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Netbooks: Credit OLPC, not just Asus

Although it hasn't taken the developing world by the storm its designers desired, the One Laptop Per Child concept inspired Asus to develop a low-cost mini laptop for the rest of us

Although it was Psion that coined the term 'netbook' before the turn of the Millenium, it was Intel that repopularised it (or, let's be honest, popularised it at all) last year. It had worked with the OLPC organisation on the XO project, but ditched its affiliation over disagreements about the development and pricing of Intel's competitor, the Classmate PC.

It was around the time Intel backed out of the OLPC project that the term 'netbook' cropped up, and in the same year Asus brought out the innovative Eee PC 701 -- a cheap mini laptop widely regarded as pioneering the whole netbook craze. This was thanks in part to no-one having any money, except for economists.

But I digress. I admire what Asus has done in providing the world with under-performing, over-satisfying computers, but I think the OLPC guys deserve equal praise.

It was almost two years before the launch of the landmark Eee that a working prototype of the OLPC's XO was shown off, sporting all the characteristics we now associate with netbooks: power efficiency, solid-state storage, small form factor, low-cost screen, no optical drive -- essentially a glorified thin client.

Although it hasn't taken the developing world quite by the storm Nicholas Negroponte desired, it nonetheless -- I believe -- inspired Asus to develop a low-cost mini laptop for the rest of us. The world's lack of money helped it not only triumph as a product, but steal some of the thunder from OLPC as a concept.

I'm not saying Asus doesn't deserve its credit, but I think we should consider the OLPC as the pioneer of the modern netbook, and Asus as the pioneer of the business model that helped the concept succeed beyond the developing world.