My Laptop Terminator: Rise of the Netbooks

Last month I headed out to Washington, D.C. for a family trip. As expected, I wanted to be able to check routes, access my e-mail and keep tabs on The Force Field web portal. Naturally I planned to bring along a laptop, however the battery wasn’t working well and I didn’t want to cart around something I had to keep plugged in everywhere to use. I was not inclined to keep tabs on another piece of luggage, either. I wanted something with mobility like a cell phone but with the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously like a laptop.

The solution was a new netbook.

I purchased an Acer Aspire One KAV60 netbook with an Atom N270 processor, 1GB of memory (upgradeable to 2GB) and a 160GB hard drive. This fit the bill perfectly. It was small and lightweight, yet allowed me to do everything I needed and then some. The best part was the price. It was below $300.

Now, granted, it didn’t include an optical drive, so I couldn’t run anything from a CD or DVD. In fact, my wife was a little skeptical of it at first because she couldn’t play DVD movies. However, with access to the Internet, we didn’t need one and it wasn’t missed. Every application I needed to install was available for download on the Internet. Anything else I needed could be loaded from a USB thumb drive or an SD card, which could be easily inserted in the multi-card slot embedded in the base of the unit. As for watching movies? Hulu and Netflix took care of that.

If I needed real computing power on the road, all I needed to do was log into my computer at home using GoToMyPC from Citrix and I could access all my serious applications and multitask from there. All I really needed was access to the Internet. With a choice of ethernet or wi-fi in the system, we were set. No worries.

It was then that I understood the full and historical implication of this: the Rise of the Netbooks was upon us.

I am not always distracted by the possible ramifications of new technologies and don’t automatically assume one will change the future of an entire industry. But it does happen, and often enough within the last twenty years to make me more watchful of anything new that comes along.

Take the Super 8 movie camera, for instance. Before the mid ’70s 8mm motion picture film was the way we recorded our family events. When video came along, it changed everything. Music was sold and distributed on vinyl records and audio tapes until the introduction of the Compact Disc. Now the CD is taking a back seat to iPods and mp3 files. Needless to say the iPod alone has had a tumultuous effect on the entire recording industry.

Since its initial introduction to the computer marketplace the laptop has been the de facto standard for computing mobility around the world. However, as given in the previous examples, every technology has its end of dominance or end of life. The laptop, as with anything else, is not immune to such obsolescence.

When I returned home from our trip with our netbook, I went up to my office and looked at my laptop, sitting on the table. It looked big, bulky and old. I’ve turned it on a few times since, mostly to download updates for applications and the operating system. Once or twice I used it to surf the Internet. Then I would turn it off, open the netbook and watch a movie online.

Now that I’ve turned the netbook over to my wife as a replacement for her old desktop, I need to buy one for me. Unless something changes, my laptop toting days are over. It’s another netbook for me.

There’s no doubt netbooks have a place in the computer market. They fill an important gap between desktops and full featured portables. In fact, for what I use a laptop these days, which is primarily for web-based work, the netbook has generally replaced it altogether. I considered purchasing a new laptop but I really don’t want to lug it around. The netbook does what I need a laptop to do on the road and I can slip it into a bag or case with my other gear easily, eliminating the need for a separate laptop bag.

As netbooks increase in popularity and performance, could they ultimately replace laptops for general use? If so, how will it effect the portable repair industry? Will it create a niche market for netbook repair or will they be so cheap that few netbook users will opt to repair them and simply toss them for new ones?

The rise of the netbook could be the beginning of a new era in the PC marketplace. The question is, will it offer new opportunities for techs or will it be the beginning of the end for the laptop repair provider? Which ever way it goes, stay alert, watch closely and be ready. The Rise of the Netbooks has begun.

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