Alec has written a killer post about the problem that both Microsoft and Apple are running into. The Netbook craze, and he's very right on.
Here's some history, from a very early adopter. I've been buying Netbooks since the were called UMPCs. I've purchsed OQOs, Medions (both underpowered using the older VIA chips which have since improved) as well as original EEE PCs from Asus (ask my wife our French EEE PC story-that one is in the hands of our winemaker friend, Sylvain Fadat) and then many more. Over 15 at last count. Why? I learn more and more about their utility with each model first hand.
But I digress. Back in 1980 I had a similar dilemma. I knew I needed to computerize my office operations, as I was charged with running Hockey Central, the Philadelphia Flyers Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs as it would become known as a few years later upon the arrival of Bob Butera as team President. Given I was always out and about the idea of a desktop computer from Apple or Radio Shack seemed hard to fathom. Many computers were expensive and didn't offer an all in one solution. As someone who never had owned (or used) a computer, the learning curve was monumental. But along came the Osbourne and my dilemma of buying one was solved. Why? It had everything in one box and was PORTABLE. That was the hook.
A short time later I bought a Osbourne II (blue grey case) and that became the daily luggable. Then out came the IBM PC and a short time later the Compaq. My boss at the time with the Philadelphia Flyers was a brilliant tax and finance guy named Donn Patton. He knew we needed to automate, and I was tasked with helping do that. He made me a deal. I would buy a Compaq and he would buy a desktop IBM PC running DOS. Together we learned more and more each week, and then when I started using MCI Mail for email, email to hard copy and a Western Union program that turned the Compaq into a Telex/TWX machine that immediately caused a sensation. No longer would a secretary (one of three have to log into "receive or send the twx" something that meant a lot when it came to the waiver wire or to confirm a trade, a contract or more associated with the NHL. Now, even Donn (or I could do it and I did-reading some very interesting emails from some very interesting hockey people---but my lips are sealed) That led us to buy one for the GM's executive assistant, and as a result I somehow became the go to guy for all things micro computing vs. the mini's that were handled by an IT consultant.
I share this story because the idea of a laptop/portable computer back in the 1980's was something very strange. Men didn't usually touch anything with a keyboard unless they were in the PR or media. (Some PR people wrote longhand and had their secretary type the release--YUK) bit today, these Netbooks are to me what the luggable PC's were almost 30 years ago. The shape of things to come. Along the way I've owned NEC Multispeed portables, the first Mac portable and a host of laptops with a Dell Inspiron back in the 90s being the PC that changed my lfe. With the arrival of Mac laptops I went back to Macs this decade, but now find with more and more things cloud oriented, that Mac or Windows (or even linux) the OS doesn't matter. It's the lightweight that does.
I use my Netbook more and more, and now that I can watch iTunes videos on it, and the battery life is better than my MacBook Pro, I find the myself using it more for lightweight computing tasks when on the go.
So the dilemma I see for Apple is really one of simply saying, we can make the best Netbook, not simply dismissing what's there today, but really changing the game once again.
Early adopters are agents of change. We shape the future and waste lots of money along the way. But that investment in an Osbourne was just that. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today, without having spent that money as "tuition" so many years ago.