There’s an Apple event next week, and it seems pretty likely we’ll see updated models of the iPad Pro and maybe the iPad Mini.
Which is great, because it reminded me of the Eee PC, which was either one of the greatest fleeting successes in tech history, or a collective illusion shared by a handful of late-era tech bloggers. 2000s that never happened.
There were two products that arrived in 2007 that fundamentally changed computing: one, of course, was the iPhone. The second product, obviously the most important, was the Eee PC 701 at $ 399. It originally ran a custom Linux operating system that critics loved (Laptop MagMark Spoonauer said it was “ten times easier to use than any Windows laptop”) and was generally touted as a new type of computer with enormous mass appeal. Spoonauer: “Pound for pound, the most economical notebook on the planet.”
Again it was a weird little plastic two-pound laptop that worked a custom Linux distribution it was basically a front for various websites. (We hadn’t coined the term “cloud services” yet.)
Windows presentation by Linux was not allowed, so Microsoft did some maneuvering with Microsoft, and in January 2008 the Eee PC was running Windows XP instead. It was also part of a larger category called “netbooks”, and we have all come to know what netbooks are.
A little later, Microsoft created something called Windows 7 Starter, which was a hilariously scaled-down version of Windows just for netbooks – you weren’t even allowed to change desktop background! – and the netbook explosion was unstoppable. My friend (and Verge co-founder) Joanna Stern built the early part of her career obsessively covering netbooks, first at Laptop Mag, then Gizmodo, then with me at Engadget.
And there was a lot to cover: at one point, Joanna noted that Asus had released at less 20 different models of Eee PC In 2008 alone. And it was just Asus! Dell, HP, Lenovo and others have all furiously pursued the idea of the netbook. Do you remember when the Nokia Booklet 3G would reinvent Nokia? You don’t, because it isn’t. It was very pretty, however. I asked Joanna about this moment in time, and this is what she sent me:
“I was basically Bono in that ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ video. Eee PC after Eee PC. MSI Wind after MSI Wind. Toshiba whatever its name, after Toshiba whatever its name. I was constantly looking for a netbook that had a keyboard that didn’t require doll hands, a trackpad that didn’t leave a bulb on my thumb, a hard drive that didn’t take three days to open Microsoft Word. It was a constant search for the perfect blend of price, portability and power. “
Joanna then requested that I embed U2’s YouTube video “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” which is exactly the kind of “wow that was really important once” energy that this blog needed.
The netbook explosion was all the stranger since every netbook had the same basic specs, as Microsoft would charge more for a standard non-Starter Windows license if a computer had anything other than a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and 160 GB. Hard drive. So it was all colors and all screen sizes, really. All this to run a deeply boring version of Windows, on a computer that no one even remotely pretended to be able to replace a main PC. At the end of it all, as the chips inevitably got more powerful, enough laptop vendors were telling Joanna that their new netbook-type computers were not netbooks she started calling them “notbooks. “
And then the iPad came out in 2010, and netbooks were inexplicably part of the computer vocabulary that Steve Jobs introduced to the iPad. explicitly saying that netbooks were bad. “The problem is, netbooks are no better for nothing,” Jobs said on stage, in order to clearly distinguish the new iPad from netbooks. It was important to him!
Does all of this even happen? Is this real? I remember everything, but I can’t say if it meant anything, or if we all thought Microsoft and Intel were so mysteriously powerful that we had to live in their product frames and 160GB of maximum disk space. hard. Has anyone done buy a netbook? The only people I met who owned netbooks were other tech writers; at a memorable trade show, my colleague Adi Robertson showed up with both a gigantic gaming laptop and a tiny netbook, two laptops perfectly ill-suited to the tasks at hand.
I asked Joanna, who is now a senior personal technology columnist at WSJ, about all of this, who replied, “Let’s be clear here. Apple’s upcoming event this week is actually about netbooks. The iPad Pro is a consequence of the netbook movement of ten years ago. Was she kidding? I don’t know and she won’t tell me.
Now, of course, there are no netbooks, but everything is a netbook. The iPad is the iPad, with several models in different sizes and price points, and a furious debate going on about whether to replace a laptop. (See? It’s a netbook.) Chromebooks exist, and both Apple and Microsoft are familiar with them. We’re surrounded by cheap, device-like computers that run wacky custom interfaces to cloud services on top of open source operating systems – it’s an Echo Show, or a Google Chromecast, or even an Oculus Quest 2. . Netbooks. Intel is badly in need of reinvention, and Windows itself is diminished; Microsoft would gladly call its operating system “Azure Edge” if anyone took that kind of ride.
Did netbooks ever exist? Do netbooks … to win?
Eee, PC. Eee.