Saturday, January 10, 2009

ALPHA 400 Versus Intel's Misleading Term "Netbook"

Words matter. They define things in our minds and in the marketplace as well. Right now they are hindering the progress of cheapening our computers. "Netbook" is an example. The term is thought by many to define the cheapest laptops. It doesn't. The Alpha 400 and the other China 400s (400-MHz laptops) -- those are the cheapest and they deserve a better name, and hence many manufacturers use the term "minilaptop" or "mini-laptop" for them.

The Asus EEE was intended to represent and define the cheapest laptops. Asus failed in creating the cheapest laptops, though it did indeed popularize the concept of much cheaper computers. Its EEE model captured the public's imagination. Then Asus dropped the ball. In early 2008 they hitched their wagon to Intel, who had invented the term "netbook" and invented a definition of small, cheap computers with displays of up to 10.2 inches to go along with the term and Intel's new Atom processor (they don't want to see any cheap Atom computers at 10.3 or 10.5 inches).

As usual, Intel was self-serving. They never will favor cheaper computers because that means cheaper microprocessor chips. Same thing for Microsoft: How can Exon International Technology sell China 400s for $89 wholesale if they have to pay Microsoft $35 for XP or $18 for CE?

The term "netbook" is confusing, and deliberately so. It needs "disambiguation," as Wikipedia would say. Or it needs to be "deprecated," as the IEEE dictionary would say, at least for the China 400s.

The Asus EPC (EEE) versus the China 400s (Alpha 400, etc.)

Asus aimed for a price point of $200 but ended up near $300. As things turned out, the EEE is just another computer at the bottom end of the notebook segment in size and price. Asus has abandoned us bottom-feeders of computerdom and is selling "netbooks" that are getting more and more expensive.

The China 400 manufacturers, on the other hand, are still on course to produce the world's cheapest computers. This is not just a matter of semantics, it is is a matter of philosophy. The philosophy of the netbook is to keep the bottom from falling out of computer prices, to keep the foundation up so that the house above will not be divided against itself -- ever-lower computers prices versus high prices -- and fall.

If computer prices had kept pace with Moore's law (it decrees that the cost of transistors in a microprocessor will fall by one half every 18 month), computers would be much less than $100 (there's more to the cost than CPUs of course). Instead, Intel, Microsoft, HP, etc., kept alive as long as they could the old truism, "The computer you need is always $5000." Prices of mainstream computers generally are cheaper than that now, but still way too high compared to the cost of manufacture ($89 wholesale for China 400s by Exon Technology).

Call a Miniature Laptop What It Is

The most common term for portable computers for most people is "laptop." Notebooks, netbooks, and Alpha 400s are all laptops. The netbook is just a low-end notebook, smaller and usually cheaper than most. The China 400s are laptops of course, but miniature ones. That is why the Chinese call them "minilaptops" or "mini-laptops" (depending on the preference in hyphenation).

So let's get define our terms and get our market segments straight, and push for cheaper computers of all kinds, even at the top end.

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