back to article Ten ancestors of the netbook

Come 2015, we’re told, the netbook will be dead and gone, out-evolved by the more fleet of foot, more desirable media tablet. We shouldn’t mourn the netbook’s passing, though. It has had, in one form or another, a good innings. While some folk may look back to the category’s debut in 2007 with the launch of Asus’ Eee PC 701 - …

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The HP 95LX helped me through my economy exams and the 41CX through statistics :)

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Happy

I grabbed a 200LX the first year it came out. It was an invaluable contact manager. I used it to keep track of customers, clients, employees. somebody called, with a few keystrokes I know who they were and what business I was doing with them.

Kept my frequent flyer numbers handy with specific hints for each airline for getting a valuable upgrade. Kept product pricing charts, and even had a margin calculator. In a non-computer age it gave me a tremendous advantage over my competition.

Today my trusty 200LX sits, retired, at the corner of my desk, forever charging, forever charging...

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Anonymous Coward

Standards Dropping

Article mentions the Eee 701 and "that picture" isn't included? .... heads should roll!

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Go

Re: Standards Dropping

Quite right. Here a link for other disappointed commentards.

"that picture"

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Standards Dropping

Oh well of you insist...

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Pint

Re: Standards Dropping

A Lego reenactment at least!

Beer, because ...

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She is on page 6

Microsoft may have bloated the netbook to its death throws, but the small cheap computer is back:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-57581500-92/android-notebooks-yep-intel-says-and-theyll-only-cost-$200/

Intel have worked out that they need to compete with ARM, and they have to drop their prices to do it.

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a bog standard tablet

with blue tooth keyboard would also fit the bill for a cheap (in every sense of the word) netbook.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

I don't know if I ever noticed it before, but that pic seems so Photoshop'ed it's a bit disturbing. It looks as if the beach, the girl, and even the computer and the camera were all taken from different pictures, and then reassembled as one (quite unbelievable, even discounting the stitch-together feeling) scene.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

"that pic seems so Photoshop'ed it's a bit disturbing. It looks as if the beach, the girl, and even the computer and the camera were all taken from different pictures, and then reassembled as one"

I'm not seeing that. To me (with thousands of photos under my belt since getting into digital photography once it because economical enough around 2004)... it looks natural enough as a back-lit photo with "fill-in flash" lighting up what would otherwise be in shadow.

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Linux

Re: Standards Dropping

look again ;)

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Coat

Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

To me (...) it looks natural enough as a back-lit photo with "fill-in flash" lighting up what would otherwise be in shadow.

I'll take your word for it, but still I can't avoid the feeling.

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Zenith Minisport

I had one of these around 1990. A4 sized and it used 2" floppies (yes, really, 2" floppies). I still have the floppies somewhere here.

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Re: Zenith Minisport

Remember those ... seem to recall they were in the category of things that I saw in the Morgan Computers adverts at a price that seemed a bargain for what they were at the time (probably £199) but sadly at that time a bit above my "frivolous spending" level so never got one!

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Re: Zenith Minisport

That reminds me -- my current lappy bag used to be for an ancient Zenith 'laptop' (with a huge 'horseshoe' battery). Its older function was a network diagnostics toolbox.

None of yer modern x86 rubbish - full-blown XT.

Fine for mail but ASCII porn only.

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Re: Zenith Minisport

I have one of those, too. My dad had a ZDS laptop (which died in the last 2 years) but I have the bag and it fits modern netbooks quite well.

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Pirate

Re: Zenith Minisport

I still have and use an old Zenith Z-Noteflex. I've had the thing for around 15 years, and it was used when I got it.

The battery is toast, but the hard drive and screen are still working. I installed Linux on it in 2000, don't even remember which distro. I keep it around because it has a serial port so it's useful when I need to go into wiring closets to connect directly to switches. Hard to find affordable, modern laptops with a serial port, and I'm forever losing USB-Serial adapters. So the Zenith stays in my office.

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Re: Zenith Minisport

Ah, yes. I had one of those waaay back when I was going to school to learn my trade. It was awesome for taking notes on, and playing games behind the instructor's back when I was bored.

Alas, mine died a very untimely accidental death from screen breakage.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't think the lack of a Windows option put people off the original Eee as much as the appalling choice of Linux distribution did. Xandros was awful, and Asus would have been better off partnering with someone like Canonical or RedHat in order to include a decent Linux install. As for hardware support, I never had a problem with Linux on a variety of netbooks (Asus, Dell and Samsung). The wireless chipset on the original Eee wasn't supported on other Unix-like operating systems at first though.

