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back to article DEATH-PROOF your old XP netbook: 5 OSes to bring it back to life

My son's school has decreed that next year he'll need a computer of some sort. Mr 12 wants an iPad. I want him to use the 2009-vintage Lenovo S10e Netbook gathering dust in the study, because it's already been paid for. The netbook is also fit for purpose: it was the very model handed out in Australian schools circa 2009. It's …

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So I guess Mr 12 is getting an ipad then?

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Not sure what is the bigger horror - Mr 12 who wants iPad, or another Mr 12 who wants to run Debian on it.

Just ran into the latter type. I kid you not.

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Anonymous Coward

"So I guess Mr 12 is getting an ipad then?"

Poor boy is going to join the collective without choice. Another one bites the dust then.

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Anonymous Coward

Plenty of brand new Windows/Linux notebooks available for less than the cost of an iPad so its pretty daft to limit talk to ancient slow netbook vs an iPad.

A Dell Venue Pro 8 at £249 at might be fun for a 12 year old, at least its a programmable tablet he can write and run his own software on if he's into that kind of thing.

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Oh, yes, he did end up with a small notebook, as he deemed iPad too expensive and not quite suitable for his needs.

It was just too damn funny to hear a young chap contemplating Debian on iPad. Not to mention that he actually read about difficulties involved (starting with jailbreaking) and would have pulled it off, too.

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I've been running Debian on an Asus netbook for a few years now and it seems generally as adequate as the XP it came with. The install then was a bit hands on due to wifi driver needs, but I think that's been remedied. Not sure why this is such an absurd idea. The minecraft installation instructions are simple enough and appear to work (same for Ubuntu and Debian), and the applications ought to be fit for a 12yo in middle school.

Not as cool as an iPad, though a few orders of magnitude more useful

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Young people are getting worrying sensible these days. Some of them, anyway.

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replace xp with...

Linux Mint. Its an easy install, mine recognised webcams and wifi out of the box, there are mint-friendly repositories built into the menus (but you can still add other linux -- I think .deb files (its been a whilse since I got minecraft running). Have savd three machines with that and with openoffice or apache or whatever similar version...its a microsoft format friendly machine

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Re: replace xp with...

Yes, definitely. Linux Mint 13 (so long-term support) XFCE edition runs just fine on my Aspire One. I did subsequently install LXDE (a trivial process) because I preferred it to XCFE in trials, but they are but two examples of lightweight window managers - avoid KDE/Gnome/Unity and all the other modern stuff only suited to systems with reasonable grunt (which an Atom N270 is indeed lacking).

As for Minecraft, you just have to go download the jar file from the Minecraft website once you've logged in. I vaguely remember Mint 13 comes with a working Java engine without having to try hard to get it to go. I managed to install it first time on an old Celeron-powered laptop from 5000 miles away and it worked first time. However, it will probably have a dire performance on old and underpowered machines, the Celeron (eight years old) couldn't cope, and I suspect a 2008/9 vintage netbook would similarly fail in the speed department when rendering all those blocks.

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Re: replace xp with...

openSUSE with KDE Plasma Netbook version - works fantastic and beautiful on my 5 year old eeePc.

For running Minecraft on openSUSE, I would recommend reading this How-To by openSUSE forum member @rrimc69 first: http://forums.opensuse.org/english/get-technical-help-here/games/486762-minecraft-1-5-2-jar-mods-including-fix-black-screen.html

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Re: replace xp with...

Agreed. Mint has been keeping my eeepc 1005p for a while now. Its battery died, too, but $30 or so thrown at ebay fixed that problem easily enough. Unfortunately my father in law is buying my kids an ipad anyway, so I guess I get to keep the netbook.

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Parents these days...

No wonder another kid joins the "collective" when today's parents think that with a 12 year old nipper they need to allow a situation where as far as IT choice is concerned "a compromise has been reached". Words almost fail me. He's 12 for goodness sake, he's your kid, not a business colleague you are negotiating with.

