You’ve probably heard of “Netbooks”, the new generation of stripped-down (‘streamlined’?) portable computers with features geared to Net-based activities.


The ASUS Eee PC — The ‘original’ Netbook.
Shape of PCs to come?

Netbooks are expected to take off this year, as one of the Next Big Things on the computer/Internet front. It’s great news for consumers, who have been clamouring for lightweight, inexpensive portables the past couple of years as personal and business lifestyles become more and more mobile. The Netbook has been looking more and more attractive to on-the-go users for another reason, too: Intensive cell phone users have discovered that — regardless of the features on their phones and the services they can access through their connection providers — you just can’t do real work on a tiny screen.

So, wireless-ready Netbooks, weighing in at around 3 lb. / 1.4 kg, with 7 in. to 9 in. diagonal screens, full-QWERTY keyboards you can actually type on and a “hardback novel” form factor, are bound to appeal.

And did we mention the (US)$400-and-under price tag?

But what’s good news for Intel (which supplies the new generation of microprocessor “brain” chips used in most current Netbooks) is bad news for the competition. And other chip makers are already suffering from stagnant sales, even closing down production lines, due to the tanking desktop and conventional portable PC markets. This past Holiday season, in fact, was one of the worst in 15 years for computer sales.

While Asian manufacturers are embracing the Nerbook concept, familiar North American names are not jumping in, saying that, with their manufacturing and marketing costs, profit margins are to slim on a Netbook that would have to compete at the (US)$400 price point.

Industry observers say we’re on the verge of a shakeout: Either the traditional computer makers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, shift their business model to provide what consumers want or they’ll find themselves out of business. For the time being, though, the old-school players are standing pat, trying to differentiate their conventional PC products from netbooks by pointing out that you still need a full-featured computer to do serious work.

Simply put… While most observers (outside of the smart phone industry, of course) seem to agree that phones will never totally replace PCs, they are starting to opine as the Netbook might. But that would require a wholesale change, by users, from conventional PCs, PC-resident software and “local” PC-resident mass storage for their data. And, as Google, Microsoft and other providers of “cloud” services will attest, that isn’t liklely to happen soon, based on sluggish interest from both consumers and businesses over the past couple of years, since major players first started to offer Web-based aplications and services on a serious basis.

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