its like a book for your net

For those who arent necessarily tech-savvy, trends in the computer industry might seem wholly unimportant, but everyone loves saving money. For that reason, the netbook fad is potentially game-changing, particularly for those who continue to sit near monstrous (and boisterous) computer towers. Despite apparent benefits, is this glut of cheap, low-power computers really good or bad?

It all started with ASUS Eee PC, a product line that now spans over 10 small notebook computers. The idea was to produce a dirt-cheap machine (supposedly $199) running either Linux or Windows XP for use with basic tasks, like word processing and web browsing (hence the term netbook). It was targeted toward the average consumer. Now, less than a year later, the Eee line is bloated and many competitors are arising with alternatives.

But they arent all delivering what they should. At the present, the least expensive Eee PC is $299, and models range up to $599. These all have the kind of hardware that would allow someone to pull up a spreadsheet or watch a YouTube video, but abilities are limited beyond that. Of course, none of these small laptops includes a graphics card.

The problem is this: companies are spending millions on research and development and racing to the bottom, as a Sony exec stated earlier this year. But its not just netbooks - all of the major computer manufacturers are gravitating toward computers in the $600-$900 price-range, delivering what they think the people want. As they do so, the companies profits fall and less time is spent developing truly capable machines. The result is an abundance of low- to mid-range devices and fewer and fewer innovative, powerful computers.

Still, I fail to see who would actually buy a netbook. Its use as a secondary computer seems unwarranted, and only the most modest user would find it sufficient for all of his needs. Perhaps these low-cost alternatives to real computers will die by the roadside and will have served only to lower the price of more functional equipment. Or perhaps they will gain more and more power and stabilize in price, killing manufacturers but benefiting the consumers. Time will tell.

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