If it were my kid it would be a firm but fair "Hey sprog, here's a portable computer that you can use for school, it does far more than an iPad, but it's all a bit different so I'll need to spend a little while with you showing you how it works. You'll be able to do your sums, write essays do projects and lots of interesting and fun things with it that will actually help you get a job in this world rather than sitting on your ar$e all day long playing with your iPad sponging off me, or the State. Yes, we'll even get a few games on it, and no, don't worry, it will not replace your iPad which you'll still be able to use at home once you've finished your homework. Now there's a good boy and....oh, my goodness, where did you get those nude girly pictures on your iPad from?."

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Alternatively....

...throw it away and buy a second hand Thinkpad or the like.

Nothing puts people off computing whether it be Linux or windows than a crappy slow netbook experience. Any machine that requires you to have to move standard option menus up and down due to limited screen depth is an instant non-starter.

They filled a niche back in 2006-8 but their time since is passed.

I now in most cases refuse to support them. Luckily most of my customers who had them took the advice and dumped them for tablets or better laptops.

Slow netbook is...slow netbook.

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Re: Alternatively....

Agree about the Thinkpad or similar business grade laptop (eg. Dell D630) with at least a CoreDuo CPU loaded up with at least 2GB of RAM.

Over the last few years I've done several for children of this age group, running XP-Pro (sticker on laptop, relatively easy to obtain an OEM distribution so next to no OS cost) and a stay in the background AV - my preference was PrevX SafeOnline, but Webroot are now charging for it... If you are concerned about malware, then MS SteadyState can be downloaded and installed (which is where cloud AV such as Webroot/Prevx and Panda prove their worth).

The nice part about using these older business laptops is they are still reasonably performant, they will take a few knocks unlike many consumer-grade products, plus once the child has shown due care and attention they can be upgraded with a new machine that will be care for better than if they got the new machine straight away ...

The other good thing for running XP, is that much good software exists for this age-group that is either cheap or free. Because putting together a laptop

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Re: Alternatively....

Had this been 10 years ago, I too would've nodded my head in agreement at buying a second hand IBM Thinkpad. *

I can't say the same now though, and would not suggest buying a Lenovo Thinkpad.

Thinkpads are alright in corporate world, when you have next-day replacement support when the inevitable fan failure occurs.

For domestic use, they're not built to last beyond the 2-3 year corporate upgrade cycle. You don't want it out of action for a week or two trying to source and fit aforementioned fan.

* My 380Z thinkpad is still going strong.

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Re: Alternatively....

Yet here we are discussing passing on a donkeys year old and vastly inferior (hardware/usability wise) net book that was designed to last a year tops...

Plus I'd rather try replacing parts in a corporate Lenovo than any crappy netbook.

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Re: Alternatively....

If the first second-hand amchine fails, just buy another one. Better still, buy two to begin with so the spare is available straight away.

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Re: Alternatively.... @Sir Wiggum

I must admit my opinion of Thinkpads is strongly coloured by my experience of the T series, which are designed to come apart (and go back together !) so as to facilitate maintenance.

Yes the fans do get noisy, but as I've discovered there are useful YouTube video's and other support out there to enable you to fix this yourself. About the only real problem I've found is that IBM keep changing the product numbers, so whilst you can find an exact match for what was in your machine, it can take a bit of searching to find the part numbers of the later revisions that fixed many of the faults in the components your machine is using...

The things that have needed replacing I've found are: battery, A/C power adaptor, fan. Anything else seems to be down to user (mis)handling...

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"Bare metal" vs Wubi?

Wubi installs the linux image as a file on the Windows NTFS filesystem: This is hardly a fair "bare metal" comparison. On adequate hardware this shouldn't have much effect, but I found it significantly slower than installing on its own partition on an old system I experimented with.

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WTF?

Re: "Bare metal" vs Wubi?

That caught my eye too.

I was wondering WTF!!! Why do something that stupid nonsensical, and cripple the performance of the machine having to deal with WindblowZE.

Just completely nuke that thing, and be done with it.

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What about keeping XP?

I've got an NC10 that I still use for programming during my commute. It came with XP and I run Visual Studio on it, which sounds absolutely horrific, but works well enough. Building is slow, but just writing code is fine, so I can upload it and do my builds/debugging on my desktop when I'm at home.

So what about sticking with XP? As I understand it, the idea is that Microsoft will stop supporting it, so there will be no further security patches and that's the main concern. Is there more to it than that? Can the netbook be kept secure enough to continue working on it and include some minor web access in that or is it really curtains?

