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What can we learn from netbooks?

From 2007 to 2009, we saw the rise of the low-powered, dirt-cheap netbook. Today these clunky computers are frequently mocked -- but they did teach us a lesson.

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In today's world of glossy iPads and super-powered smartphones, it's hard to believe we were ever seduced by the tiny, clunky, low-powered computers that became a massive hit between 2007 and 2009.

And yet, netbooks sold in droves, bought as second PCs by those dreaming of truly portable computing, or lured by the promise of a fully-fledged computer for just a few hundred dollars.

Of course, netbooks weren't really fully-fledged computers. With pinched, low-resolution displays, cramped keyboards and only a thimbleful of processing power, netbooks garnered a reputation for high return rates, especially those powered by Linux, which confounded many shoppers with its inability to play nice with Microsoft Windows programs.

But we bought them en masse because what netbooks promised was so appealing. As it turned out, the notion of something genuinely portable and extremely cheap was much more tempting than raw power and high-flying features -- something that caught the PC industry somewhat by surprise.

The rise of the netbook coincided too with the rise of the Web browser. With Facebook, YouTube, email and Twitter becoming -- for many of us -- the centre of our computing habits, suddenly price and portability became much more important than a powerful graphics chip or a pixel-packing display.

Netbooks certainly improved, but were never much fun to use. Little surprise then that they were squashed by Apple's iPad, and the dawn of tablets. But they did make a contribution, marking the point in computing where we stopped asking what our machines could do, and started asking what they would let us access.

Did you own a netbook? Did you love 'em, or hate 'em? Tell me your thoughts in the comments, on our Facebook wall, or let me know on Twitter. Oh, and don't forget to subscribe!

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