There is an Apple event next week and it looks quite likely that we will see updated models of the iPad Pro and maybe the iPad Mini.
That’s great because it got me thinking about the Eee PC, which was either one of the greatest short-lived success stories in tech history or a collective delusion shared by a handful of tech bloggers from the late 2000s that never really has happened.
In 2007 there were two products that fundamentally changed the computer: one was, of course, the iPhone. The second, clearly more significant product was the $ 399 Eee PC 701. Originally it ran on a custom Linux operating system that reviewers loved (Laptop Magsaid Mark Spoonauer it was “ten times easier to use than any Windows notebook”) and was widely heralded as a new breed of computer with enormous appeal to the masses. Spoonauer: “Pound for pound, the best-priced notebook in the world.”
Again, this was a weird little two-pound plastic laptop that ran a custom Linux distro that was basically a cover for several websites. (We hadn’t yet invented the term ‘cloud services’.)
Linux was not allowed to make Windows appear, so Microsoft did some Microsoft maneuvers, and in January 2008, the Eee PC was running Windows XP instead. It was also part of a larger category called “netbooks”, and we all needed to know what netbooks were.
Moments later, Microsoft created something called Windows 7 Starter, a hilarious shortened version of Windows just for netbooks – you weren’t even allowed to change the desktop background– and the netbook explosion was unstoppable. My friend (and Verge co-founder) Joanna Stern obsessively built up netbooks for the first part of her career, first at Laptop Mag, than Gizmodo, and then me Engadget
And there was a lot to discuss: at one point, Joanna noticed that Asus had done it Bee least 20 different models of Eee PC in 2008 onlyAnd that was just Asus! Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others all furiously pursued the netbook idea. Do you remember when the Nokia Booklet 3G was Nokia going to reinvent? Not you, because it wasn’t. However, it was very beautiful. I asked Joanna about this moment in time, and this is what she sent me:
“I was actually Bono in this ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ video. Eee PC after Eee PC. MSI Wind to MSI Wind. Toshiba whatever it was named after Toshiba whatever it was called. I was constantly looking for a netbook with a keyboard that didn’t require any doll’s hands, a trackpad that wouldn’t leave a blister on my thumb, a hard drive that could open Microsoft Word in three days. It was a constant search for the perfect combination of price, portability and power. “
Joanna then demanded that I embed the actual YouTube video of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, which is just the kind of “wow that once really mattered” energy this blog post needed.
The netbook explosion was all the more curious because every netbook had the same basic specifications, as Microsoft charged more for a standard non-booting Windows license if a computer had a little more than a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB RAM and a 160 GB. Hard Drive. So it was basically all colors and screen sizes. All to run a very nasty version of Windows, on a computer that no one even remotely claimed could replace a primary PC. Toward the end of it all, as the chips inevitably got more powerful, enough laptop sellers told Joanna that their new netbook-like computers weren’t netbooks she started calling them “notbooks
And then the iPad came out in 2010, and netbooks were inexplicably such a part of the computing vocabulary that Steve Jobs introduced the iPad by explicitly saying that netbooks were bad“The problem is that netbooks are not better at anything,” Steve Jobs said onstage really, clearly differentiating the then-new iPad from netbooks. It was important to him!
Even did this to happenIs this for realI remember it all, but I can’t say if it meant anything, or if we all just believed that Microsoft and Intel were so mysteriously powerful that we had to live within their product frameworks and 160 GB of maximum hard drive space. Does anyone actually to buy a netbook? The only people I’ve ever met who had netbooks were other technical writers; my colleague Adi Robertson showed up at a memorable trade show both a giant gaming laptop and a small netbook, two laptops that are both perfectly unsuitable for the tasks at hand.
I asked Joanna, who is now a senior personal technology columnist at the WSJ, about all this, who replied, “Let’s be clear here. Apple’s upcoming event this week is actually about netbooks. The iPad Pro is an outgrowth of the netbook movement of ten years ago. “Was she kidding? I don’t know, and she didn’t want to tell me.
Of course there are no netbooks, but everything is a netbook. The iPad is the iPad, with multiple models in different sizes and price ranges, and a furious discussion about whether it can replace a laptop. (See? It’s a netbook.) We’re surrounded by device-like cheap computers running crazy custom interfaces to cloud services on top of open-source operating systems – that’s an Echo Show, or a Google Chromecast, or even an Oculus Quest 2 Netbooks. Intel urgently needs a reinvention and Windows itself is disappearing; Microsoft would like to call its operating system “Azure Edge” if anyone wanted to join those kinds of rides.
Did netbooks ever emerge? Have netbooks … to win?
Eee, pc. Eee.