Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Netbook Experience

About two weeks ago I bought an Asus Eee PC 1005HA. I wanted to set up a computing platform that was small, lightweight, that I could use when on the road. In some ways my iPhone has spoiled me. It's such a useful device in such a small package. It allows me to travel light but not sacrifice connectivity with my colleges and some of the applications I use to run my business. Where the iPhone falls short is note taking, composing long text documents, or making quick diagrams. Lugging around my 15" MacBook Pro all day at a conference or visiting customers just seems like overkill. So the netbook machine form-factor was appealing. I'm not a windows user, so within minutes of coming home with the diminutive computer I was installing Ubuntu NBR. The installation of NBR was fairly straight forward but getting the network up and running required some extra tweaks for my system. The process was relatively painless.

I've never used a netbook before and I wasn't sure if Ubuntu NBR was going to work for me. I was pleasantly surprised. Everything I use on the road worked great. I should mention that most of my applications are already web based, so the netbook was simply a convenient platform for running Gmail, Google Docs, Salesforce.com, OpenAir, Dropbox, etc. However things like using an LCD projector, OpenOffice.org, and my AT&T USB 3G Network card all worked fine. Everything worked out of the box. I was also able to install Emacs for note taking all quite painlessly via 'apt-get' from the command line. I was shocked to see how polished the Linux desktop/laptop/netbook experience could be. Kudos to Ubuntu.

After traveling with the system for about a week and a half I've been pretty happy. I had some logistical difficulty in managing when I would bring my netbook vs. may MacBook Pro and making sure essentials from my backpack made it to the smaller satchel I've been using to carry the netbook. Network connectivity has not been a problem. NBR works great with Wi-Fi and my AT&T card works fine where there is a good 3G signal which is the case in most of the locations I tend to travel.

So why not a MacBook Air? The main reason is cost. I couldn't justify spending that much on a light-weight computer. Maybe if Apple releases some kind of tablet or lower cost Air I might consider switching. For now my little netbook is serving me well. Does this mean I'm abandoning Apple? Absolutely not. As I said earlier my iPhone is my computer of choice when I'm really traveling light and I still need the MacBook Pro for programming, running virtual machines, and other heavy duty tasks. When two and a half-year 15" MacBook Pro needs replacing it will most definitely be another Apple.

My next netbook experiment is to install Jolicloud. It looks like an interesting repackaging of NBR but with more direct cloud/web app integration. So you install Gmail instead of just using the browser. It seems to treat cloud apps as first class citizens on the desktop. I'll let you know how that goes.

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