2007: the launch of the Asus eee-PC created a market in ultra-portables. Almost five years on, the popular press would have you believe it’s a market that came and went. They don’t explain why two of my local supermarkets are pushing HP-Compaq netbooks at £199 and there’s a thriving sector of on-line retailers promoting refurbished netbooks for even less. Meanwhile the big manufacturers continue to push shiny hand-bag sized toys into higher-margin price ranges.
Somebody must still be buying them…
I’m looking at my immediate circle of acquaintances. There’s five of us looking at small, lightweight mobile devices, having a proper keyboard, decent screen, wi-fi and good battery life…
The answer we seek is minus sim-cards, expensive data-plans and pretensions to be a phone. It’s a second or even third computer, good enough for the kid’s homework- or mine – that can get us on-line via a hot-spot, whilst being portable enough for a plane or train. With a cheap office suite, it also plays just enough media and low-resolution games to keep us amused but it’s not our gaming or photo-editing machine; unless you want to tidy up your Facebook photos before posting.
That answer is not an iPad, or an Android tablet. We either don’t do the Apple-way, can’t justify the expense or simply can’t afford it. At the bottom-end, these tablets are glorified smart-phones and, what the heck, the smart people have got one of those already. Besides, smudgy fingerprints on a touch-screen keyboard never struck me as any kind of advantage.
No, there are plenty of consumers who aren’t into technology like us, who don’t want the clutter of a full-sized PC sat in the house. There are silver-surfers and sofa-surfers; students; ‘road-warriors’ trading on the move and freelancers like me for whom the 17-inch, wide-screen, thigh-incinerator is simply a waste.
So I’ve bought a netbook. As has a friend who runs a training company, a techno-sceptic. As has a student who had no budget but a need for portable computing. Two more friends are looking to buy, one of whom is allergic to technology, the other allergic to carrying heavy objects.
The next question is what to run on it? The end of the long-tail of Windows XP is in sight, although you find far too many XP installations which are now effectively out of support. Windows 7 is in the ascendant. The machines are powerful enough to run it multi-tasking office, browser and email clients. It seems the early experiments in Xandros and Linpus-Lite Linux are about done, not that I’m sorry.
But I am finding a number of the refurb’s pre-loaded with a thing called Ubuntu 10.10, if only to bring the price down. Who would have thought it? Go forth and evangelize, my children.