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Is a netbook a cheap laptop?

Thursday, December 18, 2008 by Dave Winer.

Two people I respect enormously, John Gruber and Michael Gartenberg, both joined in the discussion of what netbooks are with the same theory.  Permalink to this paragraph

"What is the difference between a 'netbook' and a 'really cheap laptop that runs something other than Vista?' -- asks Gruber.  Permalink to this paragraph

On Twitter, Gartenberg asks the question, and answers it. "Are netbooks a new category of device or just small, cheap laptops? I think the latter." Permalink to this paragraph

Not so fast!! ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

First, I agree that a netbook is a cheap laptop, although of course I'd prefer "inexpensive," but let's not quibble. It's that, and it's a new market category. As usual I have a story to go with my opinion. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named vaio.gifBack in 2004 I was living in Seattle and one day I was hanging out at Microsoft, and Jeff Sandquist showed me a computer that changed my life, a small netbook-size Sony Vaio. It was an instantly charming computer, it spoke to me -- it said, no it screamed -- YOU WANT ME. It was like meeting the most beautiful woman in the world, an experience I have had, btw. When that happens the only thing the alpha male psyche knows to do is GO GET IT. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

I went home and ordered one the same day, and when it arrived my then-favorite laptop became a desktop and the Vaio went everywhere with me. Permalink to this paragraph

Then one day in 2006, the Vaio broke. I tried to get it fixed, but it wasn't possible. And search as hard as I could, I couldn't find a replacement. It seems Sony had decided that this model Vaio had been a failure and apparently stopped making it. I literally couldn't find something in that size, a sub-12-inch laptop. They didn't make them, at any price. Permalink to this paragraph

Until one day I saw a comment on FriendFeed about the Asus Eee PC 901 and what a lovely thing it was. As with the Vaio I bought one on impulse, and it was everything I hoped it would be. They had picked up the baton from Sony.  Permalink to this paragraph

The point to both John and Michael is that until the netbooks came along this was an empty category. That they are cheap is a great bonus, but I would have bought one at two or three times the price. The small footprint laptop has always been a market imho, and it hasn't been served fully until the netbooks came along.  Permalink to this paragraph

Update #1: Apparently they do still sell the Vaio I liked so much. But the price is $3199.99. That's almost ten times the price of a decent netbook!  Permalink to this paragraph

Update #2: This picture illustrates the difference between a laptop and netbook computer. Which would you throw in a knapsack?  Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

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"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

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