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Michael Dell: Netbooks go sour after 36 hours

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According to Michael Dell, a netbook is a dream purchase - until it's about 36 hours old.

"If you take a user who's used to a 14- or 15-inch notebook and you say 'Here's a 10-inch netbook,' they're gonna say 'Hey, this is so fantastic. It's so cute. It's so light. I love it,'" Dell told Silicon Valley's tech-obsessed Churchill Club during an appearance Tuesday night. "But about 36 hours later, they're saying 'The screen's gonna have to go. Give me my 15-inch screen back.'"

Turning up in Santa Clara, California just hours after a speech at OpenWorld in downtown San Francisco, the Dell Computer founder and CEO did his best to convince the Valley elite that the average consumer now prefers high-end PCs to their low-cost brethren.

"On the direct business, we're seeing a lot of excitement on the new processors, on Windows 7. Performance is kind of coming back," Dell said. "There was this time where the price point was drifting down, where people were just buying the lowest-end device."

Which is pretty much what you'd expect from the head of a major PC manufacturer still struggling to recover from the meltdown of the worldwide economy. Asked if his company would need more time to recover than its the likes of HP, considering its greater dependence on consumer dollars, Dell pointed out that more than 80 per cent of the company's business has nothing to do with the consumer. But he also did his best to play up the prospects of his consumer biz, which now taps into more than 42,000 retail stores across the globe.

Then he took another understated swipe at the netbook. "We see a fair amount of customers not really being that satisfied with the smaller screen and the lower performance - unless it's like a secondary machine or it's a very first machine and the expectations are low," he said. "But as a replacement machine for an experienced user, it's not what we'd recommend. It's not a good experience, and we don't see users very happy with those."

But he did say there are certain niche situations where a netbook makes perfect sense. As an example, he pointed to the Dell Latitude 2100, a small low-cost notebook for schools. "Sales have been many times what we thought," Dell said. "Schools just love 'em. It fits their applications perfectly. But as a general purpose notebook, it's not really a great solution with screen size and performance."

Dell's company offers other netbooks for non-school types, including the Mini 10 and the Mini 10v. You could buy them here, but clearly, he doesn't want you to. ®

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