Thinking about it, these new subcomputers called ‘netbooks’ share a lot with digital point-and-shoot cameras. I was taking a look at the latter, the other day. Digital compact cameras all have a small footprint so that they can easily be pocketed and carried around. They’re lighter and cheaper (some much cheaper) than their DSLR counterparts. They have fewer or simplified features, smaller sensors, smaller collapsible lenses. They usually have a series of usability tradeoffs, too. Controls are cramped, tinier, at times more difficult to operate for those with big hands and fingers. But all in all they can take decent photos and generally make for a nice second camera alongside a bigger, more sophisticated DSLR. Some people will also argue that these compact digital cameras are even better than their bulkier brethren for certain uses: they’re unobtrusive, quieter, ideal for quick snaps and candid shots, and for documenting parties and outings with friends.
So when someone asks whether a netbook is a ‘real computer’, I think about digital point-and-shoot cameras (heh, even those film disposable cameras that are still available in many stores) and I raise a similar question: are they ‘real cameras’? Yes, they are cameras. They are pretty, handy little cameras taking photos and stuff like the big ones. And netbooks, they are handy little computers that have (little) screens and (little) keyboards and (little) trackpads, and they can do email and web browsing and stuff like the big ones.
However, when you use a digital point-and-shoot camera, you’re not doing photography — you’re taking snapshots. Your concern is not taking good photographs. Your concern is being practical. Technically speaking, the result is often like the point-and-shoot cameras themselves: smaller, of lesser quality, cheaper. Or, if you love these little cameras, you’ll talk about the result as being ‘not bad’, or ‘good enough’. Bigger, more sophisticated and more expensive digital SLRs have less usability tradeoffs, and offer more refined and advanced sets of features which usually let the photographer focus on his/her work, not on just being practical (hopefully). Now apply the same logic to netbooks and full-fledged notebooks.