Netbooks, History and Apple


acer-aspire-netbook.jpgDave Winer published a piece explaining his views on netbooks, and he brings up Apple (s aapl) 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.



Everyone here is missing a major point.

An apple mackbook (white): cost $999, weight 5 lbs, memory 2gb, hard drive 160 gb, usb expansion slots, ethernet, wireless, bluetooth

Most Netbooks: cost $250 to $450, weight 3lbs, memory 2 gb, hard drive 160 gb, usb expansion slots, ethernet, wireless, bluetooth

For what a lot of people use a laptop for the netbooks are a great deal.


I recently sold my HP Pavilion laptop to my sister and bought an Acer 11″ netbook with it. My reasons for this are actually quite logical: portability, battery life, and adequate system specs. I used an Asus 701 for six months as my main computer, and I could do anything I usually do on it.

Portability: My model is the Acer Aspire One 751h. 11 screen”, and it is very light, even with the 6-cell battery.

Battery life: with windows XP I easily got 6.5 hours out of it (wifi disabled), and on Windows 7 I was able to crank that up to 8 hours by setting my max. cpu usage to 75%. I also tested wether everything still runs decently on 60% and it did, with fairly few hitches. I’m talking about a 1.33 ghz single core processor here. I have not yet tried running Ubuntu, but my guess is that ubuntu can get 9 or even 10 hours out of that battery.

Adequate system specs: here’s the main selling point for me. My HP laptop had 2 gigs of RAM and a 1.6 ghz dualcore processor. My Acer netbook has a single core Atom processor of 1.33 ghz, 2 gigs of Ram, and a below-par but windows 7-ready intel GMA integrated graphics card. Result of these “outdated” specs: a cheap, portable computer on which I can perform any task I usually do.

The problem is that most people don’t buy netbooks for that reason. They buy it to impress their friends, because it’s a gadget. They use it for a couple of weeks or months and then put it on the shelf to collect dust. If people were to start realizing that they don’t need high-end computers to visit facebook or twitter, or make a word-document, netbooks would sell even better than they already do. So far, it is only a niche product, popular with students, teachers and/or people who have to commute a lot and don’t want to carry a 6 or 7 pound, 15.4″ laptop with them every time. Of course, the economic crisis might also have something to do with the hype surrounding the netbook.

Netbooks are selling really well here in western Europe and some of the older Asus models (701, 901) can be bought for under or around €200, with XP pre-installed.


My complaints about netbooks have nothing to do with how much or how little power they have. I understand that they are intended to be low-powered, simple task machines, and to an extent, I like that idea. However, in the little time I’ve spent with them, I’ve found the keyboards to be cramped, and the screen to be too small for comfort. I actually have less difficulty typing something out on my iPhone than I had trying to type anything on an eeePC.

Perhaps one day, someone will solve the problem of usability with netbooks. As it is, netbook-customized Linux variations seem promising at making the best use of the small screen size and minimal capabilities (not that that’s a bad thing). If someone could solve the keyboard issue for me, I might give serious consideration to one. Until then, I’ve had no problem with my 13″ MacBook.


The only reason netbooks exists is because of price (which someone just stated). That’s it. The rest is finding a reason to pay the price.

“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.”

But that’s dave winer. He gets it, everyone else is missing it. That says nothing and is difficult to argue with. Remember his great prediction on Jobs returning to apple:

The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run .
. . is delusional” — Dave Winer, quoted by the Financial Times in 1997.

Netbooks may be great for winer, for most, they’re a toy thats affordable.

Tom Reestman


“With respect, you all seem to leave out the emotional aspect of Netbook/Notebook/Desktop.”

Fair point, but emotion plays a bit of a role in everything. For example, most Apple critics would say emotion is pretty much the only reason people buy Apple products at all. You know, it’s “cool” and they’ll buy anything with the Apple logo. We may never know the full extent emotion plays for Apple, PCs or netbooks, but I doubt it has a significant role in netbooks’ popularity.

In my view, what’s driving netbooks is price, and nothing else.

“No one dreams of the extra megahertz or extra gigs of storage”

Really? You don’t know the geeks that I know. :-)


With respect, you all seem to leave out the emotional aspect of Netbook/Notebook/Desktop.
We all have dreams/ideas about how our lives and homes should be organized. For many years now people who have laptops have complained about two things, battery life and weight. They have dreams of tossing a small machine into a purse or pocket or bag and strolling into class or a meeting or a cafe. The netbook answers that dream at a price that is more than acceptable.
No one dreams of the extra megahertz or extra gigs of storage, its about a self identified concept.
Think how many of us used “sex and the city” as a design document to tell us if we had made it, if we were happy, if we were on the road to happiness.
Netbooks are the new Manolo’s :)


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

From a specifications-based point of view, that’s entirely correct. But from a “what exactly do you need” point of view, that may prove to be entirely false. For some people, such as video pros, they do need the portability and the power and a full-fledged notebook would be the proper solution. Granted, 6+ pounds isn’t what I consider portable, but for the prosumer it’s much better than lugging around an iMac or Mac Pro (for instance).

But the average consumer? The average consumer 9 times out of 10 won’t be doing prosumer-ish things or going to play graphics-intensive games. What will they want? Portability to do BASIC things such as word processing and net surfing. Why pay an exorbitant amount for things you really don’t need on the go? Why not just get a powerful desktop and an acceptable netbook? Why pay the same amount for a clunky notebook that’s 15″ too big when you could get a small, portable netbook?

And as to hazardouspaste’s comment about them being “crappy”, what do you expect for that amount of money? I personally think their builds are OK compared to some notebooks out there today.


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.



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


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?


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.


“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… ;)


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.


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.

James Dempsey

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.

Gregor mcnish

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.

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