The Rise and Fall of Netbooks

"I'm old fashioned," R. said to me in an email, with that link to an article about how tablets have replaced and supplanted netbooks.

In many ways, you have two netbooks: the little one that's been broken since may that I'm fixing and your real laptop. Which is to say: the advancement of netbooks was not, so much, the small form factor, but the fact that they were under powered computer systems meant to be used mostly with web-based applications.

Initially, netbooks were to have low capacity solid state hard drives and run Linux-based OSes. That was cool, for a while, but the cheap solid state drives turned out to perform more poorly than people expected and conventional hard drives became very cheap/available. Also Microsoft got scared and having seen that small-form factor computing was a real thing, adapted its strategy to seriously target these kinds of devices.

At which point everyone realized that there wasn't a lot of point in making really small laptops: they were hard to type on and fundamentally they did everything for which you needed "big computers." So companies started making "big netbooks." The end result most 14"-15" laptops are basically big netbooks (including having similar resolutions.) The extra size is nice for most mundane uses, and for most the "mobility niche" is filled by smartphones anyway, rendering netbooks-sized device useful. Except they're still around in different packaging.

Technology, I think, rarely fails. Rather, it gets reimplemented and reabsorbed by the next iteration of the technology. If we don't pay attention we may miss the connections between iterations, but they are there.

Interestingly, and perhaps orthogonally, Linux lead the development for netbooks. Though tablets are different, and the history is less easily accessible, I think the same thing is happening there. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out.

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