While the big computer makers with the familiar names — notably Dell and HP — had a very bad year in 2008, others makers specializing in other types of computers apparently had a pretty good year.

Conventional PC and notebook sales were down dramatically in the second half of last year and consumer sales this past holiday season were among the most disappointing in the history of the industry.

As Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post reports, “Some [advances] happened in devices once labeled ‘peripherals’, such as smartphones and digital cameras, while others took place entirely on the Web. Start with smartphones, the kind of computer that an increasing number of people carry with them every waking moment. Apple’s iPhone 3G got the headlines, but 2008’s bigger phone story was the iPhone’s App Store.”

Digital cameras are also beginning to embody more and more smart technology, sllowing some users to bypass the step of downloading their pics to a PC and send them directly to photo printers or Web-based archive services. Some models even have in-camera editing tools.

But the emerging technology that got the most attention in 2008 — and is expected, at this early stage at least, to be the big story of 2009 — is the Netbook concept.

As reported previously on TLP, Netbooks are mini notebooks, typically with a 7-in screen and a compact but usable full-QWERTY keyboard. Light weight and a compact form factor are just the beginning, though. As Web-based applications and services continue to gain in popularity and users (especially in the business sphere) come to reply more and more on their wireless connections to the office, wireless-ready Netbooks will look more and more attractive to users on the go.

Perhaps the most attractive attribute of the Netbook is its average price of under (US)$400 per unit.

With the rise of the Netbook, the Linux open source operating system is also making gains in the consumer marketspace. An attractive, reliable and free operating system is seen as one of the best ways to keepo Netbook prices down — and players in the Netbook market are already comperting on price more than on features or performance, which are currently pretty similar across the board.

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