The two only netbooks of real interest
My poor fiancee has for a long time had to suffer my sighing everytime I see one of these new Eee PC machines, but as much as I crave a small linux powered laptop I have found that only two of them really appeal to me.
First the sexy one, the Asus Eee PC S101, it is interesting mostly because it provides a sexy experience. It looks and feels well made (aside that webcam.. 0.3Mpix, you fools), it comes with a luxury feel you just don’t see in the rest of the netbook market. Why is this important? Aside being pleasant to look at, something you could be proud to have sitting next to you on the train or in the boardroom this is where computers need to go. To illustrate this point let me tell a story. When I was in Brazil I had promised a friend of mine to help her find a laptop and after walking around looking at different machines, debating her needs we settled on some specifications and found a few models. Her only demand following listening to me explain what kind of hardware she needed “It needs to be red”. I then had to explain that none of the models we saw came in red but it left me wondering.. why don’t they? This is nearly 2009 and most machines out there are still grey, black or white, at best you can pick from 10 different premade shells with logos and colors. The laptop market is like market for pop music, you can get them in set shapes and colors. There is no way to match a laptop to the rest of your life, it’s not an item you would want sitting next to carefully selected jewellery, clothes and shoes. If the netbook industry is serious about wanting computing and the net closer to our lives, they need to start realising that they need to let us have more influence on how they look and feel, the S101 is definitely a step in the right direction.
Secondly, the truly interesting one, the Lemote Yeeloong 8089, this little beauty not only comes with what you expect from a netbook but it also comes with freedom. From the BIOS and up, it comes with coreboot and a debian distribution to drive it all. The CPU is a Loongson, a chinese designed and made MIPS based chip. This naturally means a few changes to the regular netbook experience, most visible to the user might be no adobe flash (but swfdec should run I believe). The other downside is no Fedora, AFAIK Fedora does not have a MIPS port anywhere, let alone one that is adopted to the Loongson. The video chip is by the producer called simple which I suspect is trade speak for “weak”, I don’t expect it can produce a Compiz whizbang experience, nor decode HD content in real time which is a show stopper for many people. There are also questions with regards to the performance of the Loongson, I have been unable to find comparable data to judge with the claim that it is faster than the Intel ATOM and Via Nano chips, despite requesting data to support this claim from Lemote. Finally the YeeLoong is not a machine you pick up in the local store, the only place I have been able to find it in Europe is an online store in Holland whose website does not inspire the greatest of confidence.
That being said I believe in the YeeLoong, I think that this level of openness is key to providing a uniquely taylored solution. It still makes the mistake of thinking that a netbook is a regular laptop just smaller, but this fixable. Looking to the Sugar interface for ideas on how to transform a computing experience to fit such a small screen and low powered, well connected device would definitely be important.
Netbooks, they are about content and context – they are not regular notebooks.