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Editor's Note: Finally, We Have It All- Small, Fast, and Affordable

Feb 21, 2009, 00:02 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Ever since I can remember travelers have wanted netbooks, but the sticking point was always the cost. I remember the first time I saw a Toshiba Libretto way back in 1999 or so. It was small and easy to lug around, and perfect for checking email and writing notes while on the road. But it cost nearly as much as a full-size laptop, so even though it filled an important niche, it was hard to overlook that for a little more money you could get a lot more computer.

Then came the netbook craze, which is accelerating as they get better and cheaper. It wasn't very many years ago that a 1.5 Ghz CPU and a gigabyte of RAM was one heck of a hotrod. Now it's a "low-powered netbook." Hey, no problem, that kind of low-power works fine for me! The x86 processor is being supplanted by these newfangled MIPS and ARM-based CPUs. The musty old x86 architecture is still represented by the Intel Atom and AMD Geode, so there is something for everyone. (Haha, Windows only support x86, while Linux supports a multitude of CPU architectures in addition to i86-32/64: alpha, arm, armel, hppa, mips, mipsel, powerpc, and sparc. Love that proprietary innovation.)

Other key advances are better batteries, lower power consumption, and the USB bus. All hail USB, for it has freed us from the motley tyrrany of 3.5" diskettes, Zip disks, and clunky serial- and parallel-port external drives. Forget all that clunky CD/DVD and external hard drive silliness-- I have a little herd of USB sticks that range in capacity from 512 MB to 16GB. Cheap, fast, and big capacity-- can it get any better? And the solid-state drive is a significant advance over the mechanical hard drive.

I was inspired by Paul Ferrill's excellent article over at LinuxPlanet, Linux Mobile Tools for the Business Traveler. He describes a perfectly functional mobile kit that consists of a netbook, 3G modem, and an Outlets to Go 3 with USB universal electrical and USB charger. It all fits into a small bag and weighs maybe five pounds, depending on the bag. My usual laptop travel pack weighs in at over eleven pounds, including the bag and big ole Thinkpad, extra battery, and other accessories. I could easily fit a netbook and extras in my nice comfortable sling bag, and not even bother with a separate computer bag. (Note: I am also the editor of LinuxPlanet.)

I've had a dream for several years of having the time go out and record the stories of the oldtimers that live around here, and take pictures; there are a lot of descendants of homesteaders left in them thar hills, and I want to get them on record before they're all gone. A sleek little netbook would be friendly and a good ice-breaker, rather than all scary like Darth Thinkpad. I could even lug a little photo printer along (hurrah for USB again!) and give them photos on the spot.

I'm not rushing out to buy one just yet. I want one with a six-hour battery, and with a real Linux and not some "cloud" Linux, and I'll buy it from a real Linux vendor like ZaReason. So I'm going to make myself be patient and wait a little while. At least a week :).