Rise Of The Netbook

When netbooks first started coming out, I thought they were pretty dumb. I mean, who would want to spend $500 on an underpowered, little bitty laptop, when you can get a decently-powered regular laptop with a bigger monitor for roughly the same price?

I would, that’s who. Granted, I don’t necessarily have a ‘netbook’ (the Fujitsu P1610 retails for a bit more than $500), but I got a phenomenal deal on it. For most consumers, like my wife, my parents, and some of my friends, as long as their computer runs Firefox (or, shudder, Internet Explorer), and maybe iTunes, they’re good to go. That’s where netbooks are strong. They’re small, which means they’re great for folks who don’t really have a computer desk, but rather use their laptop on the couch, in bed, or on the back patio. They’re also extremely lightweight, which makes them great for travelling.

The biggest opportunity with netbooks, though, is that they’re cheap. Starting at $350 and going up from there, you can pick up a netbook for cheaper than even a cell phone in some cases. While all netbooks currently feature built-in WiFi, alot have Bluetooth or a USB port, which makes them great for tethering to a cell phone for connectivity. A new craze that will no doubt pick up speed in 2009 is bundling netbooks with a 3G modem, either built-in or USB, and selling these cheap laptops with a 2-year contract.

AT&T is already doing this, both with the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and the Acer Aspire One. Both netbooks are $100 with a 2-year AT&T contract, which is pretty good. Unfortunately, AT&T is sticking with its $60/mo LaptopConnect plan, which is going to price these things out of most consumers’ hands. Still, the potential is there, and if AT&T can drop that monthly rate plan down to $30 with some intelligent WiFi-roaming software, netbooks could be a big business opportunity.

Another cool thing with the netbooks comes from the developer community, specifically if you’re not a huge fan of Windows. Currently, both the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and the MSI Wind are rated as the easiest to put OSX on – that’s right, Apple won’t deliver on a netbook, but it’s now possible – and increasingly easy – to put OSX on whatever laptop you want. With a $350 Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and OSX, you could potentially have a killer-cheap way to introduce someone – or yourself – to Apple’s experience.

I’ve typed this entire post on my netbook, laying on my couch, listning to music. It’s pretty phenomenal to see something so cheap changing the face of computing. Are you already looking at a netbook? There’s tons of things to consider, including screen size (most are either 8.9″ or 10″), hard drive size (anywhere from 6GB to 160GB), and what operating system you intend to use.

Currently on my P1610, I’m dual-booting Windows XP TabletPC edition and the new Windows 7 beta (Windows 7 boots and runs faster).

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