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Re: What about keeping XP?

I'm not sure that 'Windows XP' (post April/2014), 'Secure' and 'Schoolboy' can be used together in the same sentence.

For schoolwork, it'll need web access and presumably, as it's a netbook, he'll be out and about with it, so however well you've configured your router, you'll be relying on the school's, coffeeshop's, mate's house's routers to be configured equally strongly.

Also, the work policy here is that post April 2014, XP systems will be barred from the network. If the school has a similar policy, he may find problems if he is intending to use it in the classroom.

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Re: What about keeping XP?

Keeping XP secure...

Here's an idea, though I haven't thought it out fully:

Can the XP machine be set up so that a breach of security isn't the end of the world? Regular image back-ups of the system, get Mr 12 into backing up documents that are important to him, that sort of thing... i.e use the risk of a security breach to instil some good habits in Mr 12.

However, I don't know how Mr 12 will be able to keep his on-line credentials safe against a keylogger or password sniffer... is there a secure browser available that doesn't store passwords in plaintext?

Anyway, it's just a thought, and I'd welcome thoughts on whether its stupid or not.

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Re: What about keeping XP?

>Can the XP machine be set up so that a breach of security isn't the end of the world?

For most purposes restricting Mr 12 to a limited user account will prevent much and minimise the damage from some of the worst. One of the limitations of XP is that you can't specify "run in administrator mode" for a single program without the limited user knowing the administrator's password... so no installing any user program that requires admin mode to run.

If really concerned about things, then download MS SteadyState - may need to google as MS withdraw this very useful & free XP add-on (if you wish to pay then Deep Freeze is the better product)... The only issue with these tools is that you need a cloud-based AV as otherwise when you reboot, you loose all the updates...

From recent security reports, I would limit Mr 12's access to any home shared drives to read only.

As for passwords, well to encourage good habits, I would install a password manager that support's cloud storage of the password file, which will be readily accessible from a future replacement machine. But probably the best thing will be to use a security tool with good browser integration because as you point out the vast majority of the threats will come via the internet and hence automated use of browser add-ins.

But from my experience the biggest risk Mr 12 actually faces is the closing of applications without saving his work ... but he'll soon learn ...

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Re: What about keeping XP?

"But from my experience the biggest risk Mr 12 actually faces is the closing of applications without saving his work ... but he'll soon learn ..."

Also, whatever OS he ends up with, if he's using it in an environment with all his schoolmates, instill in him the discipline to lock his computer whenever he's away from the screen - or who knows what pranks his mates will play while he's away.

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Win 7 on the NC10

I have an NC10 that I just upgraded to 2GB (£20), 320GB 7200rpm HDD (gathering dust) and Win 7 (left over after a full upgrade to Win8 on my desktop) and it works very well. The XP install was creaking after 4 years of pretty hard use but the upgrades have rejuvenated it. Don't get me wrong: it's no where near as good as my 13" i5-2410 VAIO (with hybrid drive) but is still way preferable to a tablet for proper computing/video.

Definitely try Win7 on Mr 12's netbook.

PS. You can also get a touch screen upgrade for the NC10 on ebay for 50-60quid if you just have to have finger prints all over your screen.

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Why not get him an old 800MHz Ti Powerbook and put a PPC Linux distro on it?

The husband of one of my cousins runs this and finds it most satisfactory for everyday tasks.

Or, if the boy is a mac fan and you are not ready for Apple prices, would a hackintosh do?

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The S10e makes a good little hackintosh on snow leopard, comparable performance-wise to the 12" powerbook 1.5ghz. Check out mymacnetbook.com, it has a great comparison chart of compatible netbooks.

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- You should try Windows 7 home premium and report back. Your experience with WIn8 makes me never want to go anywhere near it. Which is a shame for a very long term Windows user.

- Probably current and working Chromium-OS available from http://chromium.arnoldthebat.co.uk/ Will run from USB key to try it out. If it can't find the USB key ESC during boot and then

chromeos-usb.A root=/dev/sdc3

or sdd3 or whatever device the USB key is on.

