I had an interesting conversation last week with a friend who was complaining about her netbook computer. She had made the purchase to ease the stress of carrying around a laptop computer. Part of the complaints involved:
- no DVD-ROM drive;
- no room on the screen to do serious browsing;
- couldn’t have a browser and Microsoft Word open at the same time;
- with only one USB port, it wasn’t possible to have both mouse and external keyboard connected at the same time;
- the keyboard was too small;
- never liked trackpads;
- and the list continued…
I’m too polite but I must admit that I was ready to nod off early in the list of complaints. All that I could do at the end was ask “Why did you buy a Netbook in the first place?”
She had been assured by the salesperson that she could do all of the above easily.
I knew the store where she bought the machine and all that I can say is that salespeople on commission can sometimes really cause problems. Yes, you could do all of the above, but let’s detail and price it all out to get the real cost of doing what the end user wants. Let’s actually weigh all these peripheral devices to see if the goal of being lighter is going to be truly met!
In the beginning, there were desktops. They were great and designed with all the ergonomics in hand and ports so that you can connect everything that you need. Then, someone got the bright idea of portable computing and designed just that. Various combinations of portables allowed you to take it to the road.
In my humble opinion, that’s when the wheels started to wobble. How many people with laptops and notebook computers use them as such these days? Walk by any office where people are made “portable” and you’ll see keyboards, mouses, monitors, extension arms, scanners, printers, and virtually anything that you can connect to a regular desktop. I wish that I had the copyright on port replicators. Now, you’ll even find docking stations that bring all of this together for ease (provided it all works). It’s a sales person’s dream. Instead of selling a desktop at a fraction of the cost, let’s sell all this other stuff at appropriately marked up prices for commission.
Enter today’s Netbook. It’s designed to be what the original laptop / notebook was. Light, portable and just an appliance to take on the road with you. Except for all the ports that will let you connect all of the various peripherals again. Sigh. I think that it’s important to size up just what the device is and understand the limitations before you even make the original purchase.
You’re working with a machine designed to be light and portable.
- You have a processor (often the N270) designed to consume power wisely – how many applications do you think you can run efficiently?
- You have a screen that’s 800×480 or 1024×600 or 1024×576 and not 1024×768 or larger – turn off all those toolbars in your browser so that you can read the webpage!
- Battery life is important – just how bright does that screen need to be?
- It’s designed to be light – do you really need to carry an external DVD drive?
- Learn how to use the keyboard. More importantly, test it out before you buy the machine. Yes, it will be smaller but companies are doing an amazing job of maximizing them for functionality;
- Learn how to use the trackpad. This is an area where developers are adding huge gains in functionality for the end user. It’s worth the time to learn.
The common sense list continues.
Operating systems need to be considered as well. If you’re running Windows, keep in mind that current versions are not specifically designed for these machines. There is a compromise all around – Windows 7 may be the answer that you’re waiting for. In the meantime, there are versions of Linux that run beautifully. I
n particular, there is the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Unlike a big corporation that needs to create a business case for application development, Linux developers love to rally for a cause and making their OS work is just such a cause. You can’t beat the quick loading which is also a concern for being portable. I especially like the various desktops to host applications rather than keeping them in the same window. Hopefully Windows 7 addresses that for those who want to use a Windows product. The early preview looks very promising.
You also need to consider desktop sizes. Take a good look at the applications and consider that they were typically developed for desktop computers where there’s all kind of real estate. Turn off extra toolbars; look for icons or text only rather than both; look for resizable everything. Staying connected on Twitter has made me evaluate products again. I’ve switched to Spaz – it runs in its own desktop – small avatar – maximize the window. By using a little strategy, I can see 15 tweets instead of three.
The other major change in strategic thinking is one of taking things to the web. Traditional computing relies on local storage; applications on the hard drive; grab a CD for new software; and so on. To be effective, you need to let this go and truly embrace a new suite of functionality that web applications offer.
It can be done. Netbooks can live up to the promise but a little strategic thinking is required. For you Netbook users, what sort of strategies have you adopted?