The eyes boggle

I’m sitting at Chipotle putting the finishing touches on an article about deciding between using thick clients (Word, Outlook) versus thin clients (Google Docs, Gmail) on netbooks, and a guy walks up to me and stares until I take out my earbuds (one of the reasons I love writing at Chipotle is that between my hearing damage and my –20db headphones, it’s actually less distracting here than at home).

He points at my HP Mini-note. “Where do you get a computer like that?” He explains that he needs to get a PC for his daughter in high school.

I tell him that for a high schooler, I wouldn’t actually recommend the HP, as it’s a little pricier than the competition. I tell him about the Asus eee 1000, which has a 10” screen, comes preloaded with XP and could run all the stuff she needs for school. Then I tell him he can find it locally at Best Buy for $399.

His eyes nearly pop out of his head, and he starts grinning widely. I make note of this, and he says, “Wow, that’s such a great deal.” He booked out of the restaurant and I’d bet dollars to donuts he was headed straight for Best Buy.

I see this sort of thing all the time. I’ve talked before about my 12-year-old niece’s netbook-lust, and the other day when she brought her friend over while I was at my sister’s for the Broncos humiliating defeat by game against the Patriots, her friend was also star struck at the possibilities afforded by a computer of her very own that she could take anywhere.

Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte discussed netbooks in this week’s Windows Weekly podcast (along with soundly thrashing Windows Mobile) and dismissed them as a temporary bridge between traditional laptops and future smartphones running desktop-class operating systems. While I like the idea of a Windows smartphone running the same Windows kernel as the desktop version, using the same API for programs and having binary compatibility with desktop Windows, but using a user interface optimized for mobile use, that doesn’t obviate netbooks.

I’ve used mobile phones for years as stand-ins for ultra-mobile PCs, and the problem isn’t the operating system or applications. As evidenced by the popularity of not only netbooks but devices like the Celio Redfly, form factor matters. A clamshell device with a larger screen and touch-typable keyboard is just better for some things. I post blog entries and read Google Reader from both my Treo and my Mininote, but I read ebooks exclusively on the Treo and write longer form work exclusively on the Mininote. It’s about using the right tool for the right job, and it’s becoming increasing obvious every day that netbooks are the tools a lot of people have been waiting for.

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