Netbooks Are The New Razor Scooter

I am going to go on record here and claim that 2010 will see the rapid and inexorable decline of the popularity of the Netbook.  I have been using a Netbook for more than 6 months, and using it with Windows 7.  I finally gave up on my Lenovo S10 with 2GB of RAM.

While there have been scores of articles breathlessly extolling the coming panacea brought to you by Netbooks, I am calling bullshit, and in fact going to make the claim that the Netbooks will suffer the same fate as the Razor scooter.  In fact, for the true nerds, let’s do a cast:

netbook = (2009)razorscooter;

For those of you too young to remember when the Razor first came on the hipster scene, it was back in the late 90s, and could easily be used as a sign of dot com excess.  Everyone, it seemed, had one of these things, and yet no one, it seemed, was actually riding them.  People carried them around, or you had them in offices (for what purpose I don’t know, but I do know I was scooting to a meeting for which I was late when I saw my future wife sitting in the lobby of my dot com job).  Everyone had to have one of these things.  Then, just as quickly as they appeared, they largely disappeared from that scene.  Sure, you still see them around, and they are certainly for sale, but there’s no flash there.  The cool factor was gone once the lack of utility settled in.

The same fate awaits the netbook.  Let’s start with the issues.  I don’t care what people say about the use cases, the screen resolution for me, is the single biggest limiting factor for netbooks.  I suppose you can blame Microsoft and the new Ribbon UI element, but screen real estate is at a super premium on these netbooks.  I found that there were Flash ads which were designed to be 600 pixels high, and because of toolbars and what not in my browser, the “close window” text for the ad was below the fold, and the ad scrolled with the page.  Ugh!

Second, the Atom processor is not a suitable option for productivity software.  If you do anything remotely resembling serious browsing (more than a few tabs open) or have Outlook + a large PST file, forget about bringing your computer out from sleepy time.  Anytime I opened my machine and Outlook went to synch, the pain and suffering was acute.  Even worse if you hadn’t opened the machine for a day or so and had a bunch of meeting reminders pop up.  I also found that if I had 2 Office apps open, the context switching was sometimes painful.

Lastly, and this is the one that really irks me, the battery life was awful.  For such a small machine, and wimpy processor, the default battery would last 2 hours at most.  Not even enough for 2 meetings without having to travel with the power brick.  I borrowed someone’s 6 cell battery, and that made it marginally more tolerable.  When you think about how long a batter on the new MacBook Pro 13” lasts, the 2 pound trade off for the MBP is well worth the extra 5 hours of battery life.  Plus the bigger screen.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but I think the $300 price point isn’t going to be enough once people use these machines more and more, and come to realize their many shortcomings.

Ultimately I believe people was smaller/lighter form factors, but will grow tired of the toy factor.  You can get a decent laptop for $600.  I am not sure what market space the netbook ultimately occupies.

  • sulfide

    if netbooks don't work, its simply because microsoft didn't want them to

  • It sounds to me like your current netbook setup was designed to fail from the start. Being aware of the processor limitations, I don't understand why you would jump on and install a heavy OS with expensive standalone productivity software when the use case for that stuff simply isn't there. Why bother with a gigantic PST file when you can just use IMAP and let the storage be done entirely on the server? Why bother with bloated desktop apps that are replicated just fine through online apps that will run fine in a lightweight browser such as Chrome?

    I purchased my netbook around the same time as you and have been living the dream since then, simply by using lightweight software. I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the first day, and configured my mail client to use IMAP. I find the performance to be astonishing (every app starts and renders entirely in under 2 seconds), the UI has been designed specifically for netbooks, so there is no waste of real estate (mine is a 10.1″, but you can now get them at 12.1″), and I get the full 6 hours of battery life on my 6-cell battery, though some new models apparently get over 9 hours on similar batteries.

    Basically it sounds to me like you picked a very low-end netbook (I suggest waiting for a good sale on a good model instead) and installed some very resource-intensive software that was designed for larger computers, and use your experience to make sweeping generalization about the future of an entire market.

    Also, regarding Sulfide's comment, i think there is some truth to that statement, but also, Microsoft tends to be a very reactive company with their operating systems. They have consistently failed to anticipate consumer needs for the last decade or so, but have been able to react and adapt to the market when the demand became obvious, so while Microsoft may not have a strong interest in the netbook market, they will do whatever is necessary if the demand is high enough to warrant it.

  • nrub

    I currently use a low end Acer Aspire One, and out of the 3 computers I use regularly this one receives the most use & praise. I use Arch Linux and always have Firefox, a terminal, & emacs running perfectly.

    I have to agree with loginx, in that it sounds like you might not be using your netbook correctly. I bought mine off a roommate who had a similar experience to you, and never touched the thing. The battery life is horrid, I believe it was abused, thankfully those are easily upgraded & a power outlet is never far.

    I think the comparison to a razor scooter, though clever, is not valid. The fact is that computers can be used for a multitude of tasks, can be easily customized for lightweight work, & built however you need them to be.

