Netbooks were a GOOD thing and we threw them under a bus
Fondleslabs and ultrabooks? Only if you've got deep pockets and short attention spans
I had some devices to choose from for my journey. I could have taken my Alienware MX18, my first-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab, my Asus Transformer, my Samsung NF210 Netbook, my Acer Aspire 5110 or my ageing 2006 silver Macbook Pro. Which to choose?
My primary consideration was battery life. I was moving from one PR schmoozefest to the next or locked in conference for the better part of 12 hours a day. One too many times I've gone to these shindigs only to discover that all the power plugs had been claimed long before I arrived. I predicted that I would realistically get one opportunity to recharge my devices per day: during merciful unconsciousness at the hotel.
The battery issues meant that the Macbook, the Alienware and the Acer were all out; none of these would last more than a couple of hours. It also took virtually every "Ultrabook" on the market out of contention: Intel still doesn't grok that "all-day battery life" means a minimum of eight functional hours, realistically 12.
I have a feeling that despite all the hype, Chipzilla's Haswell processor will ultimately not turn out to be the miracle that we've been promised. Those of us who value battery life are going to miss those small, cheap Atoms - or start turning to ARM for salvation. I sincerely hope Intel proves me wrong, but I remain skeptical.
Beyond battery life, the ideal device had to connect to the internet, let me comfortably RDP into my work and home virtual machines, use Dropbox, record audio, have a spare USB port to charge my phones. All my devices can do the above, except the 7" Galaxy Tab, which cannot share its battery with my phones via USB charging; so it was out. That leaves Android or Windows.
I love my Asus Transformer. It is nearly the perfect device. My only arguments with it lie in the crap Google keyboard (I need one with delete and backspace keys), that multitasking requires a series of workarounds and a lack of a workable WIMP* office package.
Office packages for Android are embarrassingly terrible. They are mediocre if you want to do minor edits on touch-only devices, but worthless with a keyboard and mouse. The availability of a WIMP version of Libreoffice on the Samsung netbook makes it the hands down winner here.
Were I in my home country of Canada – which has something resembling usable mobile internet infrastructure – I would have chosen the Transformer as my primary device. Its battery life is superior to the Atom-powered netbook: I have reliably squeezed 10 solid hours out of the unit as a thin client. The office package "disability" inherent to Android ceases to exist in that circumstance.
Google could make Android a serious contender as a "good enough" netbook OS in a very short timeframe. The web giant won't because it views Android as its touch-based consumptive tablet and phone OS, and ChromeOS as the desktop replacement. ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity and keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps; great for Google because it can ruthlessly invade your privacy in order to sell more advertisements. Bad for us because it cripples the OS in order to achieve this goal.
Microsoft, similarly, has little interest in meeting the needs of people using computers on the go. Instead, we get this enormous bloated operating system that takes up way too much space and costs too much power. (Let's all have a nice long conversation about WinSXS and free space on your Surface tablets over time, shall we?) Microsoft's OS licensing is byzantine – in the case of VDI it is outright insulting – and the uncrippled versions only run on Intel's "not-quite-all-day" chips. That's without getting into the ridiculous farce that is the Metro user interface.
The only perennial non-Android manufacturer-supported Linux endpoint OS is Ubuntu. Unity and Gnome 3 are awful on the order of Windows 8: if you want a usable interface, you'll have to beat it into submission. If I have to beat something into submission, why am I paying money for it in the first place? Even if you happen to love Unity – you might want to have that looked at – if the rumours of Microsoft's potential massive investment in Dell prove true, we can probably kiss even this limited support goodbye as well.
The death of the "good enough" computer represented by the netbook disturbs me. I don't need anything more powerful than an Atom or modern ARM processor for the system I am hauling around with me. What I want is a multitasking operating system (Mint, preferably) with a passable WIMP office package. I want it installed – and supported - by a computer manufacturer on a device with 12 hours of real-world battery life and a 10" to 13" screen.
I don't care if the OS is Android, Windows, OS X, Tizen or Bubba-Bo-Bob's Fun Family Linux Distro. For the portable office/note-taking device, the OS is irrelevant so long as it runs usable apps and works on hardware I actually want to own.
In today's hype-fuelled world of incomplete UIs and desperate attempts to gain lock-in and increase the average revenue per user, is there any manufacturer out there brave enough to risk the wrath of the dominant operating system vendors? Is there a hardware maker brave enough to provide not what the tech giants envision, but what users actually need? I hope that by the time this netbook of mine is ready to give up the ghost, the answer is yes. ®
* Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer - you know, typical desktop mouse-driven software, not swipe and smear touchscreen stuff.
I want a new netbook
I want to update my current 10 inch netbook to a better, less power hungry, processor and decent screen resolution. Nothing exists. In a recent conversation with Dell they tried to sell me a W8tablet with no keyboard for more than twice what I paid for my netbook. I laughed at them, but really the manufacturers have the laugh, not the consumer.
A lot of people still need to do their accounts. Every cheap, good system runs on Windows. "cloud-based" systems mean Internet access, not always available. For this purpose the netbook was perfect. We still keep an MSI Wind as backup in case a main computer fails, and its performance on email, basic spreadsheets and accounting programs is perfectly adequate. It also runs all day on the big battery and cost under £300 in total.
One of my wife's clients decided the other day he needed a new computer to do his book-keeping. He phoned up the local computer "specialist" and has ended up with £2500 spent on Windows 8.
Problem in a nutshell. Netbooks were too good; they cannibalised laptops. So the industry decided collectively to sell expensive ultrabooks, and tablets that are not actually good enough for any daily work. Problem solved.
The sentiments of this article are echoed with this writer, who is in fact doing the exact same thing. Personal experience has shown that practical remote computing, even web browsing, requires a decent computer with decent software. Tablets are all right for occasional reading, but I type a lot, and the Bluetooth keyboard I brought with me was hit or miss, not to mention the battery life was an issue since you don't have options for them. OTOH, my Acer Aspire One had the option of tacking on not only extra batteries but also a bulkier triple-capacity one that gives me about nine hours of casual use and several hours on more serious stuff like video playback: not bad in my book, and it's proved genuinely useful in an environment where access to wall power is iffy due to my remote location. At least the wireless service is decent and they don't seem to have an issue with mobile hotspotting. For a small investment, I can stay connected for the duration of my trip.
And I thought I was one of the few who actually got genuine use out of these netbooks: small enough to transport easily (note: you don't have to open up netbooks at airport checkpoints) yet just good enough with its SD slots and USB ports to do honest computing work (including handling a TrueCrypted external HDD for the bulk storage).
You are aware that many accountants are self-employed and that in many small businesses the book-keeping is a part time job?
I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, but your use of the term "accounts department" suggests you know little about how much of the world works.
Re: I want a new netbook
No-one will put Linux on them.
The Linpus that was on the EEEPCs was barely fit for purpose - you pretty much HAD to swap it out for another distro or XP if you wanted to do anything. Things like that killed Linux on the netbook sadly.
Acer had a go with the Revo. Mine shipped with a Linux with a nice appliance front end, but sadly no wireless driver. If a non-techie had bought that they would have assumed the wireless was broken and sent it back. Ubuntu and Mint sort the wireless out without issue, so why a major manufacturer cannot escapes me...