Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Remember Netbooks?

Nilay Patel, the Verge:

Windows getting shown up by Linux was not allowed, so Microsoft did some Microsoft maneuvering, and by January 2008 the Eee PC was running Windows XP instead. It was also part of a larger category called “netbooks,” and we were all made to know what netbooks were.


The netbook explosion was all the more odd because every netbook had the same basic specs, as Microsoft charged more for a standard non-Starter Windows license if a computer had anything more than a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. So it was all colors and screen sizes, really. All to run a deeply-annoying version of Windows, on a computer that no one was even remotely claiming could replace a primary PC. By the end of it all, as the chips inevitably got more powerful, enough laptop vendors were telling Joanna that their new netbook-like computers weren’t netbooks that she started calling them “notbooks.”

The thing I remember most about the netbook era were the constant cries of technology analysts demanding that Apple make a netbook.

Jason Snell of Macworld reported on Apple’s 2008 fourth-quarter earnings:

At Apple’s event launching the company’s new laptops last week, Jobs was asked about the emerging category of “netbooks,” low-cost and low-feature laptops. Last week, Jobs made skeptical noises about the category, saying it was just too early to tell what would happen. On Tuesday Jobs went a little further, dangling some suggestion that Apple is watching the category closely: “It’s a nascent category and we’ll watch while it evolves,” Jobs said. “And we’ve got some pretty good ideas if it does evolve.”

Gregg Keizer of Computerworld in December 2008:

Apple Inc. will introduce two netbooks at the MacWorld Conference and Expo next month that will be tied to the company’s App Store, as is its iPhone, an analyst said today.

“I don’t have any inside information,” said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research Inc., as he spelled out his take on Apple’s next hardware move. “This is just by triangulation.”

The computer Apple actually introduced at Macworld in January 2009 was the 17-inch MacBook Pro which only resembled a netbook from really far away.

David Carnoy of CNet could not have been more blunt in this 2009 editorial, which ran with the headline “Why Apple must do a Netbook now” and this dek:

With news that users are hacking Windows and Linux Netbooks to run OS X — and run it pretty well — Apple needs to release a Netbook of its own before it loses ground in the highest-growth laptop category.

I am sure Apple’s executives are just kicking themselves all the way to the bank.

Anyway, shortly after the iPad came out, the “netbook” name became toxic and, as Patel writes, the companies making them avoided that marketing. Patel and Joanna Stern argue that iPads are their spiritual successor, but I think Chromebooks are far more netbook-like. If anything is to be a “netbook”, it should be a laptop that is effectively just for web apps — and nothing is more like that than a kind of notebook named after the world’s most popular web browser.