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The Netbook Revolution

The First Modern Netbook

In 2007, when ASUS launched the Eee PC, few realized the extent to which the little netbook would transform the computer industry. Initially, the vision for this product was a low-cost computing device, something that might appeal to users in emerging markets who might not be able to afford expensive laptops. Of course, the netbook marketplace today no longer resembles that original vision.

ASUS also aimed its groundbreaking product at kids and the education market. This orientation was a good fit for its name (Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play), the design (small keys for small hands), and the first marketing campaign in Asia that made extensive use of child models.


Eee PC Marketing Campaign by ASUS

Unexpected excitement built up even before the Eee PC was introduced to the public. Computer buffs had always known and accepted that the smallest, lightest laptops commanded premium pricing, but now they saw something completely different coming their way. The Eee PC was just as tiny as the best ultraportables, but could be had for a fraction of the cost. The lure was irresistible.

The netbook revolution began. ASUS manufactured 350,000 Eee PCs in the first production run, and it sold out within a few months, snapped up not by kids but by savvy users who wanted a second laptop that they could take everywhere. This was a tremendous demand that almost no one foresaw.

Soon, almost all computer manufacturers were tooling up to create their own netbooks. This turned out to be quick and easy — they simply took the Intel Atom reference design and added their own special touches. Soon, we had a wealth of options in netbooks.

In 2008, netbook sales exploded to 11.4 million units worldwide, and took significant market share away from conventional laptops. Moreover, current projections call for 2009 sales figure to triple. Netbooks have become the rising star, even as sales for all other desktops and laptops continue to drop. By now, it is evident that netbooks have gone from novelties to fixtures in the computing landscape.

Operating Systems

The first batch of netbooks ran Linux — a free alternative to Windows. Linux enabled manufacturers to bypass the licensing fee they normally had to pay Microsoft, so it was a natural fit for the low-cost philosophy central to netbooks.

Once netbooks became a runaway success, Microsoft awoke to the realization that it was about to miss out on a huge opportunity. It quickly changed its licensing structure to lower the barrier to manufacturers, to bring them back into the fold. Over the span of several months, Microsoft re-asserted its dominance among netbooks. Today, Windows XP is back on top as the most prevalent operating system for netbooks. Linux, once again, takes a back seat.

Many technical people who want to see Linux succeed are understandably disappointed. Nevertheless, the netbook’s history means it is relatively easy to get Linux to run on a netbook, even if it does not come installed with a distribution. A considerable amount of work has been done to make Linux run well on the Intel Atom platform, and this directly benefits users who wish to experiment with different operating systems on their netbooks.

Another factor that comes into play is that because netbooks use the same chipsets as the Mac mini from Apple Computer, Mac OS X already has a high degree of compatibility with netbooks. This makes it easy for the knowledgeable hobbyist to “hack” Apple’s operating system and, in effect, create their own inexpensive, small and light MacBooks. Doing so violates Apple’s End User Licensing Agreement and cannot be recommended by anyone for any purpose — but it is interesting to note that netbooks are so versatile that they can even run an operating system that was never intended for it.

Dell

Dell had an early success with its Mini 9 netbook. Its sturdy construction, low price, silent operation and long battery life (over three hours) won many fans. It is, as of this writing, the top-ranking laptop at the popular NotebookReview.com web site.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Dell is now introducing the Mini 10. As its name suggests, this is a 10” netbook, slightly larger than the Mini 9 with its 8.9” screen. It improves on the Mini 9 in several respects. Most notably, its keyboard is a more spacious, edge-to-edge design that is comfortable to type on and requires little or no adjustments for touch typists.

In many ways, the size of the Mini 10 is ideal. Smaller netbooks are wonderful for viewing content — checking e-mail, reading blog entries — but they are not so well suited for writing. You can use it to compose short e-mails with a few lines, but for writing anything longer and more complex, the small keyboard can quickly become confining, even frustrating.

A small difference of one inch makes a huge difference. The 10” form factor gives a netbook that little bit of extra room it needs to become a professional tool. Writers, journalists, bloggers and programmers will have no trouble being productive on a machine like the Mini 10 — and yet it is small enough to still retain the portability benefits of its smaller sibling.

Cloud Computing

Years from now, we are likely to look back on today and note that this is the point in time when netbooks and cloud computing come together to create a powerful synergy. The small size and easy portability of netbooks let us maintain our connection to the Internet more frequently and consistently than before, and the more we link up to the cloud, the more powerful cloud computing becomes.

Slowly but surely, people are moving into the clouds. Many already prefer Gmail over desktop e-mail software. Some are just beginning to realize the tremendous benefits of moving their documents into Google Docs. As time goes on, we’ll see that many tasks that used to require desktop applications can be done better, cheaper, and more reliably on the Internet. Whether it’s basic editing of spreadsheets or photos, we are doing things in a browser window that we never thought we would only a few years ago.

The netbook revolution continues. Just as netbooks today bear little resemblance to the original vision for the Eee PC, it is difficult to predict how this technology will continue to evolve — and transform our computing habits in the process. All we can say at this point is that SADA Systems is at the forefront of this movement, and from this vantage point of technology leadership, we will continue to serve your web and IT needs, and keep you informed every step of the way.

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