Blog of a Long Distance Worker Tech

The blog about mobile tech for the mobile worker/consultant

Blog of a Long Distance Worker Tech - The blog about mobile tech for the mobile worker/consultant

Dead Netbooks … what is a netbook anyway

Asus PC701 4G NetbookI first started this blog around the time that the first netbooks appeared, and I must say I went with them in much gusto. I went quickly through the little 7″ Asus eeePC, through MSI devices and the Asus Seashell line. They were very good, ultralight laptops that did the job for me. One thing though did impact their success and that was the artificial limitations that people placed on them, through limiting them to 1GB RAM or the 1024×600 pixel screen. Now it seems that people are pronouncing them as dead…

Netbooks – those compact, underpowered, inexpensive notebook PCs once hailed as the future of mobile computing – are set to disappear from retailer shelves in 2013, as the last remaining manufacturers of the devices prepare to exit the market.

via 2012: The year that netbooks DIED • The Register.

In some ways this article (and others) are right in that Netbooks in their limited form are dead. However the original intention of these devices was to create a small, low cost, lightweight and effective portable computing device and it is in this respect that they have had a major success. Laptops in 2007 were big, heavy devices with limited battery life that cost upwards of £600. Today laptops are lighter, with much longer battery life, and cost between £300 and £500. Additionally back in 2007, the screen size that people craved for was 15″ whereas it is now 13″ or even below.

Netbooks, in my view, are not dead. They have evolved and what we call a laptop today is in fact a Netbook evolved away from artificial limitations of stupid low memory or low pixel number screens. Maybe one of the reasons that I found the netbook so useful is that I made use of upgrades on the hardware and software to make them ultralight laptops. Hey the Ultrabook and Sleekbooks are their logical conclusions in my view.

Asus S200ELong live the netbook as it is today, a small and ultralight, reasonably powerful, long battery lifed laptop… like my Asus 1225B and my Asus S200E devices.

Ultrabooks are go!

Just like netbooks before them, it seems that Ultrabooks have caught the public need just right for an ultralight, reasonably powerful laptop that does not cost a fortune. These laptops though are not chasing a loss, they are there to make money for the companies concerned, unlike netbooks before them. I cannot wait for the Ultrabook that has a 1920×1080 pixel resolution in an 11.6″ package (my dream machine!)

We’ve seen so much Ultrabook news recently we’re beginning to think they’re catching on. Market research firm the NPD Group has stepped in to confirm our suspicions, reporting a 39 percent jump in sales of premium Windows laptops (900 bucks and up) during the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2011.

http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/29/ultrabook-sales-up/

 

Backups on a different level

Ultralight LatopLarger LaptopWith the cost of computer hardware today and the availability of file and folder sync solutions, it makes great sense to always have a second backup laptop available to you at all times such you can alternate or switch between them based on the emergency (machine is dead) to the having a larger presentation laptop and a smaller travel laptop. The sync solutions that work well for me are Microsoft Live Mesh and the Insync solution with Google Docs. Both of these solutions allow you to setup sub folders of your Documents folder as a complete file store that is synchronised to the other machine(s). In the past I have used the sync solutions to provide full files/folder backup and recovery for moving to a new laptop, but with the large amount of data I now sync that has sometimes taken me up to a week to get back and in operation. I see it now as a much better solution to always have two machines on the go simultaneously.

Live Mesh is more flexible in allowing you to have multiple folders all over your machine that you set to sync across all machines, but it does not offer much cloud storage (5GB but you can peer to peer sync without going to this storage) and there are mild rumours that with the coming Windows 8 that it will be ceased. This has proven very reliable for my situation where I have been syncing 80-120GB across three machines but I am not sure I will be sticking with it.

Insync is a much more interesting tool that allows you to use the universal storage nature of Google Docs to sync all your machines to Google Docs, and due to the low cost of Google’s storage ( free for 1GB, $5 for 20GB, $20 for 80GB, $4,096 for 16TB! per annum) you have ultimately unlimited storage. This service also allows you to share individual files and folders using the sharing functionality of Google Docs, and your remote and mobile access is via standard Google Docs on whatever device. I can see me transitioning to Insync only in the coming months.

Email is just a matter of using a webmail solution or one that offers full sync or IMAP to a PC client such as hosted Exchange solutions (Office365) or ,my favourite at the moment, Google Mail for Apps. Both of those solutions offer a complete storage solution for all your email, contacts and calendaring needs. Google offers more capabilities in being able to share calendars with people outside of your organisation and having access to some very interesting Google Apps platforms solutions such as CRM. Microsoft is definitely more behind in that side of things, and way more costly.

On top of that, using Google Chrome with full browser sync also makes sure that every bookmark and extension is synchronised to every machine I use. The final piece of the puzzle is the use of Lastpass to ensure that I have secure access to every password that I need.

