I didn't think too much about Danny's purchase that the time, but then I stumbled across this February article from Wired.com about the advent of the netbook and the effect it could have on the computing industry. The article explains how the netbook concept was originally intended to be a cheap, simple computer for people in poor and developing countries to use, but has instead become popular as a second computer for people in developed countries who already have larger, faster and more expensive machines.
The netbook, furthermore, might end up being the only type of computer that a lot of people need. As long as it is connected to the internet (they're all equipped with built-in wi-fi), people can use them to do the same web-based activities they'd do from a larger machine, from getting the latest news to checking their e-mail to updating their Facebook profile. The utility of the netbook is further enhanced by the availability of free, web-based applications: instead of writing a letter using Microsoft Word and saving it to your hard drive, for example, you can write it with Google Docs and then save it in the online "cloud:"
Netbooks are evidence that we now know what personal computers are for.Which is to say, a pretty small list of things that are conducted almost entirely online. This was [Taiwanese laptop manufactuer] Asustek's epiphany. It got laptop prices under $300 by crafting a device that makes absolutely no sense when it's not online. Consider: The Eee's original flash drive was only 4 gigs. That's so small you need to host all your pictures, videos, and files online—and install minimal native software—because there's simply no room inside your machine.The emergence of the ultra-cheap netbook could have a significantly negative effect on the home computer market as a whole, because as more people discover that a $400 netbook with internet access is all they really need, it could mean fewer sales of more powerful (and more profitable) products.
Netbooks prove that the "cloud" is no longer just hype. It is now reasonable to design computers that outsource the difficult work somewhere else. The cloud tail is wagging the hardware dog.
But what interests me about the netbook phenomenon is not so much what it means for the computer industry as what it says about the internet. Not only does its versatility - in the form of web-based applications, for example - threaten to challenge and even replace what has up to now been the exclusive province of hardware, but the relationship between the computer and the web itself has been reversed. For so long, the internet was something that "served" our computers. The netbook, on the other hand, exists to service the internet.
Fact is, the internet has long since stopped being a mere novelty or a luxury item and has now become a utility just as critical as running water or electricity. I was especially made aware of this during the weeks following Hurricane Ike. What bothered me was not so much the lack of electricity (he had a generator, after all), but the lack of internet access. During that time I truly felt disconnected; our links to the outside world during that time - radio and broadcast television - seemed as quaint and as inadequate as the evening paper or the telegraph.
The internet will celebrate its 40th birthday this fall, and it's only been in the last fifteen years, give or take, of its life that it has been accessible by the general public. Yet it is now a normal and, in many cases, indespensible part of our everyday lives; the rise of the netbook makes that fact even more evident.
It's really quite remarkable. Especially when we consider that we've only just begun.