The death of the netbook

Within the next few years, when you say "netbook" to someone, they will wonder what you are talking about. The term is a rapidly disappearing one and indeed, I've almost forgotten it myself.

Although popular for a few years, the netbook was a failed experiment as far as I am concerned. I am stunned that it managed to achieve the levels of popularity that it did.

Let's review…

The netbook was a diminutive notebook epitomised by the Asus Eee PC 700. Everything else seemed to be a variation on the Asus theme. This unit had a 7in screen, ran Windows, and weighed about two pounds. It was kind of a clunker when compared with devices in the Toshiba Portege R-series, which were of a similar weight with a bigger screen and a lot more power. The Toshibas also cost a lot more, mind.

The point is that the concept was nothing new. What was new was the idea of cheapening the thing so much that it actually had some odd appeal as a disposable toy or a cute piece of crap.

The machines began to appear late in 2007, and by 2009, the junky aspect began to emerge. I was never a true believer in this sort of machine as it seemed too small to be practical. Toshiba first tried to invent the genre back in the mid-1990s when the company produced a laughable machine called the Libretto, which I thought was the end of the line for these sorts of machine. It might be traced back further to the Poqet and the Atari Portfolio which first emerged in the late 1980s. I should also mention the Gateway Handbook within this category. All predate the Libretto and the netbooks.

Anyway, such experiments have always been with us. The netbook was doomed to fail because of its hopeless lineage.

Enter the ultrabook. The ultrabook is all the rage today as it is essentially a netbook on steroids; it's more powerful, has a bigger screen, and is not much heavier. But nobody would consider it a netbook.

The ultrabook stems from another lineage of ultra-light machines culminating in the MacBook Air, which finally grabbed attention for the category. For years, the super-lightweight machines suffered from lagging market share because they did not have a floppy disk or, later, a CD-ROM or DVD drive. The other reason they never caught on was that they tended to be very pricey.

Over time, the floppy disk simply disappeared and the CD/DVD gave way to the cloud and add-ons. If I want to load my ultrabook with software, I hook it up to the home network and do it over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Oh, how times change.

The netbook turned out to be a pothole in the road of progress that was filled in by ultrabooks and, to a lesser extent, by tablets. What's interesting to me is the speed at which the entire genre is disappearing, perhaps to be forgotten forever (though the bright side is, should you want one, there are some impressive price-slashed bargains around now).

Just look around your home and your office. We are surrounded by other devices that are doomed to the scrap heap. The problem is that we can never identify them at the time of popularity. Can you spot the next one? I bet you can't.