Netbooks Finding Their Niche

This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on December 10, 2008.

For the past few years the single greatest innovation in technology has been the iPhone. Part phone, part gaming platform, part computer it is all things to all people.

However a new niche is being carved, somewhere between the pocket size of the iPhone and the full sized notebook – the netbook computer has landed with full force on the marketplace this fall and with budgets pinched and data moving to the cloud, a computer for less than $500 seems to be just the ticket.

20081210Originally marketed as computers for kids, netbooks – think of a computer the size of the portable dvd players of a few years ago – are raging in popularity with business travelers who need something bigger than what they can fit in their pocket for comfortable computing, but something light enough to toss in the overhead carrier on a plane.

Technology expert Leo Laporte has had a $400 Asus Eee PC since last year.

“It’s a niche computer,” explains Leo. “For the price and the weight it’s pretty cool, I think of it as a portable email machine.”

The typical netbook screen is between 7 and 9 inches and weighs less than a chemistry text book. When it comes to kids using them, Leo thinks it’s a great computer for teens or pre teens who like to hack. The robust netbook is something affordable they can bang at without messing up your system.

Bloggers are also lining up to bring netbooks into the field. Karen Hamilton, a food and photography blogger better known as, recently picked up an Acer Aspire One for $399. While it was a little complicated to set up out of the box (she recommends neophytes opt for the setup offered by the retailer) it has been everything she could have hoped for in a portable computing platform.

“It’s been exactly a week now and already I feel like my little netbook has paid for itself,” she says. “The size was perfect for me: small enough to hide on my lap while we sampled food at a large communal table, and large enough to hammer out text on its keyboard and preview results.”

If you’re thinking about going for a netbook, you have to remember these are stripped down, bare bones machines. They’re not built for having multiple windows or memory chugging applications.

“It’s awful for photo manipulation due to the small screen and small (and slow) solid state drive,” admits Anthony Floyd who has been using an Asus Eee PC 901 since the summer. “But for surfing the tubes, writing short documents, blogging and Tweeting, I’m in love.”


How big is the netbook buzz? Apple fans have been asking Steve Jobs to introduce one for more than a year. Jobs addressed the issue at a MacBook event in October by saying: “The market is just getting started – we’ll see how it goes.” With the economic market continuing to drop, there’s speculation Apple will want to get in on the lower netbook price points with an iNetBook coming at MacWorld in January.

The XO laptop is one of the first netbooks designed for children. The netbook is part of the One Laptop Per Child organization that is trying to put a computer in the hands of every child on the planet. Once again, for Christmas, they have a “Give One, Get One” promotion where for $399 you get one XO laptop and the foundation will place a second computer in the developing world.

They may call it social media, but those who visit the web are less likely to spend time with real people in real life, according to Statistics Canada. “Canadians who spend more than one hour online per day spend, on average, nearly two hours more time alone than Internet non-users,” the study says. However the defenders will still call what they do “social” since the survey found nearly half of web time is spent emailing or chatting with others.

Jimmy Fallon is taking Conan’s spot when Conan takes over for Jay Leno in the spring. But Fallon’s not waiting til the new year to work out the glitches. This week he started a video blog that will be posted every morning at 12:35, his eventual time slot. According to a Variety story, the entries will be “more lo-fi, freeform-style looks at what Fallon is up to on the eve of his hosting gig.”



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  1. Bobbie Bees
    December 11, 2008

    Loved your little blip on ‘netbooks’.
    I too have one. It’s an Acer Aspire One running Linux. The only modification I’ve done to it is adding 1 Gig of ram into it for a total of 1.5 Gig. I’ve no experience with the Windows XP Home edition, no do I want to have any experience with it either. For that matter I’m not a Linux ‘geek’ or ‘gearhead’.
    Linux does all right on these little machines. I’ve got both Abiword and Open Office installed for my word processing needs. Skype is installed for calling. Xchat is installed for my IRC groups. I’ve even got Qcad installed for simple 2D drawings. And of course Firefox allows me to do my online bank and log into my employers webmail server.
    I’ve never had a problem with the WiFi (I’m typing this at the Blenz on Bute and Davie). And this netbook has had no problem working with the network printers at work.
    I bought a nice little Samsung external DVD drive and watching movies in bed with this machine is a treat.
    Plus the nice thing about the Linux machine is how cheap they are compared to the Win XP home versions. Typical price is about $320. And the battery life is just phenomenal. Oh and did I mention that I don’t have to subscribe to anti-virus software. And being Linux, I’ve got no limitations on how many tasks or applications I can have open at any given time.

    Anyways gotta go to work now. Keep up the good work Buzz.

  2. January 2, 2009

    hi cyberbuzz – i just heard of your site on the radio a few weeks ago and now am a avid reader. I bought a new netbook and love it so portable and great to have as a SECOND laptop. I would not suggest using it as a main pc – but for those times out in the park or coffee shop its perfect!

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