Dave Winer published a piece explaining his views on netbooks, and he brings up Apple because a) he uses Macs and b) Apple has publicly stated its disinterest in getting in the netbook game. (I’m setting aside whether Apple really isn’t getting in the game.) He […]

acer-aspire-netbook.jpgDave Winer published a piece explaining his views on netbooks, and he brings up Apple because a) he uses Macs and b) Apple has publicly stated its disinterest in getting in the netbook game. (I’m setting aside whether Apple really isn’t getting in the game.)

He also mentions there’s “more sniffing from people who love Macs about how inadequate the current crop are.”

I believe there’s some truth to that statement. The gist of his article is that netbooks are great, and people who don’t get that may be missing something.

People who don’t think these are great computers must not have a sense of history. My first personal computer, purchased in 1979, cost $10,000, had two small floppy drives, 64K of memory and ran a very bare-bones OS.

True enough but, unlike David, it’s the sense of history that has me uninterested in netbooks, not enamored of them.

First of all, the argument should be about today’s netbook stacked up to today’s laptop. After all, that’s the choice the consumer is making. However, if I use the perspective of history, consider the $700 Radio Shack laptop I bought circa ’89. It was text-based with a Tandy “easy to use” text front-end. It stored everything on a floppy. I bought it to write on the road, then I’d import the text into Word 4.0 on my Mac SE/30 to format it. Worked like a charm. I consider that somewhat analogous to what a netbook does for people today (i.e., supplement their desktop PC).

But in ’89 I could not get desktop performance in my lap. The average laptop cost way more, with way less power, than the average desktop. Both gaps have closed tremendously since then. Especially in the last half-decade, where chips and laptop design have received the engineering attention necessary as the market demanded more portable solutions. The trade-off now in performance between laptops and desktops is almost trivial, and the price delta is much smaller as well. No, I’m not talking about a monster desktop video editing station with three video cards, a 2TB RAID array, and six monitors. But then, neither is David. The 2.4GHz unibody MacBook I’m using right now runs neck and neck with the 2.8GHz iMac I bought only a year earlier — including graphic-intensive apps — yet it cost nearly half as much. That’s a price/performance delta unimaginable even 10 years ago, let alone 30.

I do not “sniff” at netbooks. If someone wants a machine analogous to what I bought 20 years ago — in terms of price/performance — go for it. Everyone has their own needs. But back then, we chose between “good” performance (desktop) and “bad” performance but with portability (laptop). Today’s buyer can choose portability with “good” performance (laptop) or “bad” performance (netbook). For maybe 25 years we lived with much weaker performance on portable machines because we had to; that’s no longer true. That Tandy served me well, but I’ll pass on taking a step backwards for something similar today.

  1. [...] The rest is here: Netbooks, History, and Apple [...]

  2. Gregor mcnish Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    The main thing for me is portability. If it’s too hard to carry the thing around all day, at a conference, between classes or on and off public transit, there’s no point.

    If you’re just going from a car to a meeting, then a heavy laptop will do.

    1kg/2lbs or less is ok. Small form factor is ok. That’s where netbooks fit. Performance (these days) doesn’t really matter for this scenario.

  3. I mostly agree with you on the subject. I have a Mac Pro on my desk where 90% of my work gets done. But I have a MacBook Pro 15″ for taking work on the road. I don’t regret my purchase in the least, but I suspect that my next laptop will be a MacBook Air or some form of a “netbook” from Apple.

    The MBP is heavy. I never really thought about it until I started carrying it around a lot (I do take it almost everywhere). After I toss in a power adapter and external mouse, it’s a load. I would accept the burden if I actually took advantage of the power that the MBP gives me. But I don’t. In the end, I use it for Web surfing, emailing, and writing – with the occassional image editing of Web graphics – hardly tasks requiring a MBP. I rarely use the media drive, and I’m almost always surfing on wireless networks.

    When I take the cost of the new MacBook Air into consideration (which was much more expensive than the MBP 15″ when I bought it), it’s a no-brainer.

  4. My hackintosh Samsung NC-10 SE (~$450) has done a nice job augmenting my iMac 24 (home) and MacBook Pro (work) when I want to surf on the couch/deck/coffeeshop and not have to lug my 5.whatever pound 15″ MBP around. The 6 hour battery on the netbook is sweet — I’ve watched back to back feature movies on a single charge. I hope the batteries in the new MBPs really do last 5-6 hours of real usage — that would make a big difference.

  5. I loved my 13 MBP. I see no point of the Netbooks, as the ydon’t run the apps i need. So if Apple came out with a 10in “netbook” .. then yes iwould get one. As to getting an Asus. never.

  6. “Today’s buyer can choose portability with “good” performance (laptop) or “bad” performance (netbook).”

    In terms of limitations on what applications the 2 can run, maybe netbooks are “bad”. But in terms of internet/word processing usage, I don’t see much difference between a heavier laptop and a leightweight Eee PC 1000HE. And netbooks is winning in that case.

    Being lightweight, having longer battery life, you know… ;)

  7. No one’s comparing a netbook to a laptop in terms of capability, or asking you to give up one for the other, so the writer’s designation of a notebook as “good performance” and a netbook as “bad performance” is just silly. If a 13″ MBP is what you need, carry it. If a 10″ netbook will do (e.g., like for @Phil above), then use it. E.g., my Nokia N810 web tablet fills in for times when lugging my 17″ MBP around would be downright ridiculous.

    And the “price/performance” reference is really pointless. Heck, high-end smartphones cost almost as much as some entry-level notebooks — in some cases, even more — but one can only replace the other if it suits the user’s purposes, as the writer admits.

    We’re clearly seeing that “portability” is a very loose term: ranging from smartphones to desktop-replacement laptops. Clearly netbooks fit in somewhere along the line.

  8. I think you’re missing the point? Netbooks serve an obvious purpose hence their name. They were not designed for the same use as laptop but for surfing the net! It’s silly and unfair to compare specs and price etc and their place in the computer world is very much established now. Does it really require so much over analysis?

  9. @Ant

    Have you ever used a netbook? They’re terrible in every possible way. Construction, ability to do anything even passably well…

  10. HazardousPaste proves the point nicely. Obviously not a fan of netbooks so not for him, no harm in that. Many people do like them though so its ‘horses for courses’. There’s no need for us to keep comparing them to laptops as there is clearly a difference between the two and we’re all intelligent enough to make a choice that best suits us. Netbooks are not trying to re invent the wheel but for some people they just simply meet a need.


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