Part of the trouble was that manufacturers saw netbooks as a way to sell cheap computers. As far as they were concerned, it was always about tapping into a market that couldn't afford full-blown laptops.
From a consumer point of view, we wanted ultraportable computers, but ones that didn't sacrifice usability. Price was an issue, as it always is, but manufacturers didn't always need to drop to bottom dollar prices. A few dollars added to the ticket price, but invested in better design, would have paid dividends.
For example, netbook software was uniformly poor quality. Linux and Windows were fine on larger computers but on small computers a "full" OS didn't make sense. A new operating system was required, not an adapted one.
Web browsing needed to be rethought. Including a standard Web browser was mindless. With its toolbar and status bar, browsers chewed up screen real estate and left little actual space for Web pages. I'm not a user interface (UI) designer but wouldn't it have made more sense to move all that over to the left or right-hand side? Most of netbook screens were essentially wide-screen, and few Websites demand a wide view.
To see how things could have been done, we need only look at tablet computers. As with netbooks, we again have the same old computing hardware in a new form factor. But Apple's iOS and Google Android make all the difference. They're operating systems specifically designed to work on this kind of device. Intelligent decisions have been made. Web browsing is a dream, not a nightmare.
However, netbooks undeniably gave the world one thing: they introduced the concept of people owning more than one computing device. We forget that, back in 2007, only geeks owned more than one computer. Most of us relied on a single computer, whether that was a desktop or a laptop.
Netbooks showed how we could spread our digital lives across a number of computers. The tablet and smartphone revolution that's happening right now couldn't have begun without netbooks clearing a path.
So perhaps I should be thanking netbooks, rather than gloating over their demise.
If nothing else, they showed how not to do things.
Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.