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Lamenting the death of the netbook
posted 2012-03-02

Well, I'd say it's official: Netbooks are slowly dying out, and "slowly" is accelerating. There were no netbooks advertised in this week's Staples, Best Buy, or "The Source" flyers. There was only one in the Future Shop flyer.

I love my netbook. It's as fast as my previous laptop was (well, I don't really notice differences in speed in computers any more — we'll get to why in a second), but it fits in the front pocket of my backpack and the batteries (I have a spare) last for at least 6 hours. It has a real keyboard, and I can type at full speed on it. It even has a proper English keyboard layout (no annoying French Canadian enter key). Good luck finding one of those in Canada nowadays.

But for some reason, nobody wants a fully functional computer that can do anything they want in a $200 package any more. They want to pay $400+ for a tablet that does half as much, half as fast. I was really hoping this tablet fad would be over by now, but it isn't. I guess the majority of people really are consumers after all. How sad.

I'm a writer. I need my keyboard. I'm a technician. I need a real computer, not some locked-down device made from nonstandard custom parts that won't interface with anything in the field. More importantly I'm a user, and I want my computing devices to talk to each other seamlessly. That means I want to use the same applications on all of them.

And I want all of that to fit into the front pocket of my backpack. And cost less than $200.

In a few years, it will seem fantastical that we were at a point technologically where we had all of that. And it'll seem even more fantastical that we threw it away in favour of novelty toys.

I wish I could somehow vote with my wallet enough times to convince the manufacturers to keep making real computers, but I'm poor.

I wish the software giants would get off their asses and make their operating systems faster, because the problem with netbooks isn't the horsepower. My netbook is blazing fast. It's an Intel Atom from 4 years ago, but it runs Linux. It's faster than an iPad, a lot faster than a full-blown desktop computer with all the latest bells and whistles running Windows 7, and it's faster than a Mac.

Did I mention my netbook only has 1 GB of RAM? And that I considered pulling half of it out to save battery power? Computers now come standard with 4 or 6 or even 8 GB of RAM, and they're slower than my 4-year-old netbook. It's entirely the fault of the software. Modern hardware is frigging amazing, and it seems all we can do is squander it, forcing it to spin its wheels running crap. We've taken such massive steps backward in software that Windows 3.11 for Workgroups from the early 1990's boots faster than what we have now. What. The. Hell?

And it's not enough that we give up all our speed — now we're supposed to interact with computers by clumsily touching them? And we're supposed to pay more for the privilege?

Because of all the terrible slowness of the mainstream operating systems and software, it's now more important than ever that ordinary users A) know that there are alternatives, and B) that we be allowed to install those alternatives.

Netbooks gave us that (remember, the very first ones ran Linux), and tablets are going to take it away.