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Linux

@Chris Wareham

Up vote for mention Xandros. Xandros was indeed the worst choice of all, such a pity. My families problems with two machines have been with the keyborads, especially the Asus one. Bad luck perhaps.

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Agreed

As I wrote later in this thread, I ditched the Eee's Xandros within weeks of acquiring my 701, for one simple reason: it wasn't updated. The software versions in the repositories were ancient even by 2009, and were clearly going to remain so, so I decided to jump to another Linux as soon as I picked up a USB CD drive.

Suffice it to say: Eeebuntu until mid-2011 (when it became obvious that distro had been abandoned too), and after that, Arch Linux (to date). The Arch wiki even has a big page on installing on a 701:

https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Installing_Arch_Linux_on_the_Asus_EEE_PC

If you still own an Eee 701 and fancy giving it a new lease of life: roll up your sleeves and give Arch a spin (if that's not a crazy mix of metaphors)...

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"I don't think the lack of a Windows option put people off the original Eee as much as the appalling choice of Linux distribution did"

I bet it wasnt as bad as the appalling distro (Linpus) the Acer aspire one ssd version came with.

I recall hitting the `update` button in options and the thing rebooting first to a command prompt, then just hanging on boot, never to work again.

The ssd had such awful write performance that most os`s i tried were a juddery, unreliable, pretty unusable experiences.

If it had a decent ssd, it could run windows 7 quite happily, but it didnt, and it couldnt. Why on earth they hobbled a very capable little machine with such a performance sapping drive il never know.

I put meego on it in the end, which ran like a dream, in fact it still does, pity they discontinued it really.

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"I bet it wasnt as bad as the appalling distro (Linpus) the Acer aspire one ssd version came with.

I recall hitting the `update` button in options and the thing rebooting first to a command prompt, then just hanging on boot, never to work again."

Wowsers. OK maybe not *that* bad but -

Xandros on my eee 901 refused to update itself after the first time due to there being no space, which was because the debs from previous updates were still there and it didn't know how to clear them (epic facepalm). Also there was no easy way to alter the desktop/menu content and by the time the 901 came out they had removed the 'advanced' (kde) desktop mode. It also killed ipods. A friend attached his to charge it, and some or other media player started up, maybe amarok, scanned the device and then overwrote all the indexes in an incompatible format, resulting in an ipod that claimed at the same time that it was full and had nothing on it!

I ditched Xandros ASAP. It was a pretty good hackintosh for a while, then became a really good little debian machine, and it still is vaguely useful though I have now replaced nearly all the parts.

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Happy

I loved playing with my fathers Atari Portfolio when we were travelling abroad.

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Coat

Is that a euphemism? If not, it should be.

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Too long lived... for the manufacturers

Bought an eee 4G at Christmas after it's first release. Had Xandros on it, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Puppy, then Gentoo. I'd still be using it now if I hadn't got someone else's eee 900 when they bought a newer Samsung netbook, but that eee 900 is my main computer for home use. At work I've got access to machines with 16 cores, zippy SSDs and 128GB memory, but I don't need that at home.

Saying that, I would have bought an OLPC XO instead of the eee, if you didn't have to have a US mailing address to use "buy one give one" at the time. I'd still buy one or maybe two now, if they were generally available to the public. C'mon OLPC, how about it?

Ben

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Re: Too long lived... for the manufacturers

Agreed. My AA1 lasted over 3 1/2 years (it took my boy bashing away and drooling over the keyboard to kill some of the keys). That's longer than any of my wife's full price laptops.

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Re: Too long lived... for the manufacturers

Using my Aspire1 right now. ubuntu 13.04, although the battery is getting poor.

my daughters asus 900 took a real hammering being dropped several times while running and was only killed by I think being stood on, which cracked the screen, may yet live again though.

we have an ipad in the house, several desktops and a windows7 laptop, the ipad is never used for homework as it won't drive a printer, usually its an aspire that's used, sometimes the fullsize laptop.

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I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

... except the "Apple eMate 300" (did anyone actually see one in the wild?) ... all were craptastic.

