What makes a netbook a netbook?

What is a netbook?

Seriously, what is it? It’s a small and cheap notebook, right? Right? Right?

Actually, is it even small? These things are reaching 12” in screen size!

So, all we’re left with is the cheap component of the term…and ultimately, that’s all it is. A marketing name for a cheap laptop.

The funny thing is that these “netbooks” really aren’t anything new as the form factor has been around for a really long time. It’s just that the products were very expensive. Years ago, I owned two “ultraportable” notebooks: the venerable Sony VAIO PCG-SR5K and the Fujitsu Loox-T.

A product of the year 2000, the VAIO PCG-SR5K was a 1” thin 2.98 lbs. notebook that sported a 10.4” (1024x768) screen and all the usual ports for the time (e.g. Firewire, PCMCIA, USB, VGA, etc). It came with a 6-cell battery that got roughly 3-5 hours of life. It supported up to 256MB of memory and a whopping 12GB hard disk.

A year later, I picked up the original Fujitsu Loox T which was the first “ultraportable” to sport an integrated DVD drive at 3.4lbs and got 3-4 hours of battery with the standard battery and 7.5-8 with the extended battery. The screen size was 10” (1280x600) and also came with all the typical ports for the time period (e.g. Firewire, PCMCIA, USB, VGA, etc.).

Now look carefully. Don’t those specifications look a lot like the “netbook” specifications that we’re seeing today? Physical screen size and resolution remains largely unchanged, battery life certainly hasn’t gotten any better, and weight is more or less the same. Certainly, technology has advanced but it’s really the same thing….except back then we just called them “ultraportable notebooks”.

Despite me not being a fan of this shameless marketing term, I do like that “ultraportable” computing has finally trickled down to the masses. The only bad thing about it is that it makes it a lot harder for non-netbook ultraportable notebooks to justify their markedly higher prices.

Ok, enough of this pseudo-rant. I’m off to bed.

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