Netbooks are so inexpensive… Should I get one to replace my computer?

Recently I was talking with Rebekah Miller, Website coordinator (and de-facto technical director) of ISI about the most common questions coming from ISI staff from around the country in regards to technology. She shared that many staff have been looking at the attractive size and price of a Netbook and are considering purchasing one to replace their current computer.

Let me take one step back… Many of you are asking, “What is a Netbook and how is it different than a laptop?” Honestly, the industry is trying to figure that very question out too but simply, a Netbook is “a very small portable laptop computer desined for wireless communication and access to the internet.”(Wikipedia) These computers started off as small machines designed for web-browsing and e-mailing and usually depend on the internet for its storage/application needs (cloud computing e.g. using google docs to do document stuff). Generally, these diminutive devices (read purse/Franklin planner/Ryrie Bible size) are 2-3 pounds, have wireless capability built in, have screens from 5-10 inches and are extremely inexpensive. Most of the early ones did not have a hard drive (the first “official” one, the ASUS EeePC, first had only a flash drive) and ran Linux but today there are some that have moderately sized hard drive (120-160GB) and run using Windows XP (Vista requires too much processor and memory for these machines). They usually take a low power, lower speed processor(ATOM, ARM, etc.) and a small amount of memory (512-1032M). Battery life is also a high value in these devices. If you get a three cell models, the battery lasts around 2-3 hours but with the more expensive 6 cell, you can get as much as 6-8 hours.

I bought one, an Acer Aspire One A150-1126(9.8″ screen, 160 GB HD, 1G RAM, Windows XP, Six Cell, was $389, now $279) about six months ago for my son to use for his virtual home school and ended up letting him use my more powerful “huge” 14 inch diameter laptop (bought for its “small” size) and taking his Acer Aspire One around with me on campus. For THIS ROLE, this computer is just perfect. In the past, my laptop was just too heavy to lug around campus and so I didn’t have it most of the time and so I could not get access to my files, I could not show the perfect “illustration” YouTube video, check my calendar, etc. And how many times have you had an appointment or Bible study scheduled with a student and they were either extremely late or don’t even show up. You are stuck on campus until your next appointment because you don’t want to lose your precious parking spot. In the past, your options were pray, read your Bible (both awesome choices) or get some coffee. Now because I have a computer the size of a “classic” planner, I usually carry it with me all the time (and no more planner and in a pinch even no more Bible as it is on the laptop). While I am waiting, I can check e-mail, work on my PowerPoint document (Yes office can run on the Windows version as can most other windows programs), update my calendar, collaborate with a colleague, skype a student from Thailand, and check my facebook (oops… What is the student I am supposed to meet doing on there?).  The six hour battery is great too when I can’t find a open plug (e.g. when on an airplane).

Here is a few negatives, the diminutive specs limit the number, size and power of the software you can run. At best, you can only run maybe 5-6 main applications at a time. If it is a Netbook that runs on the Linux operating system (not Windows), you cannot use Windows based software (though there may be a free equivalent). Though the original idea of Netbooks is to run everything on the web using a browser, web applications are almost but not quite as good as the professional apps residing on your computer (e.g. MS Office) and so many netbooks are starting to come preloaded with Windows.  Netbooks do not come with a CD or DVD drive so you are dependent on the internet, external drives or Flash Drives to move data. For many the game breaker is that the screen is very small (hard to see for many) and the touchpad and keyboard are small(though surprisingly easier to use than I originally thought). I would play with one at a store before purchasing one to see if you can handle these items.

In summary, let me answer the question, “Would I replace my computer with one?”

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