Traditionally PCs have appeared in two main forms – a workstation and a laptop. Saying that, the laptop I used back in the early 90’s actually weighed more than a modern workstation!
With improving technology and everything reducing in size and power consumption, some of the big manufacturers developed a new type of portable machine called the Pocket PC. This was backed by Microsoft who developed the Windows Mobile operating system that included a cut down version of Office to allow viewing of basic spreadsheets and Word documents. Both HP / Compaq and Dell have sold machines in this form since around 2000 but with the advent of Smart Phones this market has all but died.
Smart Phones now include a multitude of applications and with some of the more powerful devices they can manage your email, display your spreadsheets & documents and provide full internet capability. But for me they are still a phone and even with the larger displays have limited appeal for anything but some basic business needs.
In a similar way the iPhone, the Blackberry Storm and some of the more recent offerings from Nokia & Google offer some more advanced functionality with a half decent screen. But again I have real issues navigating some basic websites or reading anything but a basic Excel spreadsheet or Word document.
What has really got me excited has been the introduction of the Netbook. Asus took the market by surprise when they introduced a full portable PC for around £150 in early 2008. It offered a fully functional PC with either Unix or Windows XP and could run all the standard Windows applications with no loss of functionality. Since that time nearly every major PC manufacturer has now brought out something in this form factor and the market is absolutely buzzing with variety. They come in at around 1KG in weight, include 1GB of memory, 80GB hard disk, integrated mobile broadband or Wi-Fi and cost around £250.
As an example of how flexible they are here is a great story – I was working away from the office when a customer called with a support issue on their Netbook. I plugged in my Mobile Broadband Card, connected to their Netbook (which was sitting in the back seat of their car also using Mobile Broadband !) and resolved the issue in 10 minutes.
True Flexibility… and great IT support!