Michael Dell made a few headlines yesterday when he talked about the unsatisfactory user experience associated with netbooks. As he told a Silicon Valley dinner last night, "Netbooks aren't for everyone."
That, of course, is true. I use one quite a bit as I pop from location to location, meeting to meeting, and room to room. This is a pretty common use case for netbooks: an ultralight supplement to one or more primary computers that's more typing/web-browsing friendly than the average smartphone. However, I spent this morning observing the use of a few pieces of software and getting feedback from a group of teachers and got to watch two classes working with their netbooks.
Where the users Michael Dell discussed see a screen that is 4 or 5 inches too small, kids see a footprint that fits on their desks or in their laps. Where Michael Dell sees a cramped keyboard, kids see a keyboard that fits their hands. Where Michael Dell sees a very light second machine, kids see a first machine that they can carry easily.
Even as kids get older, full-sized laptops simply aren't practical in the classroom or trekking back and forth to school and between classes. Hit college and those same "limitations" translate to something that can cohabitate on a lecture hall desk with a book or calculator. Skype and IM with instructors and peers anywhere on campus. True, by the time kids hit college, netbooks probably shouldn't be their only machines, but for a good portion of their academic careers, netbooks can (and will) occupy a prominent place in their daily computing.