    I'm sorry to here you've had a bad experience with yours, and hope you can find some use for the machine. All the same thanks for the post, you have some good & interesting thoughts on here.

  • SJT

    You are not a typical profile for a netbook user. If you are planning on running office and outlook with a typical MS sized pst, then you are looking at the wrong class of machines.

    Netbooks are designed for users who spend most of their time surfing the web or using online apps. I am going to guess (from what I have read since I do not own one) that if you used as a typical designed user would, you would have a much better battery life experience as well.

    I do not feel that netbooks are going to go away, but the market is going to cool considerably. Soon netbooks will simply be a form factor decision and nothing more. The next gen atoms will have support for better screen resolution (and HD video) and prices on notebook are dropping to the point that there is no real differentiation from netbooks, so the only question will be what size do you want this in and how much power do you really need? people generally choose extra power over lower price (at that range), so you would assume notebooks will win.

    Here is a scary thought, if netbooks continue to do very well, then that is saying the OS is now of no real value (since I am doing all of my work via my browser or light weight apps). What does that mean for the flagship product?

  • Jose

    I disagree, I love my acer one with ubuntu on it.

    Haha, outlook is a piece of BS, I like word though, and it works(word) fine in my machine(it flies emulated in virtualbox).

    Man, I always used pegasus, now gmail, I couldn't understand how is that people choose such bloated software.

    If you need a MacBook, buy one and stop whining like a little girl.

  • sulfide

    if netbooks don't work, its simply because microsoft didn't want them to

  • It sounds to me like your current netbook setup was designed to fail from the start. Being aware of the processor limitations, I don't understand why you would jump on and install a heavy OS with expensive standalone productivity software when the use case for that stuff simply isn't there. Why bother with a gigantic PST file when you can just use IMAP and let the storage be done entirely on the server? Why bother with bloated desktop apps that are replicated just fine through online apps that will run fine in a lightweight browser such as Chrome?

    I purchased my netbook around the same time as you and have been living the dream since then, simply by using lightweight software. I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the first day, and configured my mail client to use IMAP. I find the performance to be astonishing (every app starts and renders entirely in under 2 seconds), the UI has been designed specifically for netbooks, so there is no waste of real estate (mine is a 10.1″, but you can now get them at 12.1″), and I get the full 6 hours of battery life on my 6-cell battery, though some new models apparently get over 9 hours on similar batteries.

    Basically it sounds to me like you picked a very low-end netbook (I suggest waiting for a good sale on a good model instead) and installed some very resource-intensive software that was designed for larger computers, and use your experience to make sweeping generalization about the future of an entire market.

    Also, regarding Sulfide's comment, i think there is some truth to that statement, but also, Microsoft tends to be a very reactive company with their operating systems. They have consistently failed to anticipate consumer needs for the last decade or so, but have been able to react and adapt to the market when the demand became obvious, so while Microsoft may not have a strong interest in the netbook market, they will do whatever is necessary if the demand is high enough to warrant it.

  • I currently use a low end Acer Aspire One, and out of the 3 computers I use regularly this one receives the most use & praise. I use Arch Linux and always have Firefox, a terminal, & emacs running perfectly.

    I have to agree with loginx, in that it sounds like you might not be using your netbook correctly. I bought mine off a roommate who had a similar experience to you, and never touched the thing. The battery life is horrid, I believe it was abused, thankfully those are easily upgraded & a power outlet is never far.

    I think the comparison to a razor scooter, though clever, is not valid. The fact is that computers can be used for a multitude of tasks, can be easily customized for lightweight work, & built however you need them to be.

    I'm sorry to here you've had a bad experience with yours, and hope you can find some use for the machine. All the same thanks for the post, you have some good & interesting thoughts on here.

  • SJT

    You are not a typical profile for a netbook user. If you are planning on running office and outlook with a typical MS sized pst, then you are looking at the wrong class of machines.

    Netbooks are designed for users who spend most of their time surfing the web or using online apps. I am going to guess (from what I have read since I do not own one) that if you used as a typical designed user would, you would have a much better battery life experience as well.

    I do not feel that netbooks are going to go away, but the market is going to cool considerably. Soon netbooks will simply be a form factor decision and nothing more. The next gen atoms will have support for better screen resolution (and HD video) and prices on notebook are dropping to the point that there is no real differentiation from netbooks, so the only question will be what size do you want this in and how much power do you really need? people generally choose extra power over lower price (at that range), so you would assume notebooks will win.

    Here is a scary thought, if netbooks continue to do very well, then that is saying the OS is now of no real value (since I am doing all of my work via my browser or light weight apps). What does that mean for the flagship product?

  • Jose

    I disagree, I love my acer one with ubuntu on it.

    Haha, outlook is a piece of BS, I like word though, and it works(word) fine in my machine(it flies emulated in virtualbox).

    Man, I always used pegasus, now gmail, I couldn't understand how is that people choose such bloated software.

    If you need a MacBook, buy one and stop whining like a little girl.

  • Pingback: Many Niches » Blog Archive » 2010 Personal Predictions()

  • Pingback: Your Questions About Razor Scooter Electric | scooters razor()