Why netbooks are important: Innovation

asus eee-pc 904h netbookI’ve pointed out this brilliant piece by Wired before. If you haven’t read it you should. It’s about how netbooks changed the computer industry, and ended, at least for some uses, the arms race towards ever greater performance. But there’s another thing that makes these tiny laptops very important, and that’s innovation. Hardware limitations and new use cases have forced software and hardware developers to come up with new solutions. Since the launch of the original Eee-PC nearly two years ago now I’ve spotted a number of really cool innovative projects that would probably not have existed without the netbook phenomenon.

Intel’s Moblin OS

Intel Moblin OS

While technically Ubuntu’s netbook remix was the first Linux distribution to focus solely on netbooks, this project is the first to redesign the user experience from the ground up. Moblin is Intel’s vision of what the operating system for a netbook should look like. The current beta version is stilll very rough around the edges, but the design is already very slick. It too is a Linux flavor, and with Intel backing it up this could very well turn into a great project.

Jolicloud

Jolicloud OS

I’m not quite sure about Jolicloud. The screenshots all look amazing, but a recent video made it look like an application (running under Ubuntu Linux) instead of being a true OS. But still, there’s a lot of impressive stuff here, like social network integration, an app store and profile syncing. If this project delivers on all that it promises, it should at the very least give Moblin some healthy competition.

CrunchPad

CrunchPad launch prototype

Since it’s still only a prototype, there’s little we know about the CrunchPad. But what we do know is that it’s netbook approach applied to the concept of tablet PCs. It uses slower but cheap and energy-efficient hardware and has a custom OS, once again based on Linux.

What’s most interesting about the CrunchPad is that the OS is there only to launch the browser. It’s an internet pad, and everything you do with it will be done inside the browser. This may seem strange to some, but it fits right into the ‘cloud computing’ philosophy. CrunchPad is designed to access your online stuff. It’s not a PC, and in that sense it’s another step towards more limited devices that are made for easy internet access alone.

Google’s Chrome OS

Taking CrunchPad’s software philosophy to extremes is Chrome OS. Here’s an OS that is the browser. All the apps will be online. Google’s Chrome has become my default browser because of its tremendous speed and efficient user interface. It’s philosophy was to speed up web applications like Google’s own Gmail service, and by doing so make them more appealing. I say mission accomplished, and can’t wait for Chrome OS to be released. And when it is it’ll initially be aimed at netbooks. I guess that makes sense.