Writing tools

Farewell to a great little workhorse

My netbook died, almost four years to the day I bought it.

It was a great little computer, ideal for writing on my work commute and at lunchtimes, and it freed up my writing so much I will be forever grateful I bought it. I have done some of my best writing to date on that little machine.

It had been sending out warning signals for weeks. It wouldn’t even turn itself off any more when you closed the lid. I had to pull out the battery every time I closed the lid. Then one day it simply wouldn’t turn on. Or rather, it turned on because I could hear the fan working and see the lights, but nothing came up on the screen. Nor could I plug it into the network with an Ethernet cable and access the disk.

So, finally time for a new laptop.

I wanted a netbook. First, because they’re cheap and the computer I carry around really is only a word processor. I don’t even access the internet on it. Second, because netbooks are small and light. It had to pass the handbag test. Could I fit it into my handbag?

Off I went shopping.

I wanted an Acer Aspire One. I’d been more than satisfied with the one I’d had for the last four years.

“We stopped selling those in January,” the salesman said. “We don’t sell netbooks any more.”


Four years of netbooks.
Four years of netbooks. You’d think that the one on the left was newer, because it was smaller (well you would if you didn’t see how well-used it was) but no, the blue netbook is four years old, the green one two (another Acer Aspire One) and the monster on the right is brand new.


Let me digress here to explain the differences between the laptops, because not all laptops are alike. Four years ago these were the laptops you could buy.

  • The netbook—a tiny laptop (around 10″ screen) with not much in the way of hardware attached to it. It used a flash drive for a hard drive so has no moving parts. It was small and light. Prices started around $200-300.
  • The laptop. The heavy duty PC. It had a screen ranging from 14″ to 24″, more memory, often a CD player and could be as powerful as a desktop. It was a lot bigger and heavier. Tiny full-featured laptops like the Sony Vaio were just appearing on the scene. Prices started at $1000 and went up.

Fast-forward four years. All you can buy now are laptops.

  • The full-featured laptop, as per above only they’re getting lighter and have even more features. Screens still range in size from around 14″ up. Prices and weight are coming down, while the technical specs are going up, but they’re still monsters.
  • The ultrabook. Also a fully featured laptop but thin and light. Screen sizes start at 11-12″ and go up to about 14″. They’re beautiful looking machines. Prices start around $1000.

The salesman was right. There are no netbooks any more.

The portable computing world has changed massively in that time as the result of one product.

The iPad.

Tablets are everywhere now, and if you want a small screen computer (around 10″), that’s all that’s available.

I wanted a small screen computer but after four years of commuting with one I had some specific requirements:

  • It had to pass the handbag test
  • It had to have a keyboard that was easy to touch-type on
  • I had to be able to sit it on my lap and type without having to hold up the screen. (Have you ever tried an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard? Nice keyboards, great on the table, but not when you have to sit it on your lap.)
  • It had to have hinges, because I write in a variety of places and I need to be able to move the screen to various angles. Believe me, this is more important than you first think
  • Long battery life
  • It had to run Microsoft Word.

I went to five stores that all sold a large range of computers.

“I’m looking for netbooks.”

“Sorry, we don’t sell them any more.”

“What’s the smallest and lightest computer you’ve got? I want one that will fit in my handbag.”

So they take me over to the ultralights and start the sales spiel.

“Hold on,” I say. “Can I just try putting it in my handbag?”

By now they’re all looking at me rather strangely. I imagine they’re thinking I’m like a woman who wants to buy a red car because it matches her shoes.

“This one’s got eight megabytes of memory and …”

“Can we just try putting it into my handbag please.”

Finally they give in to the crazy lady and let me try. None of them fit.

“Have you got anything smaller?” I ask.

“Well, if you want something smaller than that we have a whole range of tablets over here.”

As I said, five stores.

I could buy a bigger handbag, but I’d had the Acer for four years and it was the perfect size and it fitted in every handbag I owned. I had my heart set on something like that.

There wasn’t anything around.

The last shop was selling 11.6″ Hewlett Packard E1 Visions.

It just squeezed into the bag—after I took everything else out of that side of the bag to get it in—it was the right price and by now I was missing my little laptop rather badly. I’d had a week of not writing. I bought it.

So far I’m pretty happy with it, except that it’s a lot heavier than the old one. And it is wrecking my bag. It is a little too big.

We also decided as a writing team that we’d upgrade to Office 365 as well. I’ll be writing about that in Writing Tools.

The next weekend I went back into the same shop.

The Hewlett Packard E1 Visions had been massively reduced. The store was selling out all their stock.

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