Matthew C Good : Musician, Software Engineer, Hobbyist.

Why My Next Laptop Will Be A Netbook

@joshuacaddell asked me why I wanted a netbook so bad on twitter today. The answer is too much for 140 characters, so here goes…

I think a lot of people don’t put nearly enough thought into how they use a computer before they purchase one.  This is especially true of laptops, since the ways people use them are (or at least potentially are) so varried and different.  They just buy something kinda flashy looking that is big and relatively powerful, because they want the kitchen sink.  The Swiss Army Laptop, as it were.  Of course, doing all things equally well sometimes means doing all things equally poorly.

Having been with my current ‘top for nearly 8 years now (and not being a very “typical” computer user), I have a pretty good idea of how I use computers.  Specifically, I like to take them places.  I crave long battery life.  I have a high-powered desktop to handle the really crazy stuff.  I have been doing a lot of web development rather than Win32 stuff.  I also have recently been very interested in microcontroller programming on platforms like the Arduino.  I don’t use MS Office much, and think I could get by pretty well with the Google Gears versions of Google Docs in many cases.

The particular netbook I’m interested in has a ridiculous battery life.  They claim up to 9.5 hours, but I’ve seen people citing real-world usage of around 6-8 hours, which is very impressive.  It’s sufficiently light and you don’t have to carry around a bunch of crap to make it work. (Don’t be fooled into thinking that all netbooks have great battery life.  Many are terrible.  I personally think the lackluster battery life of most netbooks defeats their purposes.)  The web dev work that I’d be doing on it is (for the most part) scripting languages and light database stuff (LAMP), which this unit could handle as a development machine.  Any ASP.NET or C#  development would primarily be off this computer, but I’ll probably do some basic edits to some stuff on this machine anyway in a generic text editor (it is occasionally handy to not have to rely on the Wizzards for everything).

I once heard somebody say that the easiest way to drastically improve the quality of your photographs was to carry a camera around with you everywhere.  The quality doesn’t matter; you’ll get better shots if you’re the only guy around with a camera when something cool happens.  The same principle applies here for computers, too.  I plan on making a rugedized & modularized Arduino to go with the netbook to carry around so that virtually anywhere I am, I can do really cool computing and interface with the “real world” in literally a few minutes.  That’s roughly equivalent to a super-nerdy MacGyver.  And that’s what I want.

Plus, I’m going to be building a powerhouse beast of a recording/programming machine for home soon anyway.

P.S. I don’t have a data plan for my phone, and probably won’t get one for a while at least.  So I will have to rely on WiFi for my internet connectivity in the short term.  Ergo, no service charge.  But that’s okay, I can do what I need to offline in many cases.

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2 Responses

  1. Chase says:

    I think that’s cool. I personally think the machine isn’t too pretty. But it is quite cheap. Would you customize the hardware at all? I’d at least up the RAM.

  2. Matt says:

    Congrats on first comment. Yeah, I be throwing in 2 gig probably (I’m not sure a lot of the netbooks support 4… hafta check). I think it’s pretty enough. The only thing that isn’t slick about it is it’s fat butt, but that’s the price you pay for long long battery life and portability. I’ve seen some designs that some might say are “prettier” but are really just “less useful.” Acer and HP (I think) insist on putting the mouse buttons on the right and left sides of the touchpad, which is incredibly un-ergonomic. They are also slimmer, but they also get about 4-7.5 hours LESS of uptime than this one.

    I’m more concerned about software. I’ve been looking at the two our three interesting linux packages for netbooks out there, and I may dual-boot. Will probably have three partitions on the thing, so messing with new OSes will be easy without losing data.

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