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Up In The Cloud: The Netbook Turns 10
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Up In The Cloud: The Netbook Turns 10 - Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: The Netbook Turns 10

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: The Netbook Turns 10

While you weren’t paying attention, the netbook turned 10 years old this year. The small, ultraportable, minimalist, take-anywhere computers that first intrigued tech geeks for their extreme mobility and very low price have since morphed, soared, plummeted, and been abandoned by manufacturers only to be taken up again by many of the same manufacturers. On the occasion of the netbook’s tenth birthday, we offer a quick review of how it got here and what its future might look like.

Although it had a few predecessors the year before its birth, the Asus Eee PC was the first mass-marketed netbook in the West. Taking its name from its marketing slogan, it was indeed “easy to learn, easy to work, easy to play.” It was lightweight, thanks to its use of a solid state drive rather than a spinning mechanical hard drive, and it was inexpensive due in part its lower computing power and its use of the Linux operating system. Linux may have been a defining factor in its initial popularity with tech-savvy tinkerers who saw a chance to experiment without spending a ton of money.

The introduction of the Eee came right around the time Apple’s Macintosh computers switched processors from PowerPC to Intel, and since some of the Eee machines were powered by Intel processors, it didn’t take long for gearheads to create the first “hackintoshes,” Eee machines running unauthorized installations of MacOS with Mac software. Other, less involved projects gave the netbooks backlit keyboards, touch-sensitive screens, Apple II emulating frontends, and Bluetooth for such specific uses as dedicated music servers for car stereos. The easy hackability combined with low prices to encourage creative risk-taking that higher-priced laptops discouraged.

Once netbooks offered the Windows operating system, netbooks really took off, and Asus almost immediately sold a quarter million units, causing other manufacturers to take notice. Now, in addition to their appeal to tech geeks, the low price and familiar working environment meant easy entry-level machines for kids (and their less tech-savvy parents and teachers). A survey in 2009 revealed that 60% of netbooks were never taken outside of homes, an indication that price more than portability or power were the real drivers of the little machines’ popularity.

Since the height of its desirability, the netbook has had ups and downs. The introduction of the tablet at first meant a serious blurring of lines in functionality, as tablet manufacturers searched for their niche, encroaching on a lot of territory that once belonged to the netbook. Several manufacturers, including some of the bigger names, simply abandoned the space, just as many tablet makers did upon market saturation.

When Google crept into the netbook space with its Android-driven Chromebook and then Apple with its MacBook Air, cloud-driven machines again took off. A more universal availability of wifi certainly helped, not to mention greater familiarity with cloud-powered apps, but consumers were really finding product that suited them best. Manufacturers like Asus and HP, who had given up on tablets, jumped back in.

The ubiquity of the cloud is certainly a major driver in this netbook renaissance. As users seek the combination of computing power, portability, price, and compatibility that best suits their needs, ready access to the cloud means more niches and more specific options for filling them. While brand-loyal users will keep Chromebooks and MacBook Airs around for some time, there will always be a need for entry-level devices and downmarket options, including non-phone platforms for smartphone-like mobile-app applications. The netbook, at ten years old, is showing signs that it’s not ready for the obsolescence graveyard just yet.

 

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Up In The Cloud: The Netbook Turns 10 - Executive Leadership Articles

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