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Re: I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

No, nobody saw an eMate 'in the wild'. I did see one in my school though, a teacher was assessing whether it would be of any use to him... he decided that it wasn't.

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Re: I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

My high school jumped on the eMate bandwagon, and bought a couple "carts" of them. Literally a wheeled cart cum charging station for some thirty or so eMates. I remember using one once or twice, but only as a novelty. (Probably the school trying to justify the cost.) We already had proper computers in the classrooms, and they wouldn't let us take the eMates home.

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Flame

Craptastic?

I doubt you ever used a 5MX for real work. That is, stick it in your pocket with the serial cable, climb up the stairs and ladders into the bowels of a production plant, and use it to reconfigure the sodding bit of misbehaving networking hardware with its amnesiac firmware.

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@Stoneshop (was: Re: Craptastic?)

In 1985 (nearly a decade and a half before your 5MX), I used ComDesign statmuxes and pre-strung serial cables, sometimes/often with Anderson-Jacobson dial-back modem-pairs, to reconfigure sodding bits of misbehaving hardware both on-campus and all over the world. From the Sun Workstation on my desk in my clean, cool office. I still do, as a matter of fact, on my personal distributed network. The Sun is now an aging HP laptop running Slackware, but little else has changed.

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Re: Craptastic?

There were other things about the series 5 (and its variant the 5mx)...

It worked for more than a couple of hours on a couple of AA batteries you could pick up almost anywhere

It didn't require you to lug a power supply the size of a car around and find the right sort of mains outlet after a couple of hours (unlike the current fondle slabs)

It had keyboard AND touch screen so you could point, select and type - better than the current fondle slabs.

It folded so the keyboard and screen were protected so while in your pocket it didn't end up a scratched up piece of shit (like the current fondle slabs).

In fact, all told, it was a damned site better device than anything you can buy today. What a pity it wasn't updated to a series 5 colourMX and perhaps it could have acquired wireless modem ... oh it sort of did as a nokia communicator - not quite as good a piece of design but better than the junk available today.

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I remember when the psion netbook came out. I really wanted one but my student loan wouldn't cover it. Did borrow my dad's 5mx though. Typed up a large amount of coursework on that.

"Only its keyboard gave the netbook an edge." But what an edge that is. Most people might be happy with a tablet but they aren't a proper replacement for a netbook. Even pairing with a bluetooth keyboard, the software a tablets are running at the moment isn't nearly ready to compete with them.

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Well I can actually do

proper work on a tablet even without a physical keyboard. But then all I really need is vim, ssh and remote desktop and I have all of that and more.

I have plain vim and ssh via kbox terminal but one could use zshaolin(no connectbot is awful). I have touchvim if I really want to and there's a very very very very excelent remote desktop app accesstogo. Yes I can even edit documents, spreadsheets and view pdfs using the preinstalled polaris office. But frankly I rarely need them.

Yes still on the lookout for a keyboard for it. Can't really decide on one.

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Re: Well I can actually do

microsoft have a keyboard which even comes with a stand

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Microsoft-Mobile-Bluetooth-tablet-U6R-00006/dp/B009NY8SIK

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Happy

Psion...

I had several Psions - 3, 3a and 5mx - loved them.

Ran ACT single user better than my office PC at the time - easier to merge multi user data in ACT as well.

Think I still have one of them around somewhere - along with my Apple Message Pad 120...

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Unhappy

Re: Psion...

I always lusted after the Psions, but I couldn't justify one for more than play, and they never quite made it down to "what the hell"gadget prices.

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Less is more

The thing that killed the netbook was creeping bloat. The original EeePCs weren't intended as a substitute for a computer: they were a cheap, light, small, instantly-available alternative when you didn't want the bulk and expense of your full laptop.

But slowly bloat set in as cheapskates saw netbooks as a cheap-and-nasty alternative to a proper laptop. The 9" panel grew to bulky, heavy 11" even though the screen resolution didn't improve. Lightweight Linux gave way to Windows, which was a bad joke when the necessary antivirus and heavyweight desktop software was added. The tiny, light, latency-free solid state storage gave way to sloooow hard drives that removed the Eee's instant-on pleasure. All these things pumped up the price to £50 or so less than a proper laptop.

The success of the original Eee and of tablets shows that users will accept compromises for a device that's genuinely cheap and portable. The demise of the netbook shows that the cumulative effect of ill-considered incremental improvements can destroy the soul of a device to the point where it becomes worthless.

