Netbook Power – Guts Enough for Glory?
Sometimes it seems as if netbooks just fell out of the sky one day and caught everyone by surprise. However, once you understand what netbooks are and where they came from everything makes a little bit more sense. Still, the question remains, are netbooks worthwhile tools for professional use, or just tiny computers for unimportant tasks?
Typically, a netbook is a portable computer that is smaller, lighter, and less powerful than a standard laptop. Just how much smaller, lighter, or less powerful, is a matter of opinion. Most professional users can imagine ways to get around things like smaller hard drives and less memory. Keeping files stored on the netbook to just the “office types” like word processing files, spreadsheet files, and even PowerPoint files means fitting comfortably within the smaller hard disk.
Using less RAM can be achieved by limiting or eliminating multi-tasking.
Still, professionals whose function includes any sort of compiling, multimedia editing, database work, or other intensive applications would be best to stick with more expensive and more powerful hardware.
One of the major limitations of netbooks is the size of their monitors.
Microsoft released the highly unpopular and resource hungry Vista operating system before the netbook market started catching on. The hardware netbooks ran on had no chance of running Windows Vista, so manufacturers installed Linux instead.
Faced with the choice of letting the entire netbook market become an installed base of Linux systems, or re-opening the decision to eliminate Windows XP from the market, Microsoft chose to allow netbook makers to install XP, if it was limited to machines with low-end hardware.
Netbook screens can be no larger than 12.1” to qualify for a Windows XP installation. Ironically, the requirements for using the upcoming Windows 7 Starter edition are even WORSE when it comes to screen size. This comes as a huge blow to professionals looking into purchasing a netbook.
While screen width has been largely eradicated as a limiting factor for most non-multimedia applications thanks to features like word wrap, screen height is something for which little has been done to overcome. Scanning a document for a bit of information is tedious at best when only a handful of lines at a time display on the screen. Even the netbook’s bread and butter function, surfing the Internet, is less productive with a short screen.
Most pros have upgraded to widescreen monitors in the 20-inch plus neighborhood, and many laptops have gone in this direction as well. It makes the old standard 1024 x 768 seem unusable, but on a netbook, you’ll be lucky to find 1024 x 600.
The first netbooks sported all manner of bizarre keyboard layouts in an attempt to replicate all the necessary keys from a regular keyboard in an amount of space much smaller than even reduced-sized laptop keyboard take up. The results were mixed, to say the least.
One of the worst moves made in netbook keyboard design is the tiny and slightly out of place, Right Shift Key. One reviewer noted that he, “…didn’t use the right shift key very often anyway.” Statements like these make professionals nervous about netbooks.
My first thought was to wonder what kind of person goes through life not having to capitalize words that start with letters on the left side of the keyboard. Sentences always start with capital letters and you type a capital T by pressing the right shift key with the pinky finger on your right hand. As a professional writer, the thought of having to go without starting sentences with “The” makes me break out in sweats. Never mind not being able to use “A” or “An” either. (Nor be able to type my name with a capital B, but I suppose sacrifices must be made.)
While teenage texters and freshmen updating their Facebook pages may find no need to type quickly, many pros in need of mobile computing are proficient touch typists. Giving up that speed typically does not make sense.
Fortunately, many keyboard designs offer better options. Some netbooks offer an additional row of keys, placing computing keys above the numbers based on the concept that while touch typing is important, touch Caps Lock or Control isn’t.
Unfortunately, being able to use a keyboard is not just about having the keys in the right place. Size and spacing of keys make a big difference as well. Consider that ergonomic keyboards are specifically designed to move your arms out away from your body. Now, imagine a keyboard without the ergonomic angles that is narrower than a full-sized keyboard. Guess which way your arms move to type on it?
Professional Netbook Power
For the right set of tasks, netbooks can have a significant advantage. Professionals in sales and in management for example could benefit from contact management, communications, and document processing without much compromise.
For some professionals, though, netbooks might not be the right answer yet. For those whose job requires a lot of writing, the cramped keyboards can be a major detriment. A keyboard that feels just fine while standing in front of a display at Best Buy for ten minutes becomes a wrist numbing experience after 15 minutes. Likewise, professionals who rely on the ability to peruse through a large amount of data via quickly scanning what appears on the screen will find netbooks tiresome and tedious with all of the required scrolling. Generally, these pros would be better suited to even a low-end laptop with a bigger keyboard and monitor.
To go the netbook route, professional users should look for 1GB of RAM minimum and the new Intel ATOM processors which are much better suited task than the older processors which were not designed with netbooks in mind. Disk space should be less of a consideration considering the tasks that will be performed on a netbook and the amount of software one will install. However, 30 GB and 40 GB hard drives are likely to prove very constraining after a short period of time. Go for the 160 GB drive or similar whenever possible.
Getting the biggest possible screen is the right choice for anyone looking for anything other than a secondary portable computer. For users looking for a compliment to their laptop instead of a replacement, then the smallest screen and lightest weight make the most sense.
In the end, with the price of low-end laptops approaching those of netbooks, it may be best for professionals to stick to light weight versions of those instead of messing around with netbooks.
This post is part of the series: Netbooks for Professional Users
- Netbooks – Suitable for Professional Use?
- Netbook Features Required for Professional Power Users
- Best Netbooks For Professional Use