June 22, 2011, 9:46 PM — The netbook has been murdered. The concept of an inexpensive computing device with high value for the third world has been sufficiently co-opted so as to make the category meaningless. Some called netbooks a sub-category of "ultra-light" or "sub-notebooks", but netbooks became legitimized by the announcement of the $100 OLPC laptop.
Lots of people wanted to see the original concept of a $100 laptop work. However, hardware and operating systems vendors saw no financial opportunity in that concept. Therefore, netbooks died the death of a thousand cuts, and netbooks as a conceptual computing category have been nearly wiped out. The netbook made the industry take a serious look at value. What has transpired reflects that. We have more lightweight computing platform choices than ever before. The netbook's brief success was also its swan song.
For a seeming few brief moments, netbooks caused the tech industry to quake: astoundingly inexpensive alternatives to comparatively bloated and expensive personal systems —laptops, desktops and notebooks— that could be affordable even and especially in the third world.
In late 2005, the only computer found for $100 was stolen, dead, or ancient enough to require Windows 95. A real and functional computer for a $100 was a dream, but also made people wonder what sacrifices might need to be made to offer such a comparatively inexpensive machine.
The sub-notebook category had a number of expensive members in 2005. There was Sony's PCG-1CX, which in 2000, featured 64K of memory, Windows 98, and a 16x9 aspect ratio screen with a whopping 4GB disk drive. Linus Torvalds, inventor of the Linux kernels used one. Toshiba had its Librettos, and the Psion had a comparatively tiny form factor. At some point, these ultra-lights had a built-in Ethernet connection, and became netbooks.
The redefinition of the netbook was the progeny of the MIT Media Lab's Nicolas Negroponte. Negroponte, along with the UN's Kofi Anan, announced a system to be called the One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC in late 2005. Their goal was simple: a $100 highly functional laptop—computing affordable by all. The specifications were designed to help bring computing to the third world, where $100 at the time was a big number. Netbooks were soon envisioned to follow along the feature set of the OLPC.
That's when all hell broke loose.