The Lenovo S10 Netbook is here, count me in

Netbooks are almost cheap enough to be an impulse buy. This may not be a good time to invest in Apple stock.

The S10 is here, I ordered one yesterday and I'm psyched. The IdeaPad S10 is Lenovo's just-released entry in the Netbook market. "Netbook" is a new term that's applied to cheap small laptops that run either Windows XP Home Edition or Linux. No Vista or OS X here (neither is cheap).

One reason Netbooks are cheap is that they are underpowered, by current standards. Yet, they have more than sufficient horsepower to do the things most people do most of the time.

Lenovo

I think Netbooks will drastically change the computing scene.

For some of us, they should make excellent secondary computers. For children, they could make great first computers. And, with prices starting at $325, Netbooks are almost an impulse buy. In contrast, the cheapest MacBook notebook costs $1,099. This may not be a good time to invest in Apple stock.

Netbooks are small, but I think people will find they are not so small as to be annoying.

The original Netbook, the Asus Eee had a 7-inch screen. It was wildly popular, but, to me, the screen was too small. Skype barely fit on the screen and Web pages required too much scrolling. Most Netbooks now have 9-inch screens, the S10 screen is 10.2 inches.

Another big thing to me about the S10 is the anti-glare screen. I'm wary that the glossy screens on the Acer Aspire One and the Dell Mini 9s may be a constant annoyance.

Keyboards are small too, roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of normal. The original Asus Eee keyboard was so small that I could barely type on it. My adult fingers just didn't fit. I haven't used the S10 yet, but if there ever was a company capable of making a good keyboard it's Lenovo. Their ThinkPads have excelled at keyboards for years. CNET said the S10 has a "decent-size keyboard (for a Netbook)". Wired said "Touch-typing is as easy as it gets in this category."

The keyboard on the Acer Aspire One has gotten good reviews but the placement of the mouse buttons is said to be sub-optimal. I fear that might be a constant annoyance especially for someone using the computer where an external mouse is not an option, such as on their lap. Interestingly, the Dell Mini 9 dealt with the small size of the keyboard by doing away with the row of Fx keys along the top. I've seen adults criticize the new Asus Netbooks for the keyboard still being too small. The HP Mini-Notes are said to have great keyboards, but not enough else to make them serious contenders.

When CNET wrote about the S10 way back on September 25th (2 weeks is a long time in the Netbook world) the only available model was $439. Now, there is also a $399 model for sale at Lenovo.com. CNET's demo unit had 1GB of ram and a 160GB hard disk. My only choices yesterday were 512MB of ram and an 80GB hard disk. I've run Windows XP on many computers with 512MB of ram and found it perfectly acceptable.

The two available models differ only in price and color. The $399 model is white, the $439 one is red (more colors are on way). I opted for white. Interestingly, other Netbooks are not priced by color. Comparable Dell Mini 9s are the same price regardless of the color. Newegg sells comparable models of both the Acer Aspire One and the Asus Eee for the same price regardless of the color.

Operating System

The S10 runs Windows XP Home Edition (Microsoft does not allow XP Professional on Netbook computers). Many competing Netbook vendors, such as Dell and Acer, offer both XP and Linux. In general, Linux is cheaper. The Linux version of the Acer Aspire One, for example, starts at $325. The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 starts at $349 with Linux. In each case, sister XP-based models are more expensive.

Linux needs less hard-disk space than Windows, thus many Linux-based Netbooks come with solid-state drives (SSDs). SSDs are the wave of the future but their cost limits their storage capacity in a cheap computer. Linux can fit in a few gigabytes, Windows XP can't. The one downside, to me, of the S10 is that it comes with a legacy spinning-platter hard disk. Hard disks are fragile compared to SSDs, and not the best choice for use on a moving train or bus.

One annoyance with Linux is choice, there's just too much of it. Some Netbook vendors, such as Acer and Asus, created their own versions of Linux. My preference is for one of the major Linux distributions and Dell has, to me, made the best choice here. Their Mini 9 comes with Ubuntu. I previously wrote about the Ubuntu user interface ; suffice it say, I think Windows users will take to it very easily with hardly any learning curve. In fact, Ubuntu running Open Office may be a simpler transition for an XP user than moving to Vista with Office 2007.

Which brings up an interesting question. Why pay $315 for the standard edition of Office 2007, when you can get an entire Netbook computer for just a bit more and install the free Open Office?

Linux, like OS X, benefits hugely just from not being Windows, and thus being immune to the vast majority of malicious software. A Linux-based Netbook would be appropriate for a child or anyone for whom antivirus and anti-spyware software is just too much to hassle with.

My shoulder is looking forward to carrying a 2.5-pound Netbook rather than a 6-or 7-pound laptop/notebook.

Update. October 11,2008. As an indicator of how quickly things change in the new Netbook world, take the pricing of the Lenovo S10. According to jkOnTheRun, both available colors (white and red) sold for $439 on October 7, 2008. On the 8th they noted that the white model dropped to $399. On the 10th, I noticed that the red one was down to $429. Then again, on October 7th, Wired wrote about a $469 S10 model, but with beefier specs. Circuit City is planning on selling one of these higher end S10s for $450, but, today at least, they don't have any in stock.

Update October 20, 2008. This did not end well .

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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