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Innovation

Netbooks dead? Say it ain't so, Larry!

Netbooks have become a bastion of K-12 tech, enabling a whole lot of kids to cheaply get their hands on a computer that, not surprisingly, also happens to fit those little hands quite nicely. However, ZDNet's Editor-in-Chief, Larry Dignan, reported on Gartner's and IDC's recent predictions that the netbook market would "grow...
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Netbooks have become a bastion of K-12 tech, enabling a whole lot of kids to cheaply get their hands on a computer that, not surprisingly, also happens to fit those little hands quite nicely. However, ZDNet's Editor-in-Chief, Larry Dignan, reported on Gartner's and IDC's recent predictions that the netbook market would "grow...this year and then fade." The question is, do we care?

The answer is "sort of." Netbooks (or mini-notebooks, as the studies from the analyst groups call them) have always been about compromise. How do we fit tolerable computing power into a package that is incredibly light, ridiculously cheap, and relatively durable? We make the keyboard tiny, specs anemic, and sell them cheap enough that we don't really care about the durability. These sorts of compromises don't tend to matter much to little kids who just need to use basic software, navigate the web, or learn to type. They also don't matter much to a college kid who just needs to take notes in class or work out on the Quad and leave his $3500 Alienware beast back in his dorm room.

Intel is in a relatively good position to understand the netbook market and continues to develop their Classmate PC (essentially a netbook), so the netbook can't be dead, right? Well, yes and no. The so-called Clamshell Classmate (a ruggedized netbook with specialized software) is largely being targeted to developing countries where cost and durability trump virtually all other considerations. Their Convertible Classmate (which, for many kids, stays in tablet form much more than it stays in traditional netbook form) is the model of choice in developed countries. Intel representatives now often call this a "netvertible", further distancing it from the netbook brand and nomenclature.

This isn't something I find myself getting too fussed about, though. The durability of most netbooks is a real issue, as is their performance for students who are becoming increasingly adept at multitasking. If netbooks die, then tablets and smarter smartphones will be there to take their place.

I don't need netbooks to make 1:1 work or provide students with easier access to the Internet. I need to revisit my policies on cell phones in schools, look at solutions that maximize their exposure and smart utilization of the web, and look at classroom technologies (whether Classmate netvertible or SMART board) that make instruction more effective.

Netbooks aren't going away anytime soon. The netbook boom is just over. There are still lots of places where they are useful and I'm glad to see Classmate development continues, especially as the program moves beyond the ruggedized netbook approach. I still use my Lenovo S10 all the time and one S10 that apparently was sat on is acting as a very nice print server in a remote office (who needs a screen, right?). However, as netbooks lose their luster a bit, ask yourself this: What do you use more? Your netbook or your phone? I'll bet you a frisbee-shaped netbook with a crushed LCD that you use your phone much more. Imagine what you'll be able to do in a year with your phone, MID, or tablet and it gets pretty easy to not worry much about netbooks.

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