The Evangelist

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Netbooks have been getting more and more popular these days since Intel started encouraging manufacturers to produce the devices and put the term back into use this February.

Historically, the original 'netbooks' were produced by the company Psion starting in 1999. They had just enough processing power to browse the web, read the email, and perform basic office tasks such as word processing. However, they generally ran non-standard operating systems (at first a derivative of Psion's Epoch Operating System and then, later, Windows CE. Because the market at the time was small, the cost of the Psion Netbooks was high, and they used non-standard operating systems, they were a flop.

Today's netbooks are a different kind of beast. They typically run either Linux or Windows XP and are fairly inexpensive. To make things better for Netbook manufacturers, today's market for them is a different beast as well. One prediction indicated that the amount of netbooks could go from under 500,000 for 2007 to 9 million in 2012, while another estimate proposes that around 50 million will be distributed by 2011. This could give netbooks such a big market, in fact, that they have the potential to upset the industry.

Companies like Intel, HP, and Dell on the hardware side and Microsoft on the software side have much to gain or loose from the increasing popularity of netbooks. While Microsoft has stopped distributing Windows XP to the major OEMs for use in standard PCs and laptops, they are still distributing the operating system for use in netbooks and nettops (the term for a desktop device with similar function). This is a clear sign that Microsoft realizes what's at stake here, and realizes that if they do not continue to distribute Windows XP for these devices, Linux and other small operating systems ideal for netbooks will saturate the market. It seems likely that Microsoft has their own plans for netbooks, and may release a special version of their Windows Vista operating system or their upcoming Windows 7 operating system (with its tauted MinWin Kernel) for use with netbooks and nettops. It seems likely that Microsoft would be unsucessful in pushing Windows CE for use with these devices.

A Nettop

And then there is Intel, whose new Atom Processor (see Why Intel's Atom May Revolutionize Mobile Computing is being used in many newer netbooks. The chips are ideal for use in this kind of application, and Intel has much to gain from the sale of the chips. AMD, on the other hand, does not have a comparable product at the time.

Intel's Atom

Remember the Palm Foleo? Although the term hadn't been put back into use at the time the product was announced, the Foleo was basically a netbook (albeit a failed idea for one).

And certainly the OEMs have much to gain or lose from netbooks.

ASUS has been pusing their Eee PC for a while, but there are other manufacturers getting in on the market as well. Hewlett Packard has their HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, and Dell has just recently released the Inspiron Mini 9. A number of independent companies are also vying for a slice of the pie, including Skytone, Everex, LG, MSI, Lenovo, and VIA (who would also manufacture the processors for these systems), among a number of other manufacturers.

But will the netbook really live up to all this hype and excitement? I tend to think it will, at least until smaller portable devices become capable of doing the same thing as netbooks with the same efficiency. Netbooks are great because they can be used for word processing and web browsing easily because they have a keyboard with decently sized keys (compare to UMPCs) and enough screen real estate to multitask and really get something done. It also seems likely that features standard in netbooks today, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), will be incorporated into tomorrow's laptops, desktops and servers.

As always, early adopters can expect some kinks here and there - but that's something easily accepted considering the benefits of these lightweight machines.


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