Home' LAPTOP Magazine : November 2010 Contents Congratulations! The netbook revolution is
over, and you won. Intel recently announced
the availability of new systems featuring its
dual-core Atom N550 processor. The company also
shared that it has shipped more than 70 million
Atom CPUs since it first launched the low-voltage,
low-priced platform back in 2008. Yet with so much
success has come massive stagnation---and even
declines in sales. The problem isn't that netbooks
have failed. On the contrary, they've succeeded so
well that they have become irrelevant.
Like many movements, the netbook revolu-
tion was started by a few idealistic academics.
Nicholas Negroponte, formerly of MIT, was the
Che of cheap computers, heralding a new era of
low-cost, long-lasting laptops that would destroy
the digital divide. He started out with a radical
agenda, promising sub-$100 laptops to children
around the world through a nonprofit called One
Laptop Per Child.
The OLPC laptops would not run a bourgeois op-
erating system such as Windows. Instead, they would
run Sugar, a special version of Linux, the people's
platform. They would even use Marxist technology
such as mesh networking, which shares an Internet
connection "from each computer according to its
ability, to each according to its need."
However, as with many radical movements,
OLPC's populist ideas didn't put bread---or in
this case, little green computers---on the table.
life. They proved that, for many users, having the
fastest processor isn't nearly as important as having
a lightweight system that lasts all day on a charge.
So netbooks began to morph from the hippie on the
corner shouting, "Down with optical drives!" to the
CEO in the boardroom, editing spreadsheets on an
HP Mini 5102. Netbook screens grew as large as 12
inches, and they started carrying huge hard drives
and offering HD screens with discrete graphics.
So what are your considerable spoils from this
revolution? Cheaper, lighter, longer-lasting, portable
computers. In other words, a huge win.
However, dual-core processors are just the latest
in a long line of improvements to the netbook that
make it nothing more than a 10- or 11-inch ultraport-
able laptop, a far cry from its radical beginnings as a
secondary web-focused device. How long until vendors
give up the ghost, stop calling them netbooks, and
begin to market them as 10-inch notebooks? Tiny
as they are, these machines are used by many for
Microsoft Office, photo editing, or even for playing
World of Warcraft at low resolution.
Today's revolutionaries come from the smart
phone and tablet worlds. Such companies as
Apple, Google, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung are
the new radicals pushing a web-connected future
of secondary devices, with many of the leading
netbook vendors (ASUS, Acer, HP, MSI) looking to
join the insurgency. Let's just hope this generation
sticks to its ideals.
Shortages were commonplace, making One Laptop
Per Child more like six laptops per village. Worse
still, trying to surf the web or compose an e-mail
with the XO laptop's cryptic Sugar interface and
cramped keyboard was more difficult than trudging
through 20 miles of Siberian winter for a tiny ration
of spoiled borscht.
Meanwhile, OLPC's core ideals were co-opted
by the man. ASUS's Eee PC 701 gave lip service
to Negroponte's radical agenda---small 7-inch
size, long battery life, and Linux OS---but when
you peeked below the hood, you saw capitalist
components such as a Celeron processor and a
licensed, proprietary version of Xandros. Still, it was
designed as a secondary device for surfing the web
and sending e-mail only.
But despite some unique experiments (Emtec,
with its Gdium Liberty 1000, started an anarchist
state in a netbook without an operating system or
hard drive), the bourgeois class began to demand
such creature comforts as 10-inch screens, 5,400-
rpm hard drives, and familiar operating systems.
Intel obliged by developing its Atom platform.
Suddenly, everyone from Acer to ViewSonic was
building netbooks, and Microsoft even lowered its
prices for the new category, saying, "let them have
Since that time, the entire netbook world has
changed, mostly for the better. Netbooks helped PC
manufacturers focus on low cost and long battery
But obsolescence doesn't mean
failure.The real winner in this
category has been the consumer.
LAPTOP | November 2010
by Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch guides LAPTOP's web coverage. He devised several of our real-world benchmarks. Read his semi-monthly column
at www.laptopmag.com/geeksgeek, and follow @geekinchief on Twitter.
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