that claim has missed the point of what makes a netbook so attractive.
If the netbook is going to die, I believe its death will not be caused by larger laptop computers. A bigger threat comes from the yet-unannounced, even smaller, Apple tablet.
I believe that a light weight, portable computer that one can carry with ease through the airport, with long battery life, that is meant for web surfing and emailing, will remain popular for many people.
I own both a netbook and a laptop. I know the differences between the two boxes and accept the limitations of the netbook. Depending on the tasks at hand – and where I am – sometimes I will use the netbook and at other times I will use the laptop computer.
How about you? Do you own a netbook? If so, do you think that netbooks are dying out?