Netbooks have existed for some time now, but have just recently become popular. A type of sub-notebook computer, netbooks are small, light and inexpensive. Originally, netbooks almost exclusively ran Linux operating systems due to performance and price benefits over Windows. Now many netbooks offer a choice between a Windows or Linux based operating system.
Although not as powerful as traditional notebook computers, the small size of netbooks makes them excellent companions for people on the go. The surprising thing is that they’ve proved tremendously popular with all kinds of consumer groups, from tech savvy bloggers, to English professors and even soccer moms.
Dylan McGrath writes in a recent EETimes article that “The Information Network estimates that 11.4 million netbooks were sold in 2008, up from 400,000 in 2007. For 2009, the firm estimates that netbook sales will grow 189 percent to 21.5 million.” That’s a 2,850 percent increase in sales!
So why have netbooks become so popular so quickly?
If you have to lug around a computer every day, it’s going to take some abuse. If your $300 netbook breaks or gets stolen it’s going to be much less of a hit to your wallet than $1299 for a new MacBook.
Although netbooks aren’t suited for intense multi-tasking or graphics design work, they are perfect for everyday tasks like surfing the web or taking notes in Google Docs. Keeping your documents in the cloud means you can start a presentation on your netbook and finish it at home on your desktop.
Ars Technica has a good article espousing five reasons to consider a netbook. They hit on a key point at the end of the article:
It may be a hideously embarrassing truth, but the netbook appeal goes well beyond businesses—a lot of soccer moms and grandparents are buying netbooks because they have a basic ownership appeal. Netbooks work well for anyone who regularly moves around and wants to bring a certain level of computing with them.
Because so many netbook owners end up working in coffee shops or other public places, they tend to attract a lot of gawkers. Let’s face it, netbooks are cute and definitely ooze a certain “cool factor.” I think this has greatly contributed to the lasting buzz about netbooks.
For the past couple years I’ve been watching the popularity of netbooks grow, both online and off. Yet I’ve remained on the fence. I found it hard to believe anyone would want to work with such a small screen. It wasn’t until my roommates brought two Acer Aspire Ones home that I began to see their benefits (purchased at our local Circuit City’s liquidation sale).
The popularity of netbooks is certainly due to several factors. Cheaper hardware and better web applications have greatly contributed to netbooks rise. But I think that the biggest factor is the influence of thought leaders. That professor sitting in a café working on their Asus Eee PC has probably been the single biggest boon to netbook sales.
Ars Technica has an interesting series going on the history of the netbook. The first entry is entitled “The State of the Netbook, Part I: WEee have lived before.”