Larry Dignan wrote an interesting piece on netbooks and whether they will hurt notebook sales, particular those of Apple MacBooks. The MacBook seems especially vulnerable in a weak economy since decent Windows laptops can be had for around $700 and netbooks start at around a quarter of the price of typically configured MacBook.
This isn't flamebait for the Mac fanboys. After all, I'm one of them. However, all arguments in favor of MacBooks aside (premium hardware, premium OS, ease of use, stability, integrated software, etc., etc., yaddy yaddy yaddah), it's sometimes hard to argue with the bottom line. Netbooks are cheap and cheap is good in education, right? We have our share of unfunded mandates with which we need to cope. Are Macs a luxury when what we really need is an Eee?
I'm not convinced that there isn't, in fact, room for both in ed tech. When I say both, I mean both netbooks and higher-end computers, whether Mac, Windows, or Linux. There are plenty of classroom situations to which the Mac OS (or simply a faster computer equipped with appropriate software) is particularly well-suited. There are a lot more for which a MacBook is brutal overkill.
Companies segment markets all the time and differentiate their own lines of products to meet various perceived needs. There is no reason why we can't have some market segmentation here in Ed Tech. For classes where students simply need Internet access, word processing, and cloud computing, a couple stacks of netbooks (or even a bank of thin clients) is more than adequate. For classes with more significant digital media needs, MacBooks (or iMacs, or even decent PCs) remain an obvious choice.
I have a Honda Pilot, an aging Saturn sedan, and a 12-passenger van in my driveway. Even with gas too close to $4/gallon for comfort, I keep the big van to haul kids, family, the Drama Club, etc. It remains more fuel efficient than taking 2 or 3 cars. I drive the little Saturn everywhere when it's just me or 1 or 2 kids. Anything that gets 31 miles to the gallon and is old enough that I don't care about the suspension on rural Massachusetts roads is my friend. And my trusty Pilot can haul the entire family, 2 friends, and the dog (in a pinch) through a foot of snow and still pull down 20 miles per gallon. They're simply different tools for different situations.
Computers are much the same. Although academia inspired the netbook, your choice of hardware really comes down to meeting requirements.