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Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 17:59 UK

The good and the bad of netbooks


The limitations of slender netbooks

Over the last three years, the laptop has been undergoing a revolution - and a new lighter, cheaper, stripped-down version has taken hold.

These light and portable "netbooks" were first inspired by the charitable One Laptop Per Child project.

The scheme aimed to put low-cost computers into the hands of people in developing countries.

Taiwanese PC maker Asus was the first to realise people in developed countries could also benefit from netbooks.

A laptop XO from the One Laptop Per Child Project
A laptop XO from the One Laptop Per Child Project for developing countries

The firm's Eee PC managed to buck the recession with increasing sales when sales of bigger laptops and desktop computers dropped off.

Catch attention

Because they cost less than standard laptops, price has been a big factor in netbooks' rising popularity.

The lightweight devices offer consumers the ability to do simple tasks on the move such as word processing and web surfing.

High-performance processors are eschewed in favour of components that weigh less and use less battery power.

The extra portability, touch-screens, and near full-size keyboards are some of the benefits that have also caught the attention of more affluent users.

No 'familiarity'

The first generation of netbooks were shipped with a Linux operating system which was simple and lightweight to run.

But users soon started to install Microsoft software, and Windows XP became the operating system (OS) of choice for netbooks.

You are going to be looking at a netbook operating system that loads within a few seconds
Nate Lanxon, CNET UK

Nate Lanxon, from technology website CNET UK, said the problem was one of familiarity.

"One of the problems is that people don't have the familiarity with Linux as they do with Windows," he said. "They buy a Linux netbook… can't install their applications, so get XP on there."

Hot competition

Microsoft is currently working on a lighter version of Windows 7 especially designed to run on netbooks.

"It's basically a stripped-down version of Windows 7, so you won't be able to change your desktop wallpaper, you won't have Windows Media Centre installed and it won't play back DVD movies," explained Mr Lanxon.

Windows 7 desktop
Microsoft is working on a version of Windows 7 for netbooks

"But it means they can see it on a cheap netbook without having to inflate the cost of a machine."

However, Google is ratcheting up the competition by announcing it will launch a simple, fast-booting, web-centric operating system.

The netbook version of Google Chrome OS is expected to be released in the second half of 2010.

"You are going to be looking at a netbook operating system that loads within a few seconds, gets you checking your e-mail very quickly and browsing the web," explained Mr Lanxon.

He added that Chrome, like Linux, could be affected by users not being familiar with how it works and choosing to install alternative software.

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