Adventures In Tech

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Adventures In Tech: Netbooks: What were we thinking?
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Adventures In Tech: Netbooks: What were we thinking?

4:00 /

These oft-ridiculed, low-powered laptops were crushed by the iPad, but had an important part to play in the story of computing. Check it out.

A crop of new small ultra low cost laptops in recent months has us thinking of an older kind of gadget. Adventures In Tech examines the checkered history of the humble netbook [MUSIC] Netbooks the portable basic machine that couldn't handle much computing but did come with a low, low price tag have today completely fallen out of favor. And in fact, they weren't that well liked at the height of their fame. One thing you can't take away from netbooks, however, is that their story began with worthy intentions. Building low priced computers for the poorest parts of the world. Machines like the One Laptop Per Child XO-1 in 2007. Stripped the laptop concept down to its most basic functions. Packing a basic AMD processor, a tiny display, and a low price. In a bid to offer kids in developing countries the educational benefits of computers. Intel was briefly allied to the project. But left after six months. Citing a disagreement over its rival Classmates computer. The race to get cheap laptops to the developing world became very complex, but it also generated plenty of attention another tech company took notice. One such company was Asus, which in June two thousand seven debut the shockingly cheap epc701. The machine that kick started the netbook revolution. With a 7 inch screen just a few gigabytes of solid state storage, weighing less than a kilogram and powered by Lenox. The epc was only really capable of emails. Or a bit of web browsing. In other words, it was hideously unequipped for any serious feats of computing prowess. I have the shut down codes. How do I upload them to the satellite mainframe? Don't worry, agent. Any Windows compatible lap top should do. At hundreds of dollars cheaper than a typical laptop, the EPC was a big success. Price was its primary weapon, but Acer had also tapped into something about what we wanted from our technology. The rise of Google, Facebook, and YouTube meant that the browser was becoming the. Center of any computer. Why pay more for an overpowered, unwieldy monster when the personal portable netbook was all you really needed. Within a year, every major PC maker had a netbook. And we love netbook. I love them. I bought the Linux powered EPC. I remember not being at all prepared for quite how small the keys were. Or for how cramped web browsing was on the low resolution display. Or how I would spend most of my time trying to force Windows programs to run on it. Usually breaking everything in the process. Okay, there's a small chance these things were terrible. The Netbook Dream was just that. And I had woken up. I had this weird dream, I got this horrible little laptop. It had these tiny little buttons and these [NOISE] [NOISE] [MUSIC] [NOISE] Netbooks would earn a reputation for high return rate. Particularly among models that were running unfamiliar Linux operating systems but they struggled on. By the start of 2010 settling into a comfortable set-up with Windows and an Intel Atom chip becoming standard. Netbooks improved but they never managed to be fun and at the start of the year another product eclipsed them completely. The problem is Netbook's aren't better at anything. Cheaper then the laptop, portable and built for simple tasks, the iPad was the Netbook we'd always wanted. In retrospect, it's tempting to see these tiny computers as an embarrassing side note in tech history. But they did make a vital contribution. They showed us that what's inside your machine is less important that what it lets you do and for that the netbook has my respect. Do you miss netbooks or are you glad to see the back of them? Let me know and check back next time for another adventure in tech.

Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.