James Kendrick has a great article about the rise of the netbooks and how they are changing the laptop landscape these days, and why peoplesâ€™ views (mainstream users) are changing. He points to the iPhone as changing how people are viewing netbooks. They are basically looking for cheap devices where they can, as JK points out, “jump on the Internet”, do email and get their photos off their cameraâ€. The iPhone was the major turning point – it showed people that they didnâ€™t need a huge setup to access the internet, check email, etc. With the Acer Aspire One hitting $400 (and with Dell and Lenovo possibly hitting that area) with a decent sized screen and keyboard, all of the sudden many people who wouldnâ€™t normally consider a second computer in the house, or a laptop (or even a second laptop) are seeing how easy it is to hop on the internet, check email, etc., and they want that and it’s now in their price range.
He thinks, and I agree, that the major turning point will be when they are available in the big-box retailers. We are already seeing this with some – Circuit City is a good example with the Acer Aspire One (albeit many Circuit Citys have them on hand, but they arenâ€™t always displayed because they donâ€™t have a good way of securing them, according to one CC employee I talked to over the weekend). Best Buy seems wishy-washy at times but will probably start offering a lot more Asus Eee PCs as we get closer to the holidays at the end of the year. Wal-Mart will probably accelerate things as well. By the end of this year, they will probably have three (if not more) different offerings from three different brands.
I have two major concerns though:
Privacy and identity theft – these aren’t exactly disposable devices, but at the same time I doubt most will treat them like they would a $2000 laptop, and yet they might be loading the same data on either, deliberately or not (saved IDs, passwords, webpages, emails, etc.). As long as people treat them with the appropriate security practices, it’s not a problem.
Data fragmentation – the bigger problem.
When people have access to cheap devices that can store quite a bit of data, and they start buying them, you find yourself in a situation where you could end up with the family photos (and other similar data) scattered across multiple devices (depending on where somebody downloaded the photos). It gets even worse as you buy new devices, if you don’t pull the data off the old devices. If you are running Windows, you can pick up something like a pre-built Windows Home Server setup (HP MediaSmart Home Server) or even the much cheaper HP 500GB Media Vault (right now around $289, and not exactly a server, but a bit more than a USB drive). Better yet, take one of your old machines you aren’t using anymore and add a few large harddrives (500GB drives can be had for under $100) and do it yourself. MSWHS.com is one of the best do-it-yourself Windows Home Server sites and they have several excellent guides for walking you through it.
It’s much easier to misplace or lose digital photographs and emails than the shoeboxes full of photos tucked up in the closet. If people aren’t careful (and I’m sure it’s already happening), a lot of photos and other irreplaceable data will be lost over time. It’s ironic that the very technology that makes it easy to distribute and keep track of such things also makes it very easy to lose them.