So you have no excuse but to have access to a laptop with all of your data, all of the time, and even have access to your data in the cloud.

Death of Netbooks

Asus PC701 4G NetbookA little over 4 years ago I bought an Asus PC701 4G Netbook. It was small, light, and did the job… well mostly. I struggled with the inability to have Outlook on a Linux based PC and I really needed Outlook. I upgraded to Windows XP and it all worked out well enough. At least for a secondary machine that is. In the end, that little SSD died and I upgraded to my next netbook – one that I actually used as my main machine for quite some time, a rebadged MSI Wind U100. This one was more sprightly running as it did an Atom processor with an (upgraded) 2GB of RAM, and an (upgraded) 160GB HDD. I could do everything on that little machine, even running Windows 7 Premium Home as soon as that came out. It is still a fine machine, if a little sluggish at times but with excellent battery life running above a real 4 hours.

Since then I have moved away from those little netbooks to my current Ultralight machines (a 13″ Asus UL30 and an 11.6″ HP DM1), but those machines owe quite a bit to those early netbooks, which in my view leads very much into today’s Ultrabooks. Netbooks identified the following very important requirements for a laptop – it had to have good to excellent battery life, be very light, have enough storage and sufficient performance. Those little Atom based machines have sufficient performance for browsing, a little wordprocessing, email and playing music – exactly what the average family need in laptops that are owned by every member of the family, and in fact what most busy business travellers also needed. All of these features have made their way into pretty much every single 11.6″ and 13″ based laptop today. Netbooks also helped greatly in the removal of the need to have an optical drive, so much so that very few actual machines these days have built in optical storage and most people don’t miss that except about twice a year, when a separate drive can be used.

HP dm1 Ultralight 11.6" LaptopUnfortunately things have moved on in the processor stakes, the memory stakes and the required workload stakes. Netbooks as they are today have not moved on except in the growth of the 11.6″ based ultra light laptop which also corrects the other main problem of netbooks – the manufacturers margins. The new “netbook” is the 11.6″ ultralight running Windows 7 Premium Home with 4GB of RAM, 320GB of HDD, a 1366×768 screen, and most importantly a dual core processor that is also ultra low power to give 5 to 6 hours of battery life for normal use.

So I do agree Netbooks have died but they begat some very interesting children. Without Netbooks we would all still be paying £600/$750 for a 14″ monster with 2 hours of battery life. Be thankful for Netbooks.

Laptop Size–How big is big enough

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The main thing that defines a laptop these days is how big it is, and the thing that defines that more than anything else is the screen size. It used to be the fact that every laptop had a 15” screen but the smaller device has grown more popular and it is easy to see why – what point is a mobile device if it huge, even though you can get 17” screen laptops that act as desktop replacements.

The big change tor many was the introduction of the ‘netbook’ which through in mostly 10.1” screens with some smaller ones at 8.9” or right the way down to the original EeePC 4G with 7”. These screens really made laptops extremely portable, and I believe it is the big reason for the growth in laptop ownership amongst ordinary people – as people saw that they could always have a laptop with then when it was a tiny ultra portable machine. However these screens are almost entirely only 1024×600 pixels in size which has been a major problem with Netbooks and I believe the main driver to their reduction in popularly in recent months (along with tablets coming to the fore of course). The problem being that applications expect a minimum of 1024×768 pixels or more specifically at least 768 pixels in the vertical.

In the last 18 months, screen sizes grew into the more manageable 11.6” to 13.3” size ranges and these have been mostly available in 1366×768 pixels in size (or the less popular 1280×800 or 1280×720). For the smaller screen this resolution is a very effective size but in my opinion way too small for the larger 13.3” size screens. Apple lead the way and the new Ultrabooks are following up by introducing 1440 x 900 pixels for these 13.3” sizes, and more effective number of pixels for these sizes.

The combinations of pixels and screen size actually points to the tradeoffs between portability and ensuring you have an effective screen size for applications. I find that for the ultra traveller you need to focus on having a small laptop which is why I have the 11.6” 1366×768 pixels based device and this is great on the go (can open when in economy on planes) and ok when I have arrived, particularly if I am a regular traveller and have organised a second monitor at my destination. I do however keep a 13.3” based machine running which works real well when combined with a decent 7” or 9” tablet for use when the 13.3” screen is impossible to use.

What about you?

