Mini 'netbook' computers are all the rage

January 26, 2009

by Mark Ollig

We need to stop thinking in terms of only “laptop” or “notebook” computers.

There is a new style becoming popular these days.

It is called a “netbook” and your humble columnist wants one.

You may have thought the same when you first heard about netbooks. I mean, it’s just another computing device, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

A netbook is a much smaller version of a laptop/notebook computer.

Most netbooks are generally used for e-mail and web surfing and include a nice “suite” of software packages.

The lower price for a netbook has made them popular, too.

Some makers of netbooks include Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Acer with price ranges from around $250 to $500.

These makers use Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition for the operating system.

My first introduction to a “non-desktop” or “tower” personal computer was around 1993, when I purchased my first Hewlett-Packard notebook, yes the old (but trustworthy) HP Omnibook 300 you may have read about in past columns.

The HP Omnibook 300 weighed about three pounds and used the old Intel 386 processor.

It came with the Microsoft Windows Version 3.1 operating system and included a few Microsoft programs, along with a built-in dial-up modem using a software program called ProComm.

Looking further back, the first commercial notebook or first true portable computer became available to the general public in April 1981.

The Osborne 1 computer was no lightweight. In fact, it weighed 24.5 pounds. There was no battery, so a person needed to always plug it into an 110VAC outlet. It had a small built-in 5” diagonal screen and programs were loaded on dual 5 1⁄4” single-density floppy drives.

The central processor unit (CPU) was a Zilog Z80 operating at 4.0 MHz.

The 1981 Osborne 1 portable computer cost almost $1,800, and even at this price became popular.

It also included a 300 band modem for accessing those vintage dial-up computer bulletin board systems, like your humble columnist’s WBBS OnLine! he once was the “sysop” for.

This Osborne 1 computer was designed to close like a small suitcase with a carrying handle.

Getting back to today’s netbooks, last week Hewlett-Packard began shipment of their new netbook called the HP Mini-note 2140, priced at around $500.

But hold on – I was reading some HP rumors floating out there on many of the Internet “tech” blogs.

The rumor is, we should wait and not buy the HP Mini-note 2140, because in June of this year Hewlett-Packard will make available to the public a much-improved netbook version called the HP Mini-note 2150.

The heat out there on the blogs said the 2150 will ship with a much larger display screen – but much of the attention was on the built-in 3G wireless modem it is rumored to include.

3G or third generation wireless communications is used by folks to access the Internet from almost anywhere – which is why it is so popular – versus the limited coverage area available using the coffee house style of Wi-Fi Internet connections.

Picture a situation where you’re in desperate need of an Internet connection – but can’t find a Wi-Fi hotspot. With a built-in 3G modem, you could access the Internet from almost anywhere you use a cell phone from.

I thought, “Wow, this is great,” but when I could not find any information about this new HP Mini-note 2150 on the Hewlett-Packard web site, I became suspicious.

Not totally convinced of what I was reading in these blogs was true and wanting to have a reliable source, I contacted Mike Hockey, who is the Personal Systems Group (PSG) contact with Hewlett-Packard.

In his reply to my questioning he said I could only quote him as saying, “HP doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.”

This did not exactly provide me with the answer I was looking for and even left me a bit puzzled.

I could not get any more information so I told Mr. Hockey about my old 1993 HP Omnibook 300, to which he replied, “The Omnibook 300 was well ahead of its time. A great notebook.”

At least I was not puzzled about that comment; in fact I was in total agreement.

So, I thanked Mike for his time and I hope to contact him again in the future when any new netbook computing products for Hewlett-Packard are announced.

After my conversation with Mr. Hockey, I was reminded how not everything a person reads on blogs or other Internet sources is always 100 percent accurate.

Gosh, did I actually do some investigative journalism for this column?

Does this make me in some small way a member of the working press? Well, maybe the somewhat working freelance press I suppose.

So, I guess we will just have to wait and see if the HP Mini-note 2150 becomes a reality or ends up being continued speculation.

Be sure to stop over at the “Web Site of The Week” online forum, where the Bits_blogger promises some vintage notebook and laptop computers featured.