I spent the last two days at a community conference hosted by our SIS vendor. Although the information sessions were great and I had a chance to introduce a new social network that I'd created for the group in Ning, the gearhead in me only noticed one thing: everyone had a netbook.
OK, not everyone, but an awful lot of conference participants left their laptops back at school and were taking notes or accessing their SIS (X2 Aspen is a web-based student information system) during demos on a netbook. They answered emails, stayed in touch with the office, and accessed content on the nifty little flash drives full of X2 goodies (slide shows, templates, reports, data, procedures, etc.) that the company gave us.
I either spoke with many of the netbook users or eavesdropped as non-netbook people inquired about them and fully 100% acknowledged the compromises inherent in the form factor. "The keyboards are tight," they said, or "I'm still getting used to the keyboard." "The screen size is fine as long as I don't try to do too much," or "I actually don't mind the smaller screens."
However, at less than 3 pounds and jacket pocket- or purse-sized, nobody wanted to go back to carting around a full-sized laptop. Interestingly, nobody even acknowledged performance issues. How much performance do you really need to surf the web, write in a Word document, and answer an email? It was all about the form factor. I heard on more than one occasion from someone doing the one-handed-open-laptop-carry that they needed to get a netbook.
Nobody commented on the price either. Interestingly, as we talked more about them, it became clear the portability and ability to have them at the ready in a classroom, server room, meeting, or conference outweighed any other consideration. Unless you start looking at seriously expensive ultraportables (good luck getting one of those past your bean counters), you simply can't achieve this level of anywhere, anytime computing in any other way.
No one else may have commented on the price, but I'm going to. As we were talking tech, many teachers and administrators were also talking layoffs. Big layoffs. FY10 and FY11 are going to be very painful for a lot of schools and districts. That doesn't mean we don't need to provide our technology staff, teachers, and students with computing resources. Netbooks seem to be addressing that need quite handily.