Netbooks are in the news, but how is a netbook different than a notebook, aside from swapping the first “o” for the dropped “e”?
“Netbook” was coined as a combination of “Internet” and “notebook”, because a netbook mostly is supposed to browse the Internet. Since the Internet has helpful replacements for your daily applications — at least, companies like Google and Microsoft are hopeful that they’re helpful — you can get a lot done just by browsing. A netbook can still run local applications, but too many at once will bring it to its knees. Well, to its closed lid, anyway.
Netbook hardware is a notebook-lite. The screen is small, anywhere from 8″ to 10″, so the chassis is small too. Companies like Intel and Via created a new class of processors — surprisingly, the cost of the new class went down — for netbooks that run slower than most, but sip power instead of gulping. That means the battery can be small and inexpensive too.
Notebooks exist today that are the size of netbooks, and that have more computing power. The problem is the price tends to be in the executive bling range, and the battery doesn’t last much longer than a piece of ice in a frying pan.
A netbook probably can’t replace your regular work computer, but can be an inexpensive and handy second computer for meetings and travel. Add a 3G wireless card, and you can use it practically anywhere (not counting the middle of nowhere) for a few hours without throwing your back out to get it there. With a little foresight and some help from IT, you can probably even remote into your regular work computer, if you need to.
Netbooks are a just a step on a path. They’re smaller and lighter than a notebook, sure, and slipping one in a briefcase is no problem. But what if you want something you can slip into a pocket or a purse instead? I wrote part of this column on a cellphone. The keyboard was too small for fast typing (50WPM on a normal keyboard, thank you) but there are solutions for that like projected keyboards. The display was a bit small, but amazing things are being done with pico-projectors too. Eventually, you’ll have something that looks like a normal cellphone does today, but has a little flip-out stand, and projects a keyboard on the table and an image on the wall (or the plastic shell the airline tray-table fits into). It still won’t win any awards for computing power, but it will surf the Internet pretty well.
So, would a 3-pound-ish netbook with a price tag well under $900 appeal to you enough to convince your IT department to set you up with one as your go-along computer?
Postnote: This is the first blog in the User-Friendly Tech category. Blogs in this category will discuss technology that might actually do something useful for the end user, and not just sparkle in a geek’s imagination, like mine.