Full Featured Laptops or Cloudbook

There are a lot of different and new machines out there for the Chromebook to compete with in the portable/ultralight arena. Considering the high price of these machines though, they are certainly priced out of the market in which they would be ideal – the below £200 market. In the £350 to £400 market, they are too limited and extremely expensive, particularly with the lack of ubiquitous network connectivity that will never exist sufficiently unless they can change ChromeOS to work more effectively off-line. The had so much promise. However if you are in the market for a new machine, then take a look at TechRadar’s look at £350 laptops. Considering I have just purchased No.1, the HP Pavilion dm1, on the list as my new primary Ultralight you should certainly find something useful in this article.

 

While Samsungs Google Chromebook is an interesting piece of tech, its not for everyone.

via 10 laptops you can buy for the price of a Chromebook | News | TechRadar UK.

 

 

Notebook Performance

I had cause recently to have an online conversation with a reader who believed that the only worthwhile computer equipment was the very fastest thing you can get. This person was looking at the needs equation from their own perspective which was as a gamer. This is so small a percentage of computer users, particularly mobile computer users, that all I can say is that they were completely and utterly wrong for the vast majority.

The vast majority use a computer to process documents (either read or create or both), browse the internet, read email, access social networking sites (business and/or personal), play music and play video. This is self evident in so many ways, and points to the fact that today a computer, particularly a mobile one, only has to be fast enough. In the old days the development of software outpaced the hardware periodically, requiring the hardware to be replaced just to get an acceptable basic performance. Today even a five year old laptop can run the latest word processor, web browser, email program, and music/video player. The issue is now so much more about battery life, weight, and ease of use.

So what is good enough today? Well as many have shown, most users are perfectly happy with netbook/notebook/notbooks that run with single/dual core 1.5/1.6GHz processors with 1-2GB of RAM. You can see these sorts of PCs still being heavily sold and also cropping up in most homes and schools. I will say though that the experience is not really swish with the lowest specification but they are good enough for almost everyone.

What do I use? Well I do have a number of netbooks with a minimum of 2GB RAM and 1.6GHz Atom processors and they run well enough although can be a little sluggish at times with some software combinations. For my main machine, I have a 1.2GHz Dual Core processor with 4GB of RAM and this is perfectly fine and gives excellent performance (along with the fact that I get excellent battery life at the same time). This is even good enough for some light encoding work (albeit slower than having a 2.2GHz Dual Core). This is what you should go for and nothing less. It is going to take more than a couple of years for people to come up with software that needs more than this. The most important things to have are RAM and Dual Core for that snappy response, as the enemy of all machines is having lots of disk access due to swapping and having a processor locked up doing something else.

Death of Netbooks…

ASUS1005HAThere have been many posts today (like this, and this) as follow up to the Acer story about them dropping netbooks as a product and effectively focusing on touch screen devices. The follow up has been largely about retractions from Acer that netbooks will be an important part of their product lineup.

Many people have stated that Netbooks are dead because of the iPad, but to be honest I do not believe that in the same way that I did not believe that netbooks would kill notebooks. One thing is clear, there is now a lot more choice in the device that you – the customer, personal or business, have when you are travelling. This is all about choice and fitting the perfect device for the individual’s way of working. Some people will find the iPad and similar incredibly suited to the way they work. Others will find the netbook perfect. In addition there are many people out there who believe the 17 inch Macbook Pro is the ideal machine for their own particular work flow.hp-tablet

There will be a reduction in the market for the netbook, just as the notebook had a reduced market when the netbook was introduced. What should be focused on is the size of the combined market of netbook, tablet and notebook… and my impression is that this total market is growing with the new devices. You only need look at people standing in the queue for security at the airport to see the big difference from just three short years ago. Back then you only saw business people with standard 15 inch laptops going through security, and now it is pretty much the majority of people are having to take the netbook/notebook out to have it scanned. Netbooks are everywhere… just as in 12 months from now tablets will be everywhere.

What I believe will happen though is that along with tablets getting more powerful, then the netbook will also become a little more powerful and keep its small size. In fact it is the ultra-portable business machine that is the endangered device in my book. Why give the business person £1500 of machine to break, lose and create a security problem with – give them a £300-£350 netbook with a remote access solution or the £400 tablet. Remember most business people only use Web, Mail and Office…

The Answer to Secure Mobile Computing?

Well Google spilled the beans on their Google ChromeOS NOTEBOOK (interesting that they do not call them netbooks, but then at 12.1inches it is certainly more light notebook than netbook. Here is the promo video.

It certainly has some very interesting features such as full encrypted file system, full separation between customer accounts, single sign on (through Google accounts, which for those using Google Apps is pretty good), and enterprise features – particularly with the number of corporate clients and Citrix being in the main demonstration. We will have to see what this will turn out like, but I cannot wait to get my hands on one of these little devices and put it through its paces as my general usage machine. Will it be powerful enough for me? Past experience with Linux on netbooks is against it, but maybe the cloud now offers the big features that killed my experience in the past dead – Good Calendaring and the handling of Project files.