- Puppy Linux with Google Chrome will run from USB and worth a look. Fast, snappy, but not very pretty

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Not sure which Windows 8 the author was using

With respect to Windows 8, my personal view is that for most people an upgrade from 7 to 8 doesn't buy you much unless you want the new UI, and that it is also easy to use 8 in the same way you use Windows 7. Using something like Pokki (free) or Start8 (paid, but only about 5USD atm) you can restore Windows 7 like Start button capability (and boot to desktop if not using 8.1).

If you are moving from say Vista or XP then I'd say might as well move to Windows 8 if the hardware supports it, and if you don't get on with the new UI, use one of the aforementioned tools and have it work like Windows 7.

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Good luck!

Good luck with Windows 7 on an ancient underpowered netbook. It's the most resuource-heavy Windows Microsoft has produced to date. Personaly I think 4Gb is its minimum RAM (and a Netbook can't have more than 2Gb). Windows 8 is actually far less demanding.

On the other hand if you have a Lenovo T400, Windows 7 is OK after you have upgrade the RAM to 4Gb. If you also replace the HD with an SSD ... who needs a new Windows notebook?

Wish you'd reported the kid's feelings about other Linux Desktops (KDE, Gnome3, Cinnamon) but I guess a bit OT.

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Is Windows 7 really worse than Vista?

I've been running Windows 7 Home Premium on my NC10 with 2GB for 3 or 4 years. It was quite usable as a little laptop, although I don't use it as much since I got a tablet. It was my personal system when travelling so saw a fair amount of use. I suspect SP1 might be a significant bloat inducer though, so will see if I still think this way after a fresh install.

As for Windows 7 being the most resource-heavy OS from MS - all I can say is that Win 7 runs on the NC10, but I would never have even considered trying Vista.....

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Mea Culpa

Sorry, I'd forgotten Vista. Wiped it completely from my mind, or maybe Microsoft brainwashed it out of me. Though in my defense I could assert that Vista was just a Windows 7 RC, which should never have been sold or even shown to the world.

And was/is Vista more resource-heavy than 7? My impression of it was that it was buggy and brain-damaged in equal measures, rather than that it would have been OK given 4Gb RAM and a CPU speed boost.

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Low-resource OSes

I tend to recommend Bodhi, Peppermint (word processors can be installed from the Ubuntu repos, btw), and for really low-end, Crunchbang, AntiX or Slitaz.

Bitcoin mining is not really a profitable use for it - even dedicated GPUs aren't worth the effort.

As for Minecraft, a quick DuckDuckGo found this: http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Minecraft-in-Ubuntu

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Re: Low-resource OSes

What is quite telling is that the author didn't get Mr 12 to evaluate Quick Start - Lenovo's implementation of Splashtop, that was installed as standard on the S10e. But probably he disabled it in the Bios settings and (naturally) forgot all about it.

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Peppermint 4

Seriously, did you actually try it?

Never mind the SSB gimmicks. It's a quite attractive, extremely quick Linux distribution that is very well suited to netbooks. Much better than standard Ubuntu. Nothing worth commenting on in that?

There's even special combination download packs like the office productivity one.

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Firstly I applaud you for getting Mr 12 to test all the different software and appreciate the situation you are in with regards to what to supply him and budget availability.

My daughter is in the same boat, she has access to my iPad at home and uses it all the time, loves it, its a great games/consumer device. Like you though a requirement for a 'computer' has been pushed out by the school and all the kids are shouting iPad/tablet! Unfortunately I will have to purchase a new device as have nothing spare and am entirely unconvinced that a tablet is the best approach for kids, far too many easy distractions for a start. As they are personal devices will they be locked down, will it be up to the parents, will the person my daughter sits next to play angry birds all day and be a massive distraction?

I appreciate that touch screens are more than here to stay but having used mine at work, its useful for some things but you need a real keyboard for serious typing work. Plus posture of crouched over the keyboard/screen is bad when compared to keyboard/laptop style screen, which is bad enough already!

I have no answers but am interested to read about others with similar decisions to make. Would be interesting to hear others approaches to this.

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" iPad at home and uses it all the time, loves it, its a great games/consumer device"

Thank you! So why do so many think it acceptable to be seen using one in a business environment?

Sick sick people.

