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Doug's Mailbag: Netbooks vs. Laptops, More

Does Michael Dell have a point when he says consumers would be better off buying laptops than netbooks? A few readers think he does:

I think I agree with Mr. Dell on this one. There is always a tendency toward tech inflation, where everyone seems to want a 17-inch display on a laptop. What for? But before you know it, you have these behemoth laptops with terrabyte drives and multi-gigabytes of storage -- the whole "desktop replacement" thing. It strikes me that netbooks are a reaction to those monsters, but I think they are the wrong reaction.

I bought a cheap netbook just to play around, and I'm not sure that even a better one would be a useful tool. Better, I think, to go with one of the ultra-light notebooks, like the ThinkPad X series. You get a real keyboard and a responsive machine.

You're right -- netbooks make a good SECOND device, primarily for their portability and battery life, access to the Internet for e-mail, and their ability to do real work in a pinch. The point is that most of the consumer interest in netbooks is still in their price. Many people are NOT looking at the netbook as a second device; they are looking at it as an inexpensive PRIMARY device. And this is where Michael Dell makes his point.

As a primary device, a netbook is simply NOT cost-effective. Yes, it is less expensive than a full-sized laptop but by a very small amount. To save $50 to $100, you have to give up a 2GHz-plus Core 2 Duo laptop with 2GB-plus of RAM and a 320GB hard drive AND a 14-inch screen in exchange for a 1.6GHz single-core Atom processor with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. That is not very much more money to pay for a full-size laptop that can to everything you need it to do. As a primary device, portability and battery life are less important than full functionality. What we don't want is for consumers buy a netbook and only later learn that they did not get what they bargained for from that $50 to $100 savings. As for Michael Dell, he just doesn't want to have to keep cutting his margins to compete.

As for netbooks, all Doug wants is good software to synch up your netbook with your laptop. Readers weigh in:

Doesn't Cisco offer a product suite that does just that?

No, that's NOT too much to ask. Nor, I'd hope, are my own pet wants: a real on-board fax modem, for use when the built-in Wi-Fi has nothing to connect to; a PCMCIA slot for using a Sierra Wireless AirCard in, when only cellular GPRS/EDGE/etc data service is available; and a real Centronics printer port, for use when the only emergency printer at hand is of the older parallel port variety.

While Firewire and standard 9-pin serial ports would be welcome, too, along with a SCSI host adapter connector, I wouldn't insist too absolutely on any of those -- but I certainly would gladly pay extra to have them.

Ater Exchange 2010 hit RTM status last week, Doug applauded the replacement of .PST backups -- mainly because he never really figured them out. Joseph sympathizes...sort of:

I hate to say it, Doug, but not good for a Redmondian. However, in your favor, PSTs have been in use for about 10 years. Oops...wait a second. That doesn't make you look good at all.

Seriously, you are not alone. There are many, many people that struggle with understanding this, just like there are people that will never understand that you don't have to put description1, description2, description3 as separate fields in a database table. At these times, when I'm reminded of my superiority, I just want to take a break, grab my club and go kill some dinner.

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/19/2009 at 1:17 PM


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