Notes from a netbook convert

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

A few months ago, in this very space, I told you I wasnâe(TM)t totally sold on the idea of âeoecloud computingâe - the notion that weâe(TM)ll all be storing our applications and data on servers on the Internet, not on our desktops.

Back then I argued that high speed, wireless Internet access wasnâe(TM)t ubiquitous enough to make the concept practical. Well, Iâe(TM)m starting to change my mind. Not because Web access has dramatically improved, it hasnâe(TM)t, but because netbooks have come into their own.

Whatâe(TM)s a netbook? Itâe(TM)s an inexpensive laptop computer running Windows or, more often, a dialect of the open source operating system Linux. Netbooks typically have screens about 8-10 inches wide, sport smaller than normal keyboards, a simple webcam, weigh in at about two pounds and have built-in wireless cards.While they lack the horsepower to do, say, video editing, the Atom processors that drive them are plenty fast for web surfing, word processing and even watching YouTube videos or listening to online audio while you work on a Google Document, which is exactly what Iâe(TM)m doing right now on my new netbook.

I opted for the $400 Acer Aspire One running a version of Linux called Linpus. Linpus is really Linux Lite. It presents a simple user interface that makes it easy for even new users to browse the Web, work on documents (using the open source Open Office 2.3) and do other basic tasks.

However, as I found after I worked with the netbook for a week, once you try to move beyond the baked in apps and interface, you're up against ten miles of bad highway trying to coax Linux into installing the latest versions of software and plug-ins. So, unless you're familiar with Linux, I'd suggest you opt for a netbook running Windows XP. I returned my Linux based laptop for an XP version. I'm no XP fan, but compared to Linux, XP is a breeze.

Iâe(TM)ve had this netbook for about a week now. I bought it after waiting to see if Apple introduced any inexpensive laptops (it didnâe(TM)t). I understand Appleâe(TM)s decision. With its new, beautifully-machined computers itâe(TM)s clearly cementing its hold on the BMW end of the laptop market. And, netbooks are more like old school Volkswagens, except much cheaper. In fact, itâe(TM)s clear that manufacturers like Asus, Acer, Dell and HP are in a race-to-the-bottom with netbooks. Each week, it seems, thereâe(TM)s news of a cheaper netbook. In the U.S. Best Buy is carrying an Asus netbook for under $300.

Thatâe(TM)s not a race Apple would be caught dead in. But, itâe(TM)s a great opportunity for consumers, especially consumers in nonprofits and charities.

I think, with a downward economy, cheap netbooks couldnâe(TM)t have arrived at a better time. For 90 per cent of laptop users netbooks provide all the speed and functionality needed. Plus, the batteries on these babies last up to seven hours (at least ones with six cell batteries, which I recommend).

Because of cloud-based applications like Gmail, Google Docs, friendfeed and delicious and iGoogle, you can do serious work, collaboratively online. And, the built-in Open Office software is a worthy competitor to Microsoftâe(TM)s Office Suite and is perfectly compatible. So, even if you canâe(TM)t get a wired or wireless Web connection, you can do real work locally on âeoecloudlessâe days.

On this netbook Iâe(TM)ve made iGoogle my homepage and have loaded the newly redesigned social media/RSS feed portal with my feeds, news, Google docs, flickr pics, blog tools, Twitter and friendfeed widgets.

I can get a ton done without even leaving that single page. And, if I need to make international phone calls, I can plug a headset in and use my cheap Skype account to call and chat with Skype friends or landlines anywhere in the world. So, the netbook is also a great phone too. All this in a laptop I can fit in the inside pocket of my fall jacket (okay, it is a big pocket).

These are ideal field journalist tools too. Many have a built-in multi-card readers which make it easy to use a netbook to upload audio, stills or video from an audio recorder or digital camera. If your organization is looking to buy new computers Iâe(TM)d seriously suggest you consider investigating netbooks. I expect, by Christmas weâe(TM)ll see sub $250 ones in Canada. At that price you could buy ten before you spent the money you would have on a new Macbook Pro.

I had great hopes that the One Laptop Per Child initiative would put inexpensive computers in the hands of children worldwide. That project is floundering, but, as my Twitter pal Karin Dalziel pointed out to me, the OLPC initiative really started the whole netbook race in the first place. And, that competition has put multiple laptops within the reach of non-profits and causes with even the most limited budgets. Sometimes, in a race to the bottom, everyone wins.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.