Who killed the netbook?

The netbook’s brief success was also its swan song

By , ITworld |  Hardware, Netbooks

If there was an appetite for easy-to-use, lightweight, entertainment and light computing devices, the netbook was supposed help fulfill that dream. Instead, it's been replaced in functionality by lower priced computers (a version of the MacBook Air became available for $995) having more capacity and better specs than the OLPC—while retaining light weight, high battery power conservation, and SSD devices without a plethora of jacks and an integral DVD drive—and the smartphone and pad/tablet genre.

Tablets are usually lighter than even netbooks. Tablets, like the iPad, Xoom, Amazon Kindle versions, have a cost that's either close to the inflation-adjusted OLPC price or only one multiple, rather than 10 times the OLPC's target price where fatuous notebook systems are priced. Low-cost or free applications and an evolved ecosystem of application selection and delivery mechanisms—usually via 3G mobile carriers—also mean that netbooks comparatively suffer, as do other notebooks and desktops, from an Internet connection guarantee.

Dead, but not forgotten

The OLPC and its progeny, netbook machines, are essentially dead but will become an interesting footnote in history. Netbooks were reviled as toys, but unwittingly, they caused a revolution in small form factor, yet highly functional mobile device offerings.

While small systems, smartphones, and even tablet machines were invented before the OLPC was announced, the OLPC crystallized criticisms surrounding the laptop/notebook drove change. Microsoft to reconsider the value of XP, hardware devices to seriously start to use SSDs (starting a consolidation of the hard drive industry), and the barrier-to-entry for world-wide computing was effectively lowered—with variety. The netbook was squeezed to death, but perhaps we're happier for that.

Update

Sugar Labs wants the world to understand that the OLPC isn't dead. They notified me about the fact that the mission is still there, and undoubtedly, the need is still there. The Netbook is one of the progeny of the OLPC project, and in contrast, it's laying face down, bleeding on the carpet, as tablets, smartphones, and down-sized notebooks have flooded the marketplace. Proletarian computing has met the heavier profitability and popularity of other categories, and met its match.

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