Netbooks: a time-forgotten form factor
A long time ago, even before smartphones became popular, and children in restaurants were able to be calmed down with terrible games on the iPad, there was such a wonderful period of time. The period when the user could buy an x86-based computer in a compact, portable shell for an affordable price. In 2007, a netbook was born, and stormed the whole world - only to then suddenly disappear after a few years. What was so cool about netbooks, and where did they go?
Asus EEE running Linux. You could run anything on them! These were real, full-fledged computers. No locked chipsets or BIOS. Clean, honest fun with x86.
The first machine to start this madness was the Asus EEE PC 701, inspired by the project One Laptop Per Child . It boasted a Celeron processor at 700 MHz, a small 7 "screen and 4 GB SSD. Linux or Windows XP were installed directly in the factory. Asus, apparently, with this model I tried to find a market that Toshiba could not find with their Libretto line coming out ten years earlier, the proliferation of wireless networks and the development of the Internet suddenly made this tiny laptop attractive - after all, until then it would just be a machine that would be terribly inconvenient to work on. The name “netbook” was not accidental, and emphasized a popular use case - a lightweight, portable device, ideal for browsing the web and simple tasks.
However, the netbook has become more than just the sum of its components. Battery life exceeded 3 hours, the CPU was a real x86 processor. This machine did not require users to launch special lightweight software or compromises in use. Everything that could be run on an average PC of the lower segment could be run on a netbook. USB and VGA connectors were available, as were WiFI - so it was easy to organize presentations, as well as transfer files to and fro. Do not forget that in the era of Windows XP it was easy to share files over the network without having to click on seven different bookmarks with permissions and entering a password 19 times in a row.
Share of netbook sales in 2008 by months, as a percentage of all laptops
The netbook was ideally suited for its time. He enjoyed all the advantages obtained as a result of the development of modern iron, and turned out to be a very suitable device for such an important pastime as browsing the web all day long and chatting with friends. Later models tried to expand the capabilities, screens grew up to 9 ", and then up to 10", drives increased, and battery life reached up to 6 hours. In 2008, these were insane indicators, and the volume of drives less than 20 Gb was not such a drawback as it is today. Finally, prices also mattered. Cheap models sold no more than $ 300. Buyers really liked it, and sales rushed up. In July 2008, netbook sales accounted for only 1% of the total number of laptops sold. By December, they had captured nearly a fifth of the market.
However, netbooks quickly became victims of their own success. Iron manufacturers did not like the fact that they are wedged into sales of expensive models, with which more profit is obtained. Microsoft and Intel began to put pressure on manufacturers to limit the characteristics of computers.Windows 7 license cost raised for all machines with a screen diagonal of more than 10.1 ", which killed larger netbooks gravitating to the screen at 12". Microsoft also came up with an idea with a stripped down version of the Windows 7 Starter edition, which could not run more than three programs at a time. At the same time, while manufacturers competed on the capabilities of computers, prices for more expensive models began to rise, going beyond the original range of netbooks “cheap and cheerful.”
As a result, the real bell that rang on netbooks was the iPad. Most of the users needed a simple and inexpensive device for the Internet, where they could go to Facebook or watch other sites. With the growth in tablet sales, netbook sales have plummeted. Having been trapped between a new competitor and manufacturers trying to force them out of the market, netbooks quickly disappeared. Subnotebooks and ultrabooks burst in their place - larger and at a price exceeding the netbook more than three times. By 2012, netbooks have mostly died .
An indispensable machine for an experienced user
And if the average user was more suited to simple tablets than a tiny laptop, then experienced users lost the most with the death of the netbook. The laptop, which can easily be carried with one hand without fear of dropping, has great charm and convenience. Despite their tiny sizes, many netbooks came with full keyboards. On the early EEE PC 901, it was pretty easy to type 100 words per minute. And along with several USB ports and a full-fledged Windows system, the machine turned out to be an excellent portable computer for development.
The netbook could be worn “in the field”, and connected with all kinds of hardware. Since it was a full-fledged x86-based computer, it was possible to run different IDEs on it, program the Arduino and go online. With a tablet, these tasks are not so easily solved. Yes, there are a variety of Bluetooth keyboards, dongle adapters and special applications for working with hardware, but tablets are simply not able to compete with a real computer in real tasks. For a hacker working with various hardware in the field, this was a great tool. And at such low prices, it was available to everyone - even poor students.
Fortunately, hope dawned on the horizon. In 2020, the iron market has changed dramatically, and the concept of netbooks for manufacturers again seems valuable. But in order to be a true netbook, a machine needs to meet true original values, which made it so wonderful. The machines that run mobile OSs have an ARM processor (although in the future, the number of OSs with its support may increase) or where there are other restrictions on launching software, are not worthy to bear this proud name. Other key options are compact size and low cost.
ASUS 'early netbooks boasted long battery life. Lately, laptops have come close to these options.
Models like the HP Stream and ASUS VivoBook continue the netbook-abandoned business. They have only 4 Gb of memory and weak processors, they are not powerful machines - but they do not need it. These are real computers at a cost of up to $ 300, and they come bundled with Windows 10 S. This is the version of Windows with the “app store”, but it can be upgraded to full free. The volume of the drive does not exceed 100 Gb, you should not upload all your photos, videos and applications to them. However, much of this is already stored in the clouds.
Today, the main competitor holding back the netbook from achieving true success is no longer a tablet, but a Chromebook. These machines run a special version of Linux developed by Google, and they play the role of lightweight web browsers. Local applications do not work for them - they should work almost completely in the cloud, and all applications run in the browser. At the bottom of the notebook market, this platform is very popular, which prevents netbooks from reborn.They, of course, have a database of dedicated Linux enthusiasts who put this OS on them with a large number of crutches that allow them to work on such hardware. Many netbook enthusiasts have gone into this sect after their choice has greatly diminished.
Looking to the future
It is unlikely that we will see the return of netbooks to those peaks of popularity that have been available to them for four amazing years at the end of the last decade. The average user looking for access to social networks is better off with a tablet or Chromebook. Therefore, the main customers of the netbook market are experienced users, many of whom, having a large wallet, will still vote for a more powerful ultrabook. So let’s drink for students who have to lay down their old Corolla or drag a hefty 15 "laptop to their graduation project. So far, netbooks are in suspended animation - and let them someday wake up again.