Sometimes less is more.

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Unhappy

Re: Less is more

Yeah - a lot of people seemed to want a small device that would fit in their pocket with a large screen, a full sized keyboard and the processing power to fully simulate a universe while costing less than a loaf of bread.

Just replacing my Eee 901's keyboard for the second time.

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Stop

Re: Less is more

Err Not necessarily.

I had the misfortune to be given one of the early Acer tiny screen netbooks recently. What a laughable piece of junk compared to my 11" Samsung NC10. My NC10 might be running XP and have a 'slow' (but capacious) disk drive but its such a capable machine even to this day. On a trip, I once loaded Visual Studio and it handled that pretty well. And build quality is great, and after 3 years I still get 4hrs + battery life.

I think that the problem with Netbooks is that the vociferous naysayers were exposed to the early tiny screen Linux models and found them wanting and have slagged off Netbooks ever since. If they'd tried the much better later models they'd have a different opinion. But then again, the anti-MS brigade never got over the fact that most people wanted to ditch Linux and have something that could run Windows. (And I'm not anti Linux, I use it every day, I'm just OS agnostic - I use whatever is best for the job in hand.)

Given the choice between one of the later Win 7 based Samsung, Acer, Dell etc dual core netbooks and one of the earlier 7" or 9" early Linux models, I'd have the dual core machine every time.

Sometimes more is more

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Less is more

True: the original 701 was good - small, light, did what it was designed to do - then grew fatter and sillier.

Also, on another point, "As one of the world’s biggest calculator companies, Hewlett-Packard "? I thought they were one of the world's biggest printer companies ?

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Re: Less is more @AC

At the time, if you wanted a serious calculator that would work for years, HP was your best bet. Their calculators were the Rolls-Royce of calculators.

Also at the time, HP were a major computer manufacturer as well as a medical and test equipment manufacturer (which is where they started). Printers were a bit of a late addition to their product set.

I agree about the EeePC 701, and mine is still working and in use running Ubuntu.

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Meh

Re: Less is more

I might just point out here before we all get too misty eyed that those little SSDs in those netbooks were awful.

I have seen cheap USB sticks deliver better data speeds.

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Re: Less is more

Well as for the windows I will agree if you bought a netbook with windows on it yes it ran like crap due to all the crappy trial ware the companies put on them. That and that absolutely terrible bloated program that can make quad core pc's behave like 486's named iTunes killed windows performance. Everyone I ever knew that claimed their windows netbook was too slow I would disable symantec (we fuck up the pc more then a virus) anti-virus, and iTunes, and they would be like WHOA YOU MUST HAVE UPGRADED MY NETBOOK ITS SO MUCH FASTER...

But then again disabling those 2 infernal pieces of software services on any windows PC will free up like 40-60% of its resources though.

Now I have one of the 1st netbooks dell made laying around here with windows XP installed, and honestly I've never noticed any issues with it running or the speed of it. Only issue the dell has (and it seemed chronic) was the damn hard drive's wire comes loose requiring 20 something screws to get to so the cable can be pushed back in. Actually the cable issue is how I got it for nothing as its original owner was so fed up with having to push the cable in 2 times a week they were going to just throw it out.

They ended up buying a normal laptop as by this point the netbook prices were almost the same as the low end laptop prices that eclipsed them greatly.

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Re: Less is more @AC

HP weren't the only company to make good calculators...

My Casio FX730P pocket computer has been running for 25-30 years and will probably continue to do so for years to come. Simple design with a built in basic so what it doesn't do now it can be programmed to do, no idea why Casio stopped making those with the Z-1 GR...

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Had the Atari, the Psion 3, the Libretto and the first EEE PC 701.

This category is completely misunderstood by manufacturers.

I want an ultraportable machine that I can use anywhere, is relatively solidly built (no stupid Ultrabook breakability) and I'll pay a premium to get a proper usable machine. I don't care about resolution (up to a point) and I don't care about the thing looking poncey. Bigger screens? I've got a 40" monitor that I'll plug in to the thing if I want a big screen, this is for working, not watching rubbish or playing games on.

God knows why the PC companies haven't made netbooks with decent specs. Why can't I have 8gb of Ram and a decent chip? I'll pay for it.

The closest I've seen is the HP DM1, which when you put an SSD and 8Gb of Ram in it, is a great little machine.

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