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Doug's Mailbag: Much Ado About Netbooks, More

The discussion continues over whether Michael Dell was right in saying that consumers would be better off buying regular old laptops instead of netbooks:

Michael Dell is missing the point. Netbooks are not a desktop replacement, but they are not bad performers either (at least, my Toshiba isn't). If I'm traveling, I can access my e-mail via the Web -- don't need a heavy laptop for that. I can do MS Office apps very smoothly from my netbook -- don't need a heavy laptop for that. I can VPN into a domain and use remote desktop to do any heavy lifting from my office computer -- don't need a heavy laptop for that. Guess the only drawback to using my netbook instead of a laptop is I don't get the exercise of lugging around the additional weight and larger luggage needed to carry it in. But most hotels/motels I stay at have a gym for exercise -- guess I don't need a heavy laptop for that either.

The screen is smaller but my netbook has a full-size keyboard, is faster than my last notebook, has three times the storage as my last notebook, and the battery runs forever on one charge. Even the price was lighter. Maybe that's why Michael and Steve don't like netbooks.
-Rick

Wasn't it just a few short years ago that laptops were the computer we used on the road? And isn't that still the point? Laptops are becoming lighter all of the time and I wouldn't want to use a laptop as my primary computer unless I had to choose between it and a clunky desktop machine. Netbooks are great, but I think they still have a ways to come before they take the place of laptops as a primary machine.

However, that said, I wouldn't mind having a laptop as my primary desktop machine if I had dual monitors on it.
-Larry

I think what Michael Dell is saying is that people and corporations do not want to two machines plus a smartphone and the extra costs that go with owning two machines. Netbooks are really are a good concept, but I think a slightly bigger format with some horsepower is a much better direction until everything is running in the cloud.
-Jason

Doug has just one issue with netbooks: They don't have built-in synchronization software. A few other readers agree this is a problem:

Yes. I have needed this for years. But I don't want my files on a cloud some place and I don't want to configure my machines with file sharing. One solution with these restrictions would be a sync program that would sync between a hard drive and an external hard drive, always keeping the newest versions of each file. Put the software on two or more machines and specify the folders. You could move the external drive between machines to make sure all files are in sync and have a good external backup in the process.
-Amy

I agree, nice sync software would be good for netbooks, but I think the need is more fundamental. I think that unified simple/solid/secure Internet or cloud sync software has been missing from all computing devices for quite a while. I assumed by now we would have some sort of cloud-based, always accessible storage available on any device. To be truly seamless, this sort of accessible storage would have to be a core component of the OS.

We have the technology to give your phone, desktop, laptop and notebook shared synchronized storage with a decent degree of security. It's a constant surprise that one of the major players (MS or Apple) hasn't tried to build this into their OSes. It makes logical sense: Each of those companies has sufficient market share in devices that cover all those sectors. It is my firm belief that when an OS does this, it will be game-changing, just as big as the transition from DOS to Windows was. Initially, it will have a rough start and a tough road to adoption, just like Windows 1x and 2x. However, it is where the future will be going.
-Dennis

But for every problem, there's a solution -- and here are yours:

Mesh.com is great for synchronizing data. I use it on my netbook to sync up favorites with all my other machines, and I use it on other machines to sync up everything else. I only wish Microsoft would integrate storage with SkyDrive to expand from the 5GB that Mesh.com offers to the 25GB at SkyDrive.
-Ilya

Mesh.com.
-Michael

The best sync tool I've used is Windows Live Sync (sync.live.com). It has worked very well, even with an iMac I have. It's quick to set up and it just works in the background.

I have a laptop I take between home and work (behind a firewall) and it just keeps working. I've traveled overseas and used it to move files back home. When I need to copy files from work to home, I find sync much faster and more effective than doing a file copy (and possibly having to restart if the connection is dropped). I just drop files into a shared filed on my work PC (I remote in) and the files show up on my laptop at home.
-Scott

More letters coming on Friday! Meanwhile, send in your thoughts to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/21/2009 at 1:17 PM


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