Understanding Netbooks

Marion & Sibyl (by StarbuckGuy)

Sibyl, my Acer Aspire One netbook, is one of the niftiest bits of technology I’ve acquired in some time, and I’m good at acquiring technologies.

But, lately, Marion has been casting her eye at Sibyl, which has kinda worried me. The last time she did something like that, my Canon SD700 IS digicam disappeared into her purse, permanently. With a trip to Salt Lake City coming up to do some serious genealogical research, she’s been commenting on how a small, light computer like that might make an ideal travel companion.

Bracing myself for the worst, I help her load her genealogy software and data so she can try it out.  ‘Only for a week,’ she promises. Not counting her using it until March to get it down pat.

Today we go to Starbucks together so she can take Sibyl for a test drive. I show her how to log in to the Bell Hotspot to get online, then resign myself to the thought that this could be the last I see Sibyl. I take out my AlphaSmart Neo to write on. I’ve always liked the Neo and its outstanding keyboard, but today it looks so last century.

I don’t get very far into my writing before the comments start flying from across the table. “My Windows isn’t working right!” I look and don’t see anything wrong. “The file won’t open.” I watch and notice her touch on the keypad isn’t quite right, so I suggest she use the button to the left of the touchpad.

Soon it’s ‘This stupid machine won’t let me drag this window over to this side of the screen!’ I watch again and suggest she hold down the left button while moving the window. The window slides around like an elastic band, then snaps back to where it started. Marion responds, “Shit!”

Marion’s normally very calm but within the hour she’s convinced the machine is out to get her. I’m careful not to say something stupid, like ‘Sibyl’s my girl you know.’ The muttering continues and the tension mounts. I’m unable to write a word with all the distractions.

I suggest she give up on trying to use the touchpad and bring a mouse with her next time. That doesn’t mollify her at all. It makes her even more determined not to be intimidated by a mere netbook.

It doesn’t work out. After more trying, and much muttering, Marion concludes that even if she could use the ‘stupid touchpad’, the data on the screen is too small to read and that she can’t get enough data open to do her research.

Genealogy, unlike essay writing, is a multi-app, multi-windowed kind of activity. If you were doing it manually you’d be sitting at a table with books, papers, documents, pens and pencils, and other related stuff spread all over a big study table and you’d be sifting back and forth looking for clues and evidence. You have to recreate this environment on a computer.

Eventually Marion decides that Sibyl is not for her. A netbook is great for casual surfing, doing some email, or working in an editor or word processor while listening to some MP3’s, but it was not designed for heavy lifting. The weight and size are attractive for carrying around, but it’s more than a literal lightweight. It doesn’t have enough screen real estate, or CPU and RAM oomph, for intensive apps. I’d dread the thought of editing photos on a netbook.

Leaving Starbucks, starting our walk home, we look at each other and say at the same time, ‘Want to go to The Harp?’ Smiling, and relieved, we walk down the street and have a lovely pub lunch.

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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4 Responses to Understanding Netbooks

  1. Chet says:

    Gene – a netbook is fine for lightweight photo editing. I brought my ASUS eeePC 900 on my China trip in August 2008 and used it to crop, resize and add copyright notice to my giant panda photos. When you look through the following set, you can see that the earlier pictures were done in China and the later ones at home in Malaysia. The difference is in the font and placement of the copyright.

    The watching panda
  2. Gene says:

    Good point, Chet, and your photos are neat! That must have been a memorable trip. What kind of lightweight editor did you use? I know quite a bit of simple editing can be done in Irfanview, my favourite image viewer.

  3. Chet says:

    Gene, I use GIMP on the (Linux) netbook, and Paint Shop Pro 5 on my home XP desktop.

  4. Gene says:

    Chet, the GIMP is always a good choice, even in Windows. Thanks for the info.

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