Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New Ultra Portable Class of Laptops

Once again the marketplace has reared its head and the things which were assumed a year ago are no longer. The Asus EeePC is the driving force behind the change. Although the one laptop per child project and its creation the XO may have pre-dated the Asus laptop, it's the EeePC that is the vehicle of change. I don't think any of the big name players had any idea that the tiny 7 inch screen, with a Celeron processor, running Linux would have the impact it did. It comes in bright colors with a well finished plastic shell. Best of all it was only $299.00, for a reasonable fast and very useable little computer. With the Linux installation that includes a number of useful applications such as Skype, the Open Office suite and Firefox, for browsing. It's a fine tool for business travelers or students on a very tight budget. With a tiny keyboard and 800x480 screen, no CD/DVD drive and very limited storage (starts at 2GBs, goes up to 12GBs) it's not for full time use, at least not for big hands and adults with bad eyesight. But for kids or occasional use it works fine.

Now that the EeePC has become such a success, a number of competitors have launched similar machines, most notably the HP 2133 mini-note. The mini-note is slightly larger than the EeePC with a slightly faster processor made by the low power specialists Via, and comes in standard configuration with a 120GB hard drive. The HP has a Linux version as well as a couple that run Windows Vista Basic and Business. Prices on Amazon range from $520.00 -850.00 for the 2133 and has upgrades available for the hard drive and processor. The nicest feature of the 2133 is the keypad which is close to ¾ of a normal full sized keyboard. It has a beautiful brushed aluminum finish that gives it a very professional look to it.

As the popularity of the new mini-notebooks as spread, Microsoft has decided to offer and support Windows XP Home edition for this new class of notebook. While the end of line for XP availability is fast approaching for mainstream OEM's, the people in Redmond have seen the popularity of all these devices and seen them coming equipped with Linux, and not wanting to see this free and open sourced operating system get a toehold they've wisely (in my opinion) decided to offer XP. Since Vista is much larger and demands more powerful hardware than most of these new mini-notebooks carry, XP is a perfect fit. The EeePC is already being shipped with a larger screen, flash drive, and can be had with XP. Of course the price for the higher end EeePC is up to $549.00. The venerable XO of One Laptop Per Child fame is also switching to an dual boot option with XP and its original Sugar OS, albeit not without some controversy. It seems a core group of open source advocates got their panties in a bunch over the move to XP, there was some resignations or firings depending on who's blogging about it. I'v never used an XO although I did hear a number of reports from various sources that the Linux OS it originally shipped with was difficult to navigate. Hopefully the move to XP will accelerate the purchases of the XO and get it into the hands of the educators and children that can be helped by it.

The advent of a new form factor is here. The new ultra-portables showed that the market place will respond to a reasonably priced small computer, WITH A KEYBOARD! Unlike some of the earlier UMPC's that were pushed out a few years ago I believe this trend has legs, time will tell.

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