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Whether iPads (or any other computing device for that matter) are suitable for use in schools (or businesses) is of course entirely down to how said school (or business) implements them. With mobile devices like iPads the issue is clouded slightly because there is the choice of having 'school owned' units and 'home owned' units - the former would normally be completely locked down, but with the latter you want to be able to secure them when at school (and add/remove things when needed) but leave them free at home because they don't belong to you. Both of these things are entirely possible to do of course. In fact, it's a bit of a doddle — managing iPads (of either type) is far easier in many ways than administering and securing a PC network for example. But, as ever, the results are determined by the implementation — both technology wise and, most importantly, policy wise. As for whether a PC or a Mac or an iPad is better (for school, not play!) then, well, it's all in the apps needed of course...

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"So why do so many think it acceptable to be seen using one in a business environment?"

Because it's super trendy cool, that's why and it the tells the world you are one hip and happening person.

(do I need to type the sarcasm tag?)

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'Acceptable to use one in a business environment' is a matter of choice. If you can use it to do what the job requires, it's acceptable. If it causes more suffereing than it's worth, it's not

'Acceptable to be seen using one' is quite different. If you work in a business where you're judged on what computer you're seen to be using, or, worse, imagine that you are .. get out fast, get a proper job, and meet some colleagues who aren't some sort of fashionista or corporate streetcred retards.

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Linux

Minecraft won't run on Ubuntu.

GIYF. Ubuntu Minecraft gets 3e6 hits...

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Forcing someone to use any kind of "desktop" OS on a 1024x576 screen is just being cruel.

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Re: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The BBC Model B I used at school had a 640x256 screen

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Re: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Yes but it didn't use option windows that were 350 pixels deep did it?

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I loved my netbook, but regardless of what distro you put on it this will be the falling down point -

1024 x 576-pixel 10.1-inch screen

EasyPeasy was one of the better distros I came across, but it's been discontinued and despite being aimed at netbooks there was an issue where the menu wouldn't fit on the screen fully.

I don't understand how the likes of Google can produce the Nexus 7 with a fantastic screen resolution that you can touch, but no company could turn out a netbook with anywhere close to a 'retina' screen. Shame they've been killed off I thought they were brilliant little machines

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Blame Intel & MS

Pretty sure the reason why netbooks have screens below 1024x600 and 1GB of memory is due to the OS and processor pricing discounts given to systems using Intel Atom CPU's and Windows XP/Vista netbook pricing (a discount given to prevent the early Linux netbooks getting market share).

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Re: Blame Intel & MS

There have been a few 'Retina'-like Windows laptops released in the last year (Toshiba Kirabook, Lenovo Yogo Pro 2, for two) and reviews suggest that the issue is legacy desktop applications often don't don't scale well. Photoshop, for example, presents you with tiny icons that are hard to see. However, the TIFKAM applications do scale properly.

So, for very high res laptop screens to work requires some effort from 3rd party software developers.

"Whereas navigating the Modern Live Tile interface was easy on the Kirabook, it was nearly impossible to touch anything, much less use the cursor, in desktop mode. The menu options in Photoshop Elements were microscopic. We don't consider our eyesight to be poor, but even we had to hold the notebook close to our face. Fortunately, a Toshiba Display Utility lets you set the size of on-screen icons and text in Windows, but it doesn't apply to the apps themselves."

"World of Warcraft" supports the Kirabook's high-res display, but, like on Photoshop, menu text is tiny.

- http://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/toshiba-kirabook.aspx

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Re: a discount given to prevent the early Linux netbooks getting market share

So that's why we haven't had the year of the linux netbook! FFS M$, back off!!!

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Re: Blame Intel & MS

Oh will your stop with this tired old arguement about XP and Intel.

Linux was on Netbooks well before XP was used. Face fact most NORMAL i.e. non-techies, didn't want it. End of.

The reason they had shit parts is they were (originally) cheap. You can't have a i7 (or whatever it was then) in a £200 toy, it's called economics.

Thsi may come as a suprise, but companies like to MAKE money, not loose it.

The netbook was always a niche product and was killed off simply because people didn't want them.

The problem with this site it's so bloody distorted, that they forget about the 99% of other people out there.

As this article actually showed, the end user doesn't care what the OS is, so long as it's easy to use, and has the features they want.

This is why many techies tend to make utterly shit designers. What you want colours, but that will take 1ms